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Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens Talks New Music, Judas Priest’s Jugulator and More


As one of the more influential voices in heavy metal for over a quarter of a century, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens has often personified what it means to be a hell-raising vocalist.

Though he released a myriad of outstanding recordings, with outfits such as Winters Bane, Iced Earth, Beyond Fear, Spirits of Fire, and as a solo artist, Owens is still best down for his exploits as the frontman of Judas Priest from 1996-2003.

At the time, Owens waded through a mix of old-school fans who sided with departed vocalist Rob Halford and the new school who adored his fresh approach to records such as Jugulator (1997) and Demolition (2001).

In the years since, with Halford again fronting Priest since Owen’s departure in 2003, quite a bit of retrospective love has been heaped onto the Owens era of Priest, with the Ohio-natives two records being thought of as diamonds in the rough.

But none of that matters to Owens, as he’s as self-assured as ever, delivering heavy metal gymnastics as he always has. His recent project with former Priest stage mate K.K. Downing, K.K.’s Priest, finds Owens a member of a group that even the staunchest of day-one Priest fans can’t help by love.

Moreover, his newest EP, Return to Death Row, which he’s teamed up for with Jamey Jasta, finds Owens harkening back to his Jugulator heroics. Indeed, time has been kind to Owens, and while his time in Priest may have come and gone, his influence and meaning within its legacy still loom large.

As he prepares for a busy 2023, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens dialed in with Metal Sucks to give the scoop on the Return to Death Row EP, his memories of Judas Priest’s Jugulator era, and a whole lot more.

Can you recount the origins of the Return to Death Row EP?

Jamey [Jasta] had been trying to get me to do it for a long time, but we never had the time. It had literally been an ongoing thing for maybe ten years [Laughs]. Initially, Jamey said, “Man, we should do a CD. Let’s make something a little heavier, like Jugulator.” So, finally, I had time to do it, and ten years later, I can say that it rocks, man. It kinda worked out because last year was the 25th anniversary of Jugulator, so I was all about it.

What was your approach to this EP as opposed to other projects you’re working on?

It doesn’t matter what I’m doing; I adapt to the song and go with what it needs. So, as Jamey was sending me the song ideas, I have to be honest; they felt right, so I knocked them out quickly. The recordings and my vocals were fun stuff, and all of it was right up my alley. I’m a big fan of music like this. So, once I got down to it, it flowed quickly. And then, once I started adding in my ideas, too, things came together even quicker.

Which of the tracks are your favorite, and why?

I’d probably go with “Return to Death Row,” the title track. I like it because it’s a nod to the original Judas Priest song from the Jugulator record. I like the breakdown when it slows down, and it’s got such a cool vibe to it. The good thing about this EP is that while it’s heavy and has some thrash influences, it’s still very melodic. I love that. My other favorite is probably “Heroes Dare,” which has this old-school vibe and incredible chorus.

Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens Talks New Music, Judas Priest’s Jugulator and More

You’re also working on the new K.K.’s Priest record. Can you dig into your working relationship with K.K.?

It’s great. K.K. and I stayed in contact more than the other guys, so we’ve always been close. Even when I would play in the U.K. on a solo run, K.K. would come out and see the show. It didn’t matter if it was two hours away, K.K. would come out to the show, and he’d bring beer for the guys in the band, hang out and have a good time.

Even back when I was in Judas Priest, we had a great relationship and got along well. We were like family, so it carried over to this new band. K.K. knows that vocally, he can give me just about anything, and I will probably be able to find a way to make it work. We have an excellent working relationship. He’s just an awesome guy. He’s fun to be around and enjoys what he’s doing.

What can you tell us about the next K.K.’s Priest record?

I haven’t heard the mixes yet, but at this point, I can say that I like it better than the first one. It’s got a lot more light and shade, and I think it’s a little bit heavier. It’s heavier vocally, which I think suits me even more. It’s definitely a traditional metal record, but it will be great. I can’t wait to hear the mixes; it’s killing me [Laughs]. I’ll message him now and then and go, “Hey, how are the mixes? I can’t wait to hear them!”

Did you expect the first K.K.’s Priest record to receive such a strong reception?

In a way, yes. Because K.K. was in Priest, of course, everything that he does will be forever compared to that. K.K. wrote Judas Priest songs for over 40 years, and yeah, this new stuff will sound like that, which lends itself to people liking it. But that’s not a bad thing; it’s how K.K. writes. He’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. He writes like K.K.

So, when someone says, “That sounds like Judas Priest,” I’m like, “Well, if it didn’t sound like Priest, you’d be mad. And now that it does, you’re mad.” It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t sort of thing, but I knew it would be well received. It was precisely the kind of record that should have been released. It wasn’t trying to be something else. It was exactly who K.K. is; no matter what people say, that’s what they want.

How do you feel the music of K.K.’s Priest compares to Judas Priest’s recent output?

Oh, I think Judas Priest’s last record was fantastic. Many have said that musically, it doesn’t sound as much like Judas Priest, but fortunately, for a band like Judas Priest, they changed every record anyways. They are always messing with their style in exciting ways, so they always sound slightly different each time. I love what Priest is doing, and I love what we’re doing. It’s all amazing metal music, and both bands have plenty of room to do what they do. People make it out to be a competition, but it’s not.

Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens Talks New Music, Judas Priest’s Jugulator and More

Going back to Jugulator, what sort of pressures did you face as you entered Judas Priest?

I gotta be honest; I didn’t feel the pressure at the time. I felt confident because, vocally, I knew I was the right fit. I knew I was enough; I could sing anything. I remember that back then, when people would doubt if I could handle the Rob Halford stuff, K.K. used to say, “Okay, come to the concerts and see Ripper if you don’t believe us. The proof is in the pudding.”

So, I felt pretty good about it. I knew fans weren’t gonna like me, and I knew it wasn’t gonna last forever. I knew that eventually, Priest was going to have to have Rob back and that Rob was going to have to have Priests back in his life. But I didn’t feel the pressure, and I think one of the big reasons was that I was treated well by the guys in the band. We got along so well. I was just a kid from Akron, Ohio, who got to be in Judas Priest, and it was terrific.

Did you feel beholden to sing like Rob Halford, or did you feel comfortable making the songs your own?

No, I sang like me. And that was the great thing because it fit really well. I think there’s a little more aggression with me up there, and I tried to bring that across with all the songs. I would try to change things up, and while I paid tribute to Rob when I needed to, I never tried to sound like Rob; I just tried to sound like me.

The best part about singing like me is when you listen to the Jugulator record, there are death metal undertones going on underneath stuff, and there’s a big vocal range. I know some Priest fans didn’t like that, but there’s a lot of different stuff going on. I always wanted to be me, and after all this time, I look at my singing now, and when people try to compare me to anybody, I’m like, “I sound like me. I sound like Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens.” Nobody sounds like me, and I don’t sound like anybody else.

What lent itself to Jugulator’s darker, more aggressive sound?

I think it had a lot to do with what was happening at the time in the band and the world around us. Priest has always kept their ears open to the changes in music around them on records like Turbo and Painkiller. And I think that with Jugulator, you saw bands like Pantera and Metallica thriving and doing darker stuff, and maybe that shaped the album’s direction.

But I always say Jugulator is a true continuation of Painkiller, to be honest. If I didn’t use some of the lower heaviness, people would have made that same comparison. Musically, Jugulator isn’t far off from Painkiller. But vocally, with me dropping into the lower registers, that threw people off a bit from that.

Was Jugulator’s mixed reception a tough pill for you to swallow?

At the time, I thought it was pretty good. Look, you’re always gonna have your haters; that’s normal. When you have Rob Halford leaving this legacy band, it’s not a shock that many diehard fans aren’t want to accept it. I was okay with that, and it didn’t bother me because I expected it.

Having said that, when Jugulator came out, I felt like it was accepted. It took a minute, but once we got out on tour, people showed up to see Judas Priest. And when people came to the concerts, I was able to win them over. When those people left the show, they were no longer doubters; they were fans again.

Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens Talks New Music, Judas Priest’s Jugulator and More

How do you measure Jugulator’s importance over your trajectory and the legacy of Judas Priest?

Jugulator probably doesn’t mean much in Judas Priest’s history because it’s not even out there as a reissue. So, to those guys, my records probably don’t mean much these days, especially with Rob in the band. But to me, it has a lot of meaning. Joining Priest and making Jugulator paved the way for me to be a musician and permanently made that my job. I’ve always told people that being in Judas Priest was my college education, but without having to pay back a student loan [Laughs].

What memories from the Jugulator era stand out most for you?

What sticks out most is how hard it was to record an album at that level. Having to sing stuff repeatedly all day long was a marathon. I’d never undertaken anything like that before, and it was tough, man. I don’t use Pro Tools; all my vocals are natural, so to have to do take after take was exhausting.

I’d be working at something for hours and frustrated that I couldn’t nail a part that seemed so easy; it was a huge learning experience. And Glenn [Tipton] worked me pretty hard, but he taught me a lot doing that record. He worked me hard because he knew I was like a kid in a candy store. He’d say, “Hey, Tim, try to sing like this. Do it this or do that.” He knew I was open to it all, making it very interesting.

Do you have any regrets about your time in Judas Priest?

I have no regrets. I have no regrets about my time. I wish it would have lasted longer, but it happened at the perfect time in my life. I have no regrets about anything, about Jugulator or anything that happened while I was in Priest. I look back on my years in Judas Priest as some of the best times in my life, and again, it’s because we got along so well. All of it was great.

Your voice seems to be as strong as ever. How do you keep it in shape?

I know a lot of guys use backing tracks, but I feel like if you can’t sing it close to the same as you used to, then you probably shouldn’t be singing it at all. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you’re not even in the ballpark, that’s a problem. I’ve prided myself on singing the songs like they’re sung in the studio, if not better. You can’t always do that, but I would never have a backing track.

I’d rather figure out another way to do it close enough than fake it. I’ve been to a few concerts, and the singers are up there, and it’s not close to what they were back in the day. It’s sad. But with my voice, I’m blessed that it still sounds great. I’m not a big drinker. I don’t go out much on tour. I don’t leave my hotel room. I try to take care of myself.

With singing, I don’t warm up and drink a ton of water. I try and preserve my voice as best I can, for as long as I can. Every singer is different, and some singers do it in different ways where they warm up a lot some singers don’t. You have guys like Ronnie James Dio who had a voice made of steel, but mine is made of paper, so I treat it with a lot of care, and it’s worked for me.

What’s next for you in all lanes?

If anybody wants me to record anything while I’m off, they can hit me up at [email protected]. People ask me to guest on their records all the time, and I do studio work nearly every day from my house, so shoot me an email. I do guest appearances and all sorts of things like that. Aside from that, the main thing is K.K.’s Priest, and Jamey and me are going to work on a full-length record to go along with this EP. That was the plan from the start, to do an EP and then do a full-length with ten new songs. So, there’s a lot of excitement, and it’s going to be a busy year.

Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens Talks New Music, Judas Priest’s Jugulator and More
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