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ROB HALFORD Recounts The Shocking 1990's Trial Against JUDAS PRIEST: "Why Would A Band Tell Their Fans To Kill Themselves?"

"We'd be better off hiding messages like, 'Buy more Priest records' or 'Buy more T-shirts,' wouldn’t we?"

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The history of metal music is riddled with instances where it has been misunderstood and demonized, particularly during its formative years. This often culminated in moral panics and being blamed for violent acts.

One of the most notable instances was after the Columbine school shooting in 1999, when Marilyn Manson faced intense scrutiny due to the shooters allegedly being fans of his music. However, even earlier, in the early 1990s, Judas Priest found themselves in a similar predicament.

In 1990, Judas Priest was sued following a tragic incident involving two young men, Raymond Belknap and James Vance, who made a suicide pact. Belknap died, and Vance survived but with severe injuries. The lawsuit alleged that a subliminal message in the band's 1978 song "Better By You, Better Than Me" compelled them to take such drastic actions. This song was originally by Spooky Tooth in 1969.

Frontman Rob Halford recounted the trial in an interview with Record Collector (transcribed by Guitar.com), highlighting it as a period of significant trouble for the band. Halford expressed deep sympathy for the victims, acknowledging the tragedy of their situation. He questioned the logic behind the allegations, pointing out the absurdity of a band embedding harmful subliminal messages in their music.

“I’d hate for anybody to go through the lawsuit we went through,” Halford stated, “because at the heart of that matter were these two beautiful lads that lost their lives, you know, and they loved metal and they loved Priest. But it’s still an interesting story to talk about because it’s about having dysfunction in your family and your kids being so unhappy. And you know, you can have a great time with metal, but at the same time, you can have one too many drinks and maybe whatever else, and it creates this terrible place. I still feel that what happened to those boys was a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

“Why would a band tell their fans to kill themselves? We’d be better off hiding messages like, ‘Buy more Priest records’ or ‘Buy more T-shirts’, wouldn’t we?" Halford reflected. "But that’s the insanity of it. You think, how on God’s earth can something so ridiculous get so much traction that these lads have to come all the way over from England and sit in a courtroom in Nevada and defend themselves – and not only ourselves, but our music and the label and our fans.”

The band eventually won the case, with the judge ruling that any alleged subliminal messages were not responsible for the suicides. However, the lawsuit cost Judas Priest approximately $250,000 in legal fees.

Halford also pondered the potential implications for the music industry if the ruling had gone against them, suggesting that it could have led to widespread disclaimers about subliminal messages in music broadcasts. He noted that while the case was extreme, such fears and allegations against metal music are not entirely surprising even today.

“If the judge had found completely on the side of the prosecution, all hell would have broken loose. Every time a radio station played a record, they’d have to say, ‘We disclaim any possible subliminal messages in today’s show.’ But if this happened again tomorrow, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.”

This incident, among others, underscores the broader theme of metal music often being scapegoated for broader societal issues and tragedies, reflecting a deep-seated misunderstanding and fear of the genre by some segments of society.

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