Judas Priest and Elegant Weapons guitarist Richie Faulkner on Painkiller and the 10 albums that changed his life

Richie Faulkner
(Image credit: Jeremiah Scott)

Though he’s never been one to sit around twiddling his thumbs, Richie Faulkner has been keeping himself incredibly busy over the last year or so. There’s the highly anticipated new music to come from Judas Priest (now slated for next year), the launch of new band Elegant Weapons, plenty of planning for tours to come and more signature gear in the works. 

Given that he almost died after suffering an aortic aneurysm while performing on stage at the Louder Than Life Festival in Kentucky on September 26, 2021 – it’s easy to see why the last 18 or so months have been among his most productive. Put it to him that this acceleration in activity could very well be down to a kind of newfound appreciation for life, and he’ll look you in the eye and tell you just how grateful he is for everything after such an unexpected brush with death...

“I mean, dude, I shouldn’t be here!” says Faulkner, talking to MusicRadar from his home studio near Nashville. “When what happened to me happens to other people, they go down and they don’t get up, because they don’t get to the hospital, you know? The fact I managed to get to one quickly and they were able to operate and save my life is pretty lucky. The odds were against me. To be here, almost two years later, talking about new records and tours – just talking in general – I’m incredibly fortunate of.”

If anything, it’s music that’s helped save him and quickened his road to recovery. He describes the guitar in his hands as “a medicine that’s part of the healing process” and a force of positivity in his greatest time of need. He may have nearly lost his life while holding that Pelham Blue Gibson Flying V on stage that day, but it’s also his love for guitar that helped him find his feet again…

“I got home on the Friday after being in hospital and I picked up a guitar on the Monday

“I got home on the Friday after being in hospital and I picked up a guitar on the Monday,” he continues. “I was back out on tour five months later and getting back to mixing the record, mastering the record, doing the artwork. I just wanted to get back on it because you never know what’s around the corner. That’s been a very real thing for me since then. 

“It motivates me and inspires me to have a tour coming up and the guitar back in my hands. I know it sounds a bit silly but it’s all about getting back to who you are, some sort of normality after something like that which shakes your world upside down. The guitar back in my hands and my feet on the stage are kinda like my normality… or as normal as I can be! I’m grateful to be here talking about all of those things now.”

Elegant Weapons

Elegant Weapons (L-R): Christopher Williams (drums), Ronnie Romero (vocals), Dave Rimmer (bass) and Richie  (Image credit: Nuclear Blast)

One big talking point for this year is new project Elegant Weapons, who just released their debut album Horns For A Halo last month on Nuclear Blast. As the man who pieced together the music, how exactly did he know which material to use in Judas Priest – the band he joined in 2011 – and what to save for this latest release?

“It’s interesting, I could take something to a Priest writing session that isn’t Priest-y at all and think there’s no way it’ll end up on a Priest record… and somehow it does!” laughs Faulkner. “It’s never really that clear-cut, you never know. Some of these new songs are more groove metal, I guess, though I don’t really know the terms too well. It’s more riff and groove-based, which isn’t really what Priest does. There are a couple of thing we’ve done like that over the last couple of albums, but in general it’s not really Priest’s style…

There was nothing on there that I submitted for Priest that got discounted or whatever and then ended up on this

“During the pandemic, I concentrated on finishing all the Priest demos. It was all done, though we hadn’t gotten round to recording it properly. I could draw a line under it and anything new I came up with would end up being for Elegant Weapons. I was able to move from one to the other. Some of it is very obvious in that it couldn’t be Priest, and some of it could be. There was nothing on there that I submitted for Priest that got discounted or whatever and then ended up on this. I think not writing with Glen [Tipton, co-guitarist] and Rob [Halford, vocals] made it take a different turn. But with this Elegant Weapons album they weren’t there, so it was more of my own creative persona rather than the three of us.”

The setup for the album was as minimal as it gets – one guitar through one amp, with nearly all of the effects added in later by super producer [and Judas Priest live guitarist] Andy Sneap. The instrument in question was a prototype for the guitarist’s new Gibson Flying V signature, which coupled with a vintage Marshall Plexi, gave Faulkner all the tones he needed. 

“It was all done using that Pelham Blue prototype into a Plexi,” he says. “The new signature should be coming out later this year. It’s the next step in the Flying V I’ve been using for the last 12 years. It’s got my new signature EMG pickups, which will also be coming out soon. They’re called the RF Falcons! That was it. One guitar, one amp and my fingers, using the guitar volume to dial it back at points. It felt appropriate for some songs to not have an all guns blazing sound and back it down to hear the nuances a bit. I do try to do that on occasion [laughs)!”

Richie Faulkner

(Image credit: Jeremiah Scott)

Richie Faulkner: 10 albums that changed my life

1. Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland (1968)

“I have to start with Jimi because no one puts on a Hendrix record for the first time and isn’t affected by it. If anyone says otherwise, I think they’re lying! You might hate it, you might love it, but you can’t not be influenced by the sonic and visual assault of that man’s work in the mid-'60s. My dad put on the song House Burning Down or Voodoo Child (Slight Return) when I was a kid. I didn’t know what a guitar was at the time, but there was something subconscious happening inside me that was asking, ‘What is that?!’ My ears pricked up and I wanted to know more about it. I’d never heard anything like it before, it was otherworldly, but I knew I needed more. It was just a sound that resonated with me as a six or seven-year-old. 

He changed the way the instrument was heard and seen, even how it was mixed in the context of a band… he was right out in front

“I’m not the first one obviously, there are millions of people that have been inspired by Hendrix and millions that will be in the future. I’m not unique in that regard, but that is why is universally seen as the ultimate guitar player. He changed the way the instrument was heard and seen, even how it was mixed in the context of a band… he was right out in front. It wasn’t an accompanying instrument anymore. It was suddenly the instrument that was driving everything. Eddie Van Halen did something similar when Van Halen’s debut came out in 1978, because it changed the way the guitar was played, seen and heard. They both changed the landscape of guitar. 

“I probably love the sound of a Uni-Vibe because of Jimi. No other type of modulation quite sounds the same to me. There are millions of different versions of the Uni-Vibe but nothing sounds like the original. It has its own voice. What I like about the Rotovibe is that, like the original, you can control the speed of it with a pedal. It’s great for expression. Like a wah pedal, it can be very personal to the player. You don’t just stick it on and it stays at one speed, you can change the speed and it becomes part of the riff of solo. You can play the pedal, in a way, because it’s not just a static thing. 

“I’ve got a Rotovibe on my pedalboard with Priest. I use active pickups and I find vibes usually work better with single-coils. The sonic characteristics cut through better that way. With an active humbucker, I usually dial my volume back down to five or six so it has  the same effect. Otherwise I overdrive it too much and it loses clarity. Univibe and wah… I use those things because of that record. The wah is another fingerprint of the guitar player. You can tell who you are listening to by how they use that pedal.”

2. UFO - Live At The Roundhouse (1977)

Listen to this record and learn everything Michael does and you will now be playing rock guitar the way it should be played, in my opinion

“Talking of players who use the wah in a unique way, I have to go with this one too. Michael Schenker always provides a masterclass in rock guitar. If you want to play this kind of music, listen to this record and learn everything Michael does and you will now be playing rock guitar the way it should be played, in my opinion. 

“He’s known for using that half-cocked wah sound, which gives his guitar a nasal quality to cut through the band like nothing else. I’m a massive UFO and Michael Schenker fan. His band opened for us the last time we were in the UK, I think that was 2015… shockingly! I was behind his Marshall stacks every night just so I could see him in the spotlights with the V in the air and his foot on the wah.

“He’s the complete package – phrasing, technique, note choices, melody. There’s some speed every now and then but it isn’t based around that. You can sing most of the lines. And the band weren’t bad either, tearing through songs like Lights Out, Rock Bottom, Love To Love. The whole album is fantastic. And the Roundhouse as a venue was in my old stomping ground – Camden, London. I’d say this is one of the best live albums of all-time!”

3.  Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)

“I’m a huge Metallica fan and this one gets a lot of flack… we all know why. But it was my introduction to their music, so while it pissed some people off on the bass side of things, to me as a young teenager I didn’t really understand stuff like that back then. That was just how the record sounded, you know? It was aggressive and complex, with really great songs. It was everything I was looking for as a teenager.

“But it wasn’t Tool, either – I remember when I first listened to Tool and it was too much for me. I couldn’t grasp it because it felt like too much for my little brain. It still is [laughs]! But Metallica was just the right amount of complexity for me to get my head around. It didn’t register to me that the bass could have been louder. Songs like The Frayed Ends Of Sanity, The Shortest Straw and Blackened had a massive impact on me. To Live Is To Die is another big one. 

Hetfield is one of my favourite guitar players of all time

“It was right around the same time I got into Painkiller by Judas Priest. I would have been in my early teens and looking for something a bit more aggressive than Thin Lizzy. Metallica were taking the whole double guitar thing to another level. The songs were great with beautiful clean passages as well as all the heaviness and right hand stuff. I couldn’t downpick like that, I still can’t! I don’t know how they did that and how they still do it that fast. 

“Hetfield is one of my favourite guitar players of all time, definitely in my top five. I love how he plays guitar and fronts that band, he’s superb. The vocals sounded fantastic. So, to my ears, that record sounded how it needed to sound. Subsequently, I realised there was no bass on there but at the time I didn’t care. It was raw, aggressive and complex with just the right amount of melody. They weren’t writing pop songs or anything, but there are moments you could really get melodically attached to.”

4. Iron Maiden - Live After Death (1985)

“I came home every day after school and put this record on when everyone else was hanging out. I think it was the first Maiden tape I ever bought. I love the vibe of a good live record. You can hear the audience and feel the energy of the band on stage. This one they captured just right. Obviously, it’s Dave Murray on one side and Adrian Smith on the other. I would learn each guy’s parts and then turn them off, almost like I was playing the show as them. So every day after school, I would jam along to this religiously. It was usually Dave Murray’s parts, because he’s one of my biggest influences. 

Murray is famous for that bubbly tone on the neck pickup while Smith has more of a Schenker-esque bridge pickup sound. The combination of the two taught me a lot

“It was all their classic stuff up to this point of their career, amazing songs like Die With Your Boots On and Hallowed Be Thy Name. Murray and Smith, even though they might have been using the same kind of tones and scales, are so different in feel. Murray is famous for that bubbly tone on the neck pickup while Smith has more of a Schenker-esque bridge pickup sound. The combination of the two taught me a lot. I learned a lot of different voicings on the guitar. I must have been about 12 at the time. The World Slavery tour was in 1984 and I think the first record was 1980. So in just a handful of years they’d gone from the debut to Powerslave, playing enormodomes. It was incredible! 

“Obviously I was listening to it years later, in the early '90s. But I remember seeing pictures of the stage show and hearing Steve Harris’ bass playing underneath Bruce Dickinson’s vocals. The whole band were on fire. I’d just play along pretend I was one of the guitarists and even add in some of my own stuff here and there. It was probably my first introduction to improvising, because there was space to move around a little bit within the songs.”

5. Bryan Adams - Into The Fire (1987)

“I grew up in the early 80s, so this stuff is a big part of who I am musically. My first concert was Bryan Adams in 1987, I think. He was on the Into The Fire tour and T’Pau were opening. The whole thing was great. Bryan Adams is still one of my favourites to this day. That album and the one before it, Reckless, used to get played in the car with my dad all the time. He’d turn it up to proper volume so I'd know how loud the gigs would be. Both albums have killer rock songs with fantastic melodies and genius songcraft.

“Maybe Into The Fire wasn’t as commercially successful as Reckless – which even had one song with Tina Turner, who unfortunately just passed away, but the songs were as good if not better. But it was a shockingly good band with a brilliant guitarist in Keith Scott and Mickey Curry on drums. The whole thing was incredible.

I honestly can’t say enough about this record! It’s masterful

“Obviously, I play in one of the world’s biggest heavy metal bands, but I’m really influenced by other styles too. Hopefully that gives my palette a bit more variety and it doesn’t mean to say I’ll rip off Bryan Adams. You’re not going to get the new Priest record and hear a Bryan Adams cover, by any means. But the chord progressions are interesting and the melodies are really powerful. 

“I honestly can’t say enough about this record! It’s masterful. I’m just about to head out on tour with Elegant Weapons and will miss Bryan Adams in Nashville by one week. And then the night after Duran Duran are playing, two of my favourite bands of all-time, almost like they were waiting until I wasn’t here! Such is life…”

6. Black Sabbath - Volume 4 (1972)

“There are about three or four Sabbath albums that I always argue with myself on, but I have to say Volume 4 might be extra special because it’s the one my dad first showed me, along with that Hendrix album. The first records he played me were this one, Electric Ladyland, some Thin Lizzy and Machine Head by Deep Purple. Those were the four I remember him sticking on. Volume 4 seems to trump the other albums for me right now, that could change next week though! 

“Songs like Wheels Of Confusion and Snowblind blew me away. You open up the record and they’re playing some club somewhere in the early '70s. It looks old… there’s something enigmatic about that picture. You have to remember they invented this whole thing we’re talking about. Okay, some seeds were sown before that in Deep Purple and even Hendrix was influential on metal. 

“But it took Sabbath to hone in on all that stuff, and then Priest refined it a bit later. At the time, this stuff didn’t exist. They were just inventing it as they went along. I mean, Tony Iommi lost the tips of his fingers and that didn’t slow him down… he invented heavy metal, thank you very much. How inspiring is that? Is it possible to play heavy metal without referencing Sabbath somehow? Because I think it all does, in some way or another. It all comes from Black Sabbath.”

7. Iron Maiden - Somewhere In Time (1986)

“I think it was the first Maiden studio album I bought. As an 11 or 12 year-old, it just blew my mind. I’m not alone in this and that’s why Maiden are a global phenomenon. I walked past the artwork in the store and saw Eddie looking like a cyborg in a Blade Runner-esque setting. How could I not buy it?! 

“I had to ask my dad to get it for me and he laughed while asking me ‘What happened to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple?!’ I don’t think it was meant to be concept record but most of the tracks have a reference to time: Alexander The Great was a historic character, then you’ve got stuff like Wasted Years, Caught Somewhere In Time, The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, Deja-Vu… they’re all connected to time. 

Murray and Smith were evolving, experimenting with guitar synths in a way that fit the time and fit the visuals

“Again, the guitar playing was phenomenal. Murray and Smith were evolving, experimenting with guitar synths in a way that fit the time and fit the visuals. It’s a masterful record that changed my life, making me want to elevate what I was doing to the next level.”

8. Judas Priest - Painkiller (1990)

“When I was getting into Metallica, I also started listening to Priest and this was my introductory record. There were a few songs that were on my radar like You’ve Got Another Thing Coming, Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight but I had no idea who the band were. Hearing that drum intro in my early teens was very intense and I quickly figured out it was the same band who did these other songs that I already knew. 

To this day, you put that record on from start to finish and it doesn’t let up and sounds massive

“Then I started going through the back catalogue and discovering Sin After Sin, Sad Wings Of Destiny, Hell Bent For Leather – or Killing Machine, depending on which version you got. Painkiller made me aware of Priest and probably sweep-picking too. I didn’t know what that was until I heard this album… and I still don’t really know too much about it. I guess it’s never been part of my toolbox. To this day, you put that record on from start to finish and it doesn’t let up and sounds massive. Even the ballads, which aren’t proper ballads, they’re just slightly slower songs with a different atmosphere, sound killer. I wouldn’t know if A Touch Of Evil, for example, is a ballad or not! But who cares what I call it! 

“I think they were in their 40s by then which is crazy. Most people wouldn’t be able to do that! And ironically, it was that song that almost finished me off. So you could say this is an album that changed my life in more ways than one because it almost killed me! It’s a perfect mix of vocals, guitar and drums… just unashamed heavy metal. The '90s, in my opinion, was Pantera’s decade. But Priest were also flying the flag during those years.”

9. Genesis - Invisible Touch (1986)

“Okay, so it’s not the Peter Gabriel Genesis which most people consider to be the real Genesis. But I like this album from the Phil Collins-fronted years. I listened to it for two weeks straight, which when you’re young, feels like a long time. I learned all those lyrics word for word. I know the older stuff was more proggy and that’s what Steve Harris used to listen to a lot, and then they went a bit more pop-orientated. But it is what it is, that’s the stuff I was into. 

It just spoke to me and changed my life

“I’m a massive Phil Collins fan anyway, so it’s one I’d have to choose. There wasn’t much ripping guitar on it, but it was more about the songwriting, the sounds and the way it was constructed. It just spoke to me and changed my life… I don’t know other than it’s a great record. It got me into their music and then I went back and got into the old Genesis. What a band, and they have such a rich tapestry of a lot of different music. I can’t say it influenced me on guitar, but it definitely did as a songwriter.”

10. Pantera - Far Beyond Driven (1994)

“The stuff that you hear in your early teens is what stays with you and shapes who you are moving forwards. For me it was all about Murray and Smith, Hammett and Hetfield, and then Dimebag. I was playing around pubs in London and playing live in cover bands, which really broadened my vision musically. I started hearing stuff I hadn’t heard before and before that point I was quite blinkered… but that’s why Maiden, Metallica and Pantera left such a huge mark on me. It’s hard to pick out of Cowboys From Hell, Vulgar Display Of Power and Far Beyond Driven because they all changed my life, but maybe it was the latter that I listened to most. 

“It changed my life because it was just one guitar, while a lot of the other bands had two players. You’d hear one person playing the solo and the other filling in underneath on rhythm. Dimebag rarely did that. There are a few songs like that, but usually it was the solo and the bass underneath it. Hats off to Rex Brown for filling that space well enough to allow Dime to solo over it. Those sections never sounded empty. 

“Pantera always had really aggressive tones and phenomenal guitar playing. A bit of a tangent: I remember one evening a friend of mine had a house party when his parents were away. We all crashed his house and were having fun drinking beer. We started doing a Ouija board and were being a bit rude to it, because we didn’t understand that stuff. And all of a sudden a CD case flew across the room and it was Far Beyond Driven! So this album will always have that weird little story attached to it. I don’t really believe in that stuff but it did happen! We were all spooked by it and stopped doing the Ouija board right there and then!”

  • Elegant Weapons’ debut album Horns For A Halo is out now via Nuclear Blast, available here.
Amit Sharma

Amit has been writing for titles like Total GuitarMusicRadar and Guitar World for over a decade and counts Richie Kotzen, Guthrie Govan and Jeff Beck among his primary influences. He's interviewed everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy to Slash and Jimmy Page, and once even traded solos with a member of Slayer on a track released internationally. As a session guitarist, he's played alongside members of Judas Priest and Uriah Heep in London ensemble Metalworks, as well as handling lead guitars for legends like Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols, The Faces) and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, G3).