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Inside Track: Judas Priest

Andy Sneap: Producer, Engineer & Musician By Paul Tingen
Published June 2024

Inside TrackPhoto: Jamie Huntley

When the opportunity came to work with his childhood heroes Judas Priest, Andy Sneap didn’t just engineer and produce — he also mixed, mastered, and became the band’s touring guitarist.

Andy Sneap is one of the leading producers and musicians in the metal genre. In a career spanning more than 35 years he has been involved in the making of over 100 albums, by bands like Megadeth, Dream Theater, Hell, Kreator, Opeth, Killswitch Engage, Saxon, Testament, Exodus, Overkill, and countless others. Even so, when he was asked to work with Judas Priest, it was a childhood dream come true. “I got into metal when I was 11‑12 years old. I had Judas Priest posters on my bedroom wall! They were one of the big metal bands in the world and I loved them!”

Sneap engineered, mixed, mastered and produced Judas Priest’s Firepower (2018) and this year’s Invincible Shield. “In 2016, Mille [Miland Petrozza] of the band Kreator suggested to [guitarist] Glenn Tipton that I produce their next album, and after some discussions, the band asked me to produce it with Tom Allom, who had produced almost all the band’s classic ’80s albums. We had a really good time in the studio making Firepower. Then, just three weeks before the US tour started, in March 2018, they asked me if I was willing to step in for Glenn. I wasn’t going to say no, and here I am six years later, still doing that!”

Metal pioneers Judas Priest have been active for more than 50 years.Metal pioneers Judas Priest have been active for more than 50 years.

Bringing It All Together

Firepower was released on March 9th, 2018, and was hailed as one of Judas Priest’s strongest efforts since the ’80s. Just before its release, Tipton revealed that he had Parkinson’s disease and would no longer tour, hence the last‑minute request to Sneap to step in. The Firepower world tour lasted until the Summer of 2019. Work started on Invincible Shield later the same year, but its release was delayed by more than four years due to the pandemic and the band’s 50 Heavy Metal Years anniversary tour, in 2021‑22.

Inside Track: Judas Priest“We started Invincible Shield with writing sessions at Glenn’s place with Rob [Halford, singer] and Richie [Faulkner, guitarist],” Sneap recalls. “So Richie, Glenn, Rob and I were putting the song ideas together. My role was similar as with Firepower. They bounce their ideas off me, and I put the demos together in Pro Tools and make them sound as much as possible like finished songs. I was programming drums using Toontrack’s EZdrummer and Superior Drummer. We ended up with about 12 ideas that we were confident about.

“I remember us in February 2020 talking about Covid. We thought that it would all blow over in a month, and that we’d soon be on the planned tour with Ozzy, and cracking on with recording the album. Of course, everything ground to a halt for a long time. As soon as we could, we got back into a studio for the album recordings. But because of pandemic restrictions, the sessions took place all over the place.

“I went to Nashville, where Richie and Scott [Travis, drummer] live, and we had 10 days to record his drums in a small studio in the area, called The Southern Oracle. After that, Richie laid down his rhythm and lead guitar parts at his home studio, The Falcon’s Nest. He sent me the DI recordings, which I re‑amped at my Backstage Recording studios in Derbyshire.

“I recorded Ian [Hill]’s bass parts in hotels during the 50 Heavy Metal Years tour, and did two vocal sessions with Rob in early 2023 at Premier Studios, Phoenix, Arizona. Glenn’s parts were recorded at his place. I mixed and mastered the album at my studio from August until October 2023. I was doing Accept and Saxon albums at the same time, going between these projects all the time.”

Drum Tracking

“The live room at The Southern Oracle in Nashville has high ceilings and a concrete floor, so it is a lively space. The studio has an SSL XL‑Desk, with 16 500‑series units. With regards to mics, we had a bunch of stuff to try. sE Electronics sent me a couple of drum packs, and I had mics from those on the toms and kick. I had a couple of Crimson Audio‑modded Shure SM57s on the snare, two Shure KSM32s for overheads, and some of the sE mics as spot mics. The room mics were Lauten, who had sent me some of their bigger condensers to try. I had a couple of United 47s in front of the kicks. They’re pretty good 47 [FET] clones.

Scott Travis lays down a drum take at The Southern Oracle.Scott Travis lays down a drum take at The Southern Oracle.Photo: Jeremiah Scott

“Richie and I were there to track Scott’s drums, because many of the arrangement ideas were Richie’s. As I mentioned, before Covid we had the demos pretty much locked in, with programmed drums. We wanted Scott to put his stamp on it, so it was a case of sitting down with him and working over ideas, especially that Richie had. Scott would spend a day going over a couple of the songs, do his homework, and then we’d come in the next day and he’d bash out the final ideas, usually within three takes.

“Dealing with these recordings during the mixes was fairly straightforward. I added some samples, and then there’s a lot of what I call ‘donkey work’ of cleaning a kit up, particularly the tom mics, so we don’t have spill all over the place. I’m trying to get things to sound tight sonically. With this sort of music, you want to have the clarity in the kit and especially make sure the phase in the overheads is correct. That drives me nuts. As soon as you start filtering overheads, your whole phase can change. Especially if you’ve got a lot of spot mics, like I did, because of the amount of cymbals Scott is using.”

The Down Low

The reason for recording Ian Hill’s bass parts on the road was, says Sneap, “because we’ve got so much downtime when touring. So Richie and I sat down with Ian every afternoon in my hotel room and recorded the bass, using my Pro Tools rig with the UAD Apollo Twin, going straight in. When recording we obviously have to use something for playback that’s not too heavy on the CPU, so we don’t have too much latency, especially when using a native rig. I’ll use something like the SansAmp plug‑in. Later on, back in my studio, I’ll really dial in the tone with the UAD Ampeg B‑15N Bass Amplifier plug‑in, which I love. I’ve used that over and over again on many records, and it always works well with Ian.

“Sometimes I re‑amp the bass, but I didn’t bother on this record. I tried it on Firepower, because I’ve got a decent bass rig back at the studio. But I wasn’t getting anything that I felt gave me a real advantage over the plug‑in. Later on, during the mix I roughened up a few bits with the SansAmp, and compressed the low end with the FabFilter Pro‑MB or Waves C4. I’ll tend to use the C4 before any bass amp sim, so it’s clamping down before it hits the amp, and I then...

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