You’re going to a concert. Or “gig” as the hip, trendy folk call it these days. You’re not going to any old gig, though. None of this mainstream, poppy crap which is plastered onto the seemingly naive media. You’re going to a metal
gig. Or rather, tonight is a show. That’s right, a metal show. But, you may ask, what can I expect from a metal show? Bring forth the metal show checklist:
• Bass (loud)
• Guitars (louder)
• Drums - the kind that you can feel in your legs
• Devil horns
• Circle pits
• Metal spiky things
• Deafness the following day
You’re not going to any old metal show, either. Oh no, you’re about to see the masters of metal. Frequently labelled the second pioneer of the cult genre, you’re going to see them in the home of our beloved metal, in the Black Country city of Wolverhampton. Yes, that’s right. You’re going to see Judas Priest and they are going to fuck you sideways.
This was a masterclass of metal.
I can excuse you if you’ve not heard Judas Priest’s music - it’s not to everyone’s taste after all. But if you haven’t even heard of them, then you’re not even a musical retard, you’re just (and excuse my French here) a dick. Judas Priest have been knockin’ ‘round for over 40 years since they formed from the ashes (or Birmingham, as we know it these days) of the ‘60s, rising to fame in the 1970s. Of course, back then, there was a totally different line-up to the one we’re about to see tonight. In fact, bassist Ian Hill is the only founding member these days, after the departure of K.K. Downing.
This Epitaph tour is spanning the entire world over the next year or thereabouts, and will unfortunately be the Metal Gods’ last world tour. This isn’t to say that Judas Priest won’t do smaller tours or write any more material, because they will. Don’t forget that these guys aren’t far off their Zimmer frames, aside from K.K.’s replacement, Richie Faulkner, who has only 31 years to his name. Nevertheless, legendary vocalist Rob Halford is 59, ex-Racer X drummer Scott Travis is 49, whilst guitarist Glenn Tipton is 63 and Ian Hill is 60. You can, therefore, understand why Priest have decided to almost semi-retire from the business.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s have no premature excitement here, thank you very much. For tonight, we have two support acts before Judas Priest bludgeon our faces off. First up are American outfit Rival Sons from the sunny shores of California. A basic stage set mirrors their blues-infused rock, a homage to the music of the ‘70s - keeping it simple and equally as good. Supporting their latest albumPressure & Time
, the boys do a fine job of satisfying the metal hungry crowd, most notably with “Burn Down Los Angeles”. Vocalist Jay Buchanan is eerily reminiscent of Led Zep’s Robert Plant, although perhaps guitarist Scott Holiday doesn’t quite live up to Jimmy Page. Nevertheless, some lovely Black Sabbath-esque riffs and Jimi Hendrix-style guitar work culminates in a very good set by the up-and-coming youngsters.
How lucky are we? Not only are we seeing Judas Priest tonight, but one of the support acts are prog-metallers Queensrÿche. Despite a career covering 30 years, the boys from Seattle (as Geoff Tate told us, anyway) only have 30 or 40 minutes to dazzle us with their beautiful music. And dazzle us, they do. Enforcing a snapshot of their greatest hits, Queensrÿche play such classics as “Jet City Woman”, “Empire” and “Eyes of a Stranger”. We all know how superb a voice lead singer Geoff Tate has, but you don’t realize how good he actually is until you see him live. He’s like a younger Rob Halford with the wide vocal range, bald head and beard. Tate even acts camp on stage, even though he has 4 daughters, apparently. The unfortunately short set list works a stunner on the crowd, converting not only me, but every other person in Wolverhampton’s illustrious Civic Hall. Scott Rockenfield’s concise drumming and Michael Wilton’s psychedelic-inspired metal guitar work combine for an impressive show. 
The time has arrived. The black curtain descends, removing the stage from the view of the crowd, “Epitaph” written simply across the banner. The faintly illuminated outline of a cymbal and maybe some stairs can be seen through squinted eyes. The occasional flicker of a roadie’s torch lights up a mic stand or an unrecognizable black shadow. The background music of AC/DC’s Back In Black
ceases, replaced by a loud, wailing siren. Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” infiltrates the huge speakers, louder than before. This is the beginning. As Ozzy’s vocals pierce the tension, the crowd begin to murmur along … “… just like witches at black masses …”, ever-increasing until “oh lord, yeah!” is roared by every single voice box in the room. Then, slowly, the strings of “Battle Hymn” can be heard; then the uplifting guitars; and then it starts.
Once upon a time, there was a band called AC/DC. They wrote a song called “Let There Be Rock” in which they listed the core ingredients: light, sound, drums, guitars and rock. As the last notes of “Battle Hymn” come to an end, the drums begin, followed swiftly by the dual guitar power of Tipton and Faulkner. The curtain drops, revealing the mighty Judas Priest in burning lights, as we are immediately battered with the twin blows of “Rapid Fire” and “Metal Gods” from 1980’s British Steel
. Priest are dressed in their typical attire: leather, metal spiky things and what not. You can tell already by the firmly planted smiles on their faces that they are loving every single moment of this.
Judas Priest enjoyed every single moment on that stage.
The controversially Americanised “Heading Out To The Highway” from Point of Entry
inspires an anthemic shout-along to the stadium rock chorus. After yet another costume change by Halford, we’re back for the heaviest number of the night: “Judas Rising” from 2005’s comeback album, Angel of Retribution
. Travis’s pounding double bass provides the kind of 21st century metal Judas Priest needed. This is something that Scott Travis does throughout the gig to several of the old songs, before his appointment as drummer back in 1989. He gives them a modernization, such as in the next song, “Starbreaker” from Sin After Sin
, a more complex and, ultimately, heavier percussion to accompany the equally technologically advanced guitars. It all goes dark, whilst lasers flutter into the audience: red, green and purple lights subtly lighten the small stage, so you can just about make out Tipton and Faulkner, side by side, as the synchronized melodies of “Victim of Changes” ring out. There’s the old saying “seven minutes in heaven” and this is it.
Judas Priest’s debut album, Rocka Rolla
, was apparently recorded in 1823, according to Rob Halford. Although I’m sure it seems 188 years ago, it was actually released in 1974. “Never Satisfied”, from said album, is next on the promised 2 hour set list. This is swiftly followed by a hauntingly beautiful acoustic rendition of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds & Rust”. Halford’s voice is stunning; the kind that sends a shiver down your spine. It builds and builds until the electric guitars kick in for the second half. A personal highlight in a mammoth show, very rarely does such a song make such an impression live. One of the differences with latest album Nostradamus
was the operatic element in the several short instrumentals. “Dawn of Creation” is the opener to the album, introducing the brilliant “Prophecy”, which is just what we get. Halford comes on stage in a shiny, silver hooded cloak and a staff with the Priest logo on top. Yells of “I am Nostradamus” are succeeded by an emphatic end of fireworks from Halford’s staff and flames galore.
After a vicious “Night Crawler”, the metal gods bring out “Turbo Lover” followed immediately by metal titan, “Beyond The Realms of Death”, one of the greatest ever songs in metal history. It’s like taking a frying pan to the face, the sheer power of the music. A quick blitz through “The Sentinel” and “Blood Red Skies” brings us to a cheeky Fleetwood Mac cover. Although, saying that, it’s not as bizarre as it sounds, having become a Priest classic in the form of “The Green Manalishi”. If you think this is a crowd sing-along, you’ve heard nothing yet. Halford introduces the British Steel
backdrop once more, which can only mean one song. That
song. “Breaking the what?” … “breaking the what?” … “breaking the law!”. That’s what! Halford turns the microphone stand towards the audience as Tipton, Faulkner, Hill and Travis commence the immortal riff, commanding the crowd to sing this one, which they do in more than full voice, whilst Halford just head bangs along. After more fire, the lights go dark once more, to come straight back on 30 seconds later. Scott Travis once again emphasizes his drumming delights with a spiffing drum solo, which, if you are one of the musically enlightened such as myself, you will recognize as the introduction to Racer X’s “Scarified” from his former band. There’s only one place this can go, which is straight into the insane drums of “Painkiller”. In my opinion, this is the most metal track just about ever: frantic drums mix with a heavy duty riff and high-pitched screams. You could even call it a lullaby.
The poor guys. They’ve just played a monster of a concert and all the crowd can do is scream for more amongst chants of “Priest”. The mighty Judas Priest politely comply with the audience’s selfish demands as they launch free-fall into “Electric Eye”, with a backdrop of a massive eye in the background, which is a little freaky. Again, the lights go dark. The rumble and growl of an engine can be heard slightly off-stage. For Priest newbies, this is a little confusing. I, however, know just what is about to happen. Seconds later, Rob Halford rides a Harley motorbike on stage in true metal fashion before they smash into “Hell Bent For Leather”. This is followed by yet another Priest classic, an extended version of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”, complete with a sensational guitar solo by youngster Richie Faulkner. Finally, we finish tonight’s triumphant set with “Living After Midnight” before the lights go down for the last time and Queen’s “We Are The Champions” begins to sound out over the PA system. 
It was always going to be a task for Richie Faulkner to fill K.K. Downing’s colossal shoes, but no one expected to him to settle in so well, so quickly. His onstage presence was so confident that you’d have thought he’d been playing with Judas Priest for decades. Faulkner’s guitar work was faultless, blending the powerful rhythm with his intricate, jaw-dropping solos. His air of youth has breathed life into the band, rejuvenating their perhaps former staleness.
Judas Priest enjoyed every single moment on that stage. Forget ‘enjoyed’, that’s such an understatement, they bloody loved it. They put heart and soul into a night to remember not only for them but their home crowd. By loving playing the music, it allowed us to love watching them play at least one song from every single Judas Priest album (except the ones with Tim “The Ripper” Owens on vocals from the ‘90s). The musicianship was absolutely stunning, the production was incredible and the show of flames, fireworks and motorbikes was blistering for such a small venue. But that wasn’t what made the show. It was the fact it was Judas Priest and the vast amount of superb songs in their discography. You could feel it in the air: this was a show that was going to be remembered.
Tonight, we were truly spoilt. This was a masterclass of metal. The young ‘uns of today need to take note. After all, Judas Priest are metal gods and they must be worshiped for their might. After tonight, you truly realize why they are so respected in the metal community. It had everything, absolutely everything.
War Pigs (Black Sabbath)
1. Battle Hymn
2. Rapid Fire
3. Metal Gods
4. Heading Out To The Highway
5. Judas Rising
7. Victim of Changes
8. Never Satisfied
9. Diamonds & Rust
10. Dawn of Creation
12. Night Crawler
13. Turbo Lover
14. Beyond The Realms of Death
15. The Sentinel
16. Blood Red Skies
17. The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)
18. Breaking The Law
20. The Hellion/Electric Eye (Encore)
21. Hell Bent For Leather (Encore)
22. You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ (Encore)
23. Living After Midnight (Encore)