Judas Priest / Black Label Society
November 12, 2011
The Venue – Hammond, IN
By Anthony Kuzminski
Inside The Venue, a state of the art concert complex attached to the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Indiana (just outside of Chicago) Black Label Society and Judas Priest performed one of their longest and most intimate shows of their current tour. Sure, they’ve played clubs and theaters but The Venue has an immense stage allowing for an arena-like set-up (with immense screens on both sides of the stage) giving this performance a unique perspective. The two combined acts delivered nearly three and a half hours of deafening heavy metal riffs to a sold-out crowd of approximately 3,000 people. Black Label Society took to the stage a little after 7pm and for the next 65-minutes tore through ten songs with vocalist/ guitarist Zakk Wylde shredding and singing. “Crazy Horse”, “Suicide Messiah” and a killer finale of “Stillborn” resounded with the crowd. Black Label as a whole rocked and rolled with each band member flexing their respective muscles with great power setting the stage for headliner Judas Priest.
The Epitaph tour is a first for Priest. They’re performing one song off of each of their Rob Halford studio albums. While not the first band to do this, it was a refreshing and amazingly well paced show that stretched well past the two hour mark. First things first, K.K. Downing is missed. There is something missing on stage looking at five musicians and not seeing his blonde hair and searing guitar solos. However, he decided to sit this one out and in his place is a wholly impressive 31 year-old named Richie Faulkner. He held his own as he and Tipton had chemistry and he engaged the crowd. So while nostalgia rules most of our memories, Faulkner eased the blow. He can never fully replace Downing but he did a stupendous job on stage and with the songs.
The double whammy of “Rapid Fire” and “Metal Gods” from the seminal British Steel record was a forceful way to start the show. Over the next 140-minutes I was continually amazed at how much of the Priest catalog I had buried within my body. It’s hard to believe how many truly influential records the band recorded between 1973 and 1990. “Heading Out to the Highway” continued the effortless assault. When the chorus came, all Halford had to do was hold his microphone out to the crowd and they knew every word. “Judas Rising” from their superb Angel of Retribution album in 2004 continued the evening of history. One thing you have to give Judas Priest from their debut record Rocka Rolla to Nostradamus in 2008, they’ve rarely wavered from their mission. Sure, there were some radio hits that were a bit more polished than others but the band brought the same steely determination to every record and era of the band.
Listening to “Starbreaker” it hits me between-the-eyes as to why I never warmed to the more extreme metal of the 1990’s and onward. I think one of the reasons comes from my introduction of metal by Metallica, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The template these acts set forth may have been modified but rarely bettered. It’s akin to watching Buddy Guy perform one night and following it with the latest platinum rock outfit, it can’t compare because almost nothing could measure up to. The chiming union guitars on “Victim of Changes” were welcomed with an eager surge towards the stage. The general admission crowd may not have been as active as they once were, but the call-and-response to certain songs couldn’t be denied. It was obvious this tour was something designed specifically with the fans in mind. It should be noted that many of the songs Priest performed exceeded the seven minute mark. Considering three of the key members are in their 60’s it was hard to not be awed with their constant stage charisma and release of the songs. The two guitarists had a familial rapport, almost like a father and son as they traded off menacing licks notably as they grinded their twelve strings for a brutal foundation that drove “Never Satisfied”. One of the other reasons I find Priest and their brand of metal so endearing is the way they pull from their influences which extend far beyond the world of metal. They had “Diamonds & Rust” from Joan Baez and “The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)” which was originally done by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in the set. For “Diamonds and Rust” the song was performed under sepia yellow and red lights with the crowd singing along as their fists defiantly swung to the air. I couldn’t help but feel that Joan Baez never imagined in a million years that this song would have this type of a reaction in an atmosphere like this. But once again, props must be given to Judas Priest for never playing by the rules and pushing boundaries. This is why they were and continue to be revolutionary.
“Prophecy” from their controversial Nostradamus record rocked, plain and simple. It was a record their fan base had an incredibly complicated time listening to with many detractors but this particular performance felt inspired with drummer Scott Travis always taking the band in a forward motion and an ominous vocal by Halford. “Night Crawler” was a sentimental choice for me as Painkiller was the first actual Priest album I had bought whereas previously I had been listening to them mostly through mix tapes and live compilations. New guitarist Richie Faulkner was once again fantastic during this song thrusting his fists to the air as he inched his way closer and closer to the fans. He may not be K.K. Downing but he fit the shoes well and above all else proved to be the liaison between the band and the fans. “Turbo Lover” is one of the few songs in the Judas Priest cannon that stirs up debate as the synthesizer drives most of the song but onstage this time around, there was no synth beat and it was nothing but an unrelenting and fierce performance driven home by the two headed guitar monster of Drover and Faulkner whose twelve strings took the track to heights even the most staunch metal head could not have imagined.
One of their earliest songs “Beyond the Realms of Death” featured operatic guitars while “The Sentinel” featured Drover and Faulkner traded off licks trying to top one another as Ian Hill’s bass shook the rafters. The band’s stage up was devised for crowds larger than The Venue. A benefit is we see great acts in more intimate places but the sound verged on overwhelming as it shattered my ears in the days that followed. “Blood Red Skies” was astonishing in all of its 8-minutes. I never paid much attention to Ram It Down but this is clearly a gem I had previously overlooked. Hard core metal fans often take issue with some of the theatrics the band may bring to the stage but the lasers, flames and pyrotechnics help invigorate some of these lesser known numbers for the crowd. It may appear to be eye candy but in truth it’s a way of keeping the crowd engaged song-to-song as they pull from their extensive catalog.
The last thirty-minutes of the show was fueled by the unforgettable hits people have come to know inside and out. For “Breaking the Law” Halford didn’t utter a single lyric as the crowd vociferously sung every word at the top of their lungs. “Painkiller” featured the driving interlock of drummer Scott Travis and bassist Ian Hill as Rob Halford shrieked in his most indomitable performance of the evening. The melody is obscured under the incensed and sniveling guitars with the rhythm section kicking into overdrive as they pulverized the crowd with the double kick-drum and spiraling bass as the sold-out crowd waved their fists in severe approval. “The Hellion/Electric Eye” from 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance opened the encore expanding the dialogue between the band and their audience. From here on out the band masterfully took the already explosive evening to another level. “Hell Bent for Leather”, “You've Got Another Thing Comin'” and the finale of “Living After Midnight” found Judas Priest reaching the apogee of their horns-to-the-air supremacy. When the band ended their 140-minute set it was more than a triumphant hit medley but an all encompassing career knock-out. Capturing at least one song from every album forced the band outside of their normal dynamics and pushed themselves in the process.
Many felt the Epitaph tour would have been the band’s final stand. While it may be their final extensive world tour that stretches for months on end, all signs point to the band continuing to write, record and above all else tour. Many felt the British Steel tour from a few years back (where they played the seminal album in its entirety) was their pinnacle. If K.K. Downing had been on board for Epitaph this would have been their crowning moment. It’s bittersweet to not have him in the band but the youthful exuberance of Richie Faulkner has helped the band forge ahead and considering the length (in terms of songs and time) this tour was a refreshing to longtime fans as it showed Judas Priest still has plenty of vigor within them. From Halford’s anguished scream to the dark brutalism of Hill’s bass and Travis’ drums to the windstorm of Tipton and Faulkner’s conjoined guitars the evening took their most fervent of admirers down dark and strange corners of their history but ultimately in the end, the pacing and emotional intensity gradually build to a roaring pyrotechnic climax where metal fans of all ages rock until dawn.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Heading Out to the Highway
Victim of Changes
Diamonds & Rust
(Joan Baez cover)
Dawn Of Creation
Beyond the Realms of Death
Blood Red Skies
The Green Manalishi (With the Two Pronged Crown)
(Fleetwood Mac cover)
Breaking the Law
Hell Bent for Leather
You've Got Another Thing Comin'
Living After Midnight