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Culture Reviews
Judas Priest
Adrenaline Stadium 
By Martin Richardson
They’re calling it the “Epitaph” tour, and hinting that it’s a farewell of sorts. After four decades of unleashing classic metal terror on the major cities of the world, Judas Priest are thinking of taking it easy, and going for a less stressful schedule of one-off gigs and festival spots. But there was no evidence of a band content to go through the motions in a two-hour show which took in the highlights of all the Priest’s studio albums (except the slightly dodgy ones released by sub-strength line-ups in the 90s). And there was little evidence that their fans – who include a high proportion of middle-aged men defiantly keeping those greying locks down their backs even as their hairlines recede up top – are willing to let them go quietly.

For the uninitiated, Judas Priest does the kind of heavy metal that was revolutionary in the mid-70s. By today’s standards it lacks the extremes of assorted metal sub-genres from death to nu, but even if it sounds like an extract from a retro US High School movie soundtrack at times, nobody could deny that it still rocks like a good’un. Having seemingly sacrificed a small herd of cattle to create the assorted costumes – the show had enough changes to suggest Madonna’s wardrobe team had got involved somewhere in the planning stage – and having sworn one again an enduring commitment to throwing all the appropriate heavy metal shapes during obligatory guitar solos, this was classic crowd-pleasing stuff.

Happily, it was also a band on top form. Singer Rob Halford, an imposing shaven-headed presence in long leather coats studded with so much metalwork they seemed to shimmer like sequins under the arena lights, still has the kind of voice the switches effortlessly from roar to scream. The words may get lost in the noise, even during a more delicate moment covering the Joan Baez classic “Diamonds and Rust”. That track got a reworking for the tour, moving from acoustic ballad to full-on metal mosh-out; elsewhere in the set the likes of “Never Satisfied” got live airings for the first time, proving that even tribute shows can find new ground to break on occasion. Meanwhile guitarist Richie Faulkner, a hasty conscript to the crew after long-time fretmeister KK Downing quit on the eve of the tour, proved a more than able stand-in. Along with Glenn Tipton and bassist Ian Hill, he unleashed a controlled storm of sound which blended all the power and virtuosity demanded of the genre, and ensured the engine room of the band drives forwards relentlessly, without missing a beat.

However, while nobody could fault the band’s commitment and professionalism, it was a show which illustrated how fast the once-shocking becomes almost commonplace. Back in the day, the Priest was a byword for all that is dangerous about hard rock – the flirtation with religious themes prompted a moral panic about how young minds might be corrupted, and at one point the band found itself on the receiving end of a law suit which claimed “subliminal messages” in the music had prompted two fans to commit suicide – a case which the band themselves regarded as absurd, saying any subliminal message from them would have been along the lines of “buy more of our records”. Today, however, if they don’t quite come across as the grandfathers of rock, they are certainly closer to a much-loved uncle. The raucous energy of drums and bass still raises a tingle, the fast-paced fingerwork of the guitarists still excites, but this is no longer the cry of a generation waiting for a chance it fears it may never get. Perhaps this is why the time is right for a final Epitaph, while the band is still on form and the legend can get an appropriate send-off.

22.04.12
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