As we approach what is likely the final Judas Priest tour on UK soil more than 4 decades after they began, Rocksins features editor Jamie Giberti takes a special look at one of the bands that started it all when metal is concerned…
I was very late to the party where Judas Priest were concerned; I had been listening to metal for at least five years before my first encounter with “The Priest”. The Virgin Megastore (anyone remember those?) in Stevenage was having a clear out and as a result I picked up 8 or 9 assorted metal CDs for around 40 quid, a bargain even back then. Amongst the aforementioned CD’s was one called Angel of Retribution by a band called Judas Priest. I bought it because I had vaguely heard of Priest, and as is so often the case, I liked the album cover. Then I committed what is now known to be a cardinal sin; The CD lay on the shelf unopened, next to the frequently played likes of Maiden and Metallica and thus I did not “cross paths” with Rob Halford and co again for another two and a half years or so.
Fast forward to early 2008 and Judas Priest were one of the opening batch of bands announced for the Download Festival. That immediately revived my interest and along with fellow Rock Sins contributor Matt Hill, we quickly gave ourselves a crash course in the ways of Judas Priest. I think it was approximately 12 seconds after hearing the title track from Painkiller we both realised that there was a huge Judas Priest sized hole in our music collections, something we were not aware of until that point and something I should have realised years earlier. The combination of a collection of quality riffs, hugely distinctive drum routines (e.g. Painkiller) and Rob Halfords unique vocal delivery immediately launched Judas Priest into the higher reaches of my favourite bands, where they have remained to this day.
If anyone who is reading this in lacking in knowledge about Judas Priest as I was, I will not give a full history lesson but make a single, very important point. They, arguably along with Black Sabbath, are the originators of heavy metal as we know it today and thus have influenced every single metal band that has since come henceforth. Anyone and everyone from the big four (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth & Anthrax) through to 90’s metal bands like Pantera and Machine Head through to newer or younger bands such as Devildriver, Trivium, Malefice and Sylosis will have been affected or influenced by the work of Judas Priest, either directly or indirectly.I won’t go on anymore about Priest’s history as that has been covered in a thousand other easily found articles or places like Wikipedia, for anyone interested the Wikipedia page is a very good place to start.
So, finally, Download 2008 rolls round and I am able to experience The Metal Gods in all their live, leather glad glory. I thought they were absolutely fantastic, with the added bonus of having a longer set time after Kid Rock threw a hissy fit backstage and walked out. Rob Halford seemed in fine voice and it was quite an experience to see so many of the biggest Priest songs played live. I can’t quite fathom why Andy Copping (Download booker) said he was disappointed with the performance; For me they were the highlight of what was undoubtedly one of the poorer lineups in the otherwise fine history of the festival.
Less than a year later The Priest Feast tour would mark another great opportunity to catch Rob, KK Downing and the others in a live setting, only this time accompanied by thrash legends Megadeth and Testament. From a tour point of view, it was absolutely fantastic, though in my opinion Judas Priest didn’t quite hit the heights of the Download performance. Having to follow Megadeth, who were in absolutely blistering form on that night was never going to be an easy task and for me they on that night they didn’t quite pull it off, but they still put on a very enjoyable show. Others have commented that Rob Halfords’ range has diminished since their heyday and that is probably true (having never seen them in their prime it is hard to comment, I wish I had) but they are still more than capable of putting on a great show.
The decision for Judas Priest to retire (from the live arena, they still plan to make new albums) is not a hugely surprising one. The band have stated in the past that they would in effect never want to become a bad cover version of themselves, and they are not getting any younger, so perhaps the time is right for them to bow out in glory before such a thing could happen. Regrettably, legendary guitarist KK Downing has chosen to part ways with the band before the final “Epitaph” world tour, which is a shame for all concerned as I am sure all the fans old and new would have liked to have seen him up there with them one last time, but it was not meant to be. New guitarist Richie Faulkner should add some youthful enthusiasm and energy to proceedings and I am sure he will do very well (he certainly seemed comfortable pulling solos on Priests’ appearance on American Idol on US TV).
So, we come to the High Voltage Festival: The stand out date on the UK leg of the Judas Priest “Epitaph” World Tour. This tour is probably your final chance to see Judas Priest live (they haven’t said whether there will be another round of UK dates on the tour as the tour is scheduled to run for some considerable time across many countries). It is definitely your last chance to see them in such a grand setting. Headlining a festival such as High Voltage would be a perfect UK send off for one of the originators of heavy metal. There are so many reasons why anyone reading this should go to the festival to see Judas Priest. The festival has many other excellent bands old, young and inbetween but seeing Judas Priest live is literally being able to watch heavy metal history, in this case in all likelyhood for the last time. Seeing and hearing the likes of Painkiller, Between The Hammer & The Anvil, Hell Patrol and Hell Bent For Leather is an experience any rock or metal fan should be able to enjoy. So come and join the party at High Voltage and give Judas Priest one hell of a London send off.
Authors Note: Just in case anyone needs any further convincing (though in my humble opinion, anyone who does may need their heads examined), there will be an article up shortly about where any new listener should start with Judas Priest so they can pick through the considerable album collection to the essentials.
Judas Priest co-headline the High Voltage Festival with Dream Theater in Victoria Park in London this July. Other acts on the bill include Slash, Queenscryhe, Thin Lizzy, Thunder (their first show for 2 years), Neal Morse, Anathema, Neurosis, Sylosis, Graveyard, Grand Magus, Furyon, Spocks Beard and many more acts and attractions including a full blown beer festival inside the music festival.
All photos: Jamie Giberti