A lot of people in the „metal scene“ have been bringing up the futile objection to bands announcing farewell tours, and then continuing to tour. In the case with JUDAS PRIEST, their EPITAPH was thoroughly justified. Rarely have they been as close to perfection, and stretching to give their absolute all in recent years. That they didn’t wait too long to announce another album and tour, was an act of loyalty to their fans, rather than a trick – a fact which needs no explanation to those involved in the love affair with PRIEST for over 40 years. While still having attended only one show on the current tour, my feeling is that of ease and intimacy, of demand and pressure having been lifted off Priest’s shoulders, with the completion of Epitaph.
Redeemer Of Souls itself, with the promise of being „classic Priest“, is far from the quality of their latest studio rendition, let alone the quintessence of Metal which is for example Screaming For Vengeance. They do lie on their glory; with that said, the album is almost every bit enjoyable: whatever this classic band offers as easy-listening, outweighs in quality a myriad of contemporary rock and metal acts. Songs like Dragonaut (nevermind the title), Redeemer, and March Of The Damned are instantly catchy, while Halls Of Valhalla is another opportunity to display Rob Halford’s high-pitched vocal mastery.
The Metal God never fails to deliver, although exhaustion spells clearly on his face and body. The fact floods me with many emotions – from feeling for him, to feeling closer to him. He is less imposing and more vulnerable. He is close to us literally, noting how good he felt about the venue, a sold-out 2000-capacity, with only a meter or two of distance between the stage and the first row. („We played in Denmark the other day, where the audience was two miles away – ridiculous!“) A small minus about the Ronda hall of Tivoli Utrecht, is the stage being too high; and the sound of the vocals was somewhat lost in the down-front-centre-stage spot where I was.
As soon as the band appeared on stage (right on time and with no support, woo-hoo!), Mr.Tipton felt the audience with his penetrating gaze, and then maintained the eye-contact, while encouraging the fans to sing along the lyrics. Richie Faulkner provided the muscles and glamour of the rock show, while Mr.Hill and Mr.Travis appeared genuinely enthusiastic as ever.
And such was the atmosphere that instantly set in between band and audience. Within myself, there was the mixed feeling of happiness and the hesitation to let the band go, after two short hours.
The concert opened with Dragonaut, to quickly pick up with the groovy heavyweight Metal Gods. After the playful favourite of Devil’s Child, something quite unexpected happened with me.
Victim Of Changes began – and I burst in tears.
I try to put a name to the emotion, and come up with this… nostalgia. Nostalgia, however, in a very special sense, as described by Halford in a 90s interview which stuck with me: „Nostalgia is a human necessity – it is affection.“ Victim Of Changes represents the whole history of my affair with Priest, which seems to have initiated in the dawn of time. I was crying, and I still am while typing these lines. I don’t want anything to change in my love with Priest. It won’t!
Enough with being whimsical. JUDAS PRIEST are not 90-years old, they are young men, mostly in their 60s. However, their attitude defies even that, exemplifying spirit over matter, and the mere number which age ultimately is. As the concert progresses, I get the distinct feeling of Rob fancying himself as a young man still, as cocky and devious, as Rock’n’Roll as he has always been. And while later representatives of metal subgenres get lost in comically faux-intellectual reflections on the genre and its „ideologies“, the Metal Gods have long made the statement of what heavy metal is. It is all about having fun. It is about having fun extremely, electrified, making Judas Priest the epitome of ecstatic musical intensity.
The setlist offers the aforementioned four songs off the new album – a relatively small number, making the current tour another „best of“ this legendary band. After Halls Of Valhalla, we plunge into a Love-Bitez delight – which is to continue with Turbo Lover, met by the audience with special exaltation.
In between songs, men in the audience shouting „We love you Rob!“ vocalize the emotion for me, stripping me of the hesitation to express it, in order to not offend the entire band. Of course The Metal God is the star – and this gentle, refined yet monstrously expressive man steals the affection. In so many words, we love the man to death. And it fucking bites.
A lot of fans sorely miss KK Downing, but the duo of his younger replacement and legendary guitar maestro Tipton simply saturates the soul.
In between Love Bites and Turbo Lover, I was happy to hear March Of The Damned, which in its heavy-rock oldschool feel was my instant favourite off the Redeemer album. I had seen a setlist of the tour somewhere which didn’t include the song, and it made me wonder.
The song of the same name as the new album follows, and then the aesthetic feast of Rob’s vocal in Beyond The Realms Of Death.
It is time for lyrical introspection and vocal precision to give way to pure bacchanalia with Jawbreaker, Breaking The Law, and Hellbent. The biker image of Halford and his whip is sure to give a hardon to even sworn male straights.
There is no interval to mark the supposed encore – indeed, why the theatrics. Electric Eye comes, then You’ve Got Another Thing Coming (where I always love to see Rob dance).
The question drummer god Travis poses, which song we still want, is brief and rhetorical. Painkiller it is, and one could hear the cracks in the redhot air.
We’re Living After Midnight (although it’s still ten o’clock), and Rob takes his time to have the autoerotic ball which has underlied his artistry. He still looks every bit „horny as fuck“, as he claimed he was in the 80s. He still is a mean git on stage – and lovable.
What I’m probably missing, is a song off Ram It Down; Blood Red Skies during Epitaph was a blast.
With the spectacle coming to an end, there’s a sense of freedom. Love. And gratitude – from band to audience, from audience to band… the gratitude and contentment of still being together after all these years. There’s a deep unadulterated feeling of bliss which the guys’ faces exude, and it is touching and true. They’re as genuine as a rock artist should be, real as „good old southern blues“ (Halford, 2000).
Needless to say, I cannot wait until the next time. This time, without a camera. I’ll just be there. The deeply feeling, deeply reflective, yet giving nature of these gentlemen demands all the unmediated, private attention.
Victim of Changes
Halls of Valhalla
March of the Damned
Redeemer of Souls
Beyond the Realms of Death
Breaking the Law
Hell Bent for Leather
You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’
Living After Midnight
Text and photos: Diana Chavdarova ©
Redeemer Of Souls Tour, TivoliVredenburg Ronda hall, Utrecht, 14 June 2015