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Judas Priest @ 02 Apollo, Manchester

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WORDS: Perran Helyes

JUDAS PRIEST’s Redeemer of Souls tour finally rolls into the UK after taking it all over the world, and this is a band still very much on a high.

MICHAEL SCHENKER’S TEMPLE OF ROCK have the task of warming up the crowd before the headliners tonight and coming from a similar sonic background have a fairly easy job of it. Drawing from material all across Schenker’s lengthy and undeniably influential career, they’re certainly competent if not too incredible. Frontman Doogie White has a strong voice and manages to not drop too many cringe-inducing rock ‘n’ roll lines that many bands of this ilk may fall foul of, Schenker skipping around looking about as cool as a game of Scrabble is only partially distracting, and Rock You Like a Hurricane is a song that can’t fail to make every person in the room sing along. A closing rendition of UFO’s Rock Bottom continues this momentum only to waste it with a Schenker guitar solo that drags on and on for far too long making it hard not to look forward to a time when this kind of self-indulgent guitar “heroism” has died out, but the chorus returning just about saves it.

Rating: 6/10

It’s fitting that JUDAS PRIEST have taken to using War Pigs as their intro music, BLACK SABBATH the sole true metal band pre-dating them and more integral to the genre’s DNA as even they pay tribute to their forebears. Then the curtain falls, the opening Dragonaut roars into life and the slick machinery kicks into gear. Their ludicrously vibrant light show and array of glistening backdrops from fire-breathing monsters to clinking neon gears almost give off the impression of really stepping into another dimension when at a PRIEST show, a dimension where the Painkiller, the Hellion and the Metallian are very real monstrosities laying waste to the land and where Screaming for Vengeance is still the gnarliest song ever written. JUDAS PRIEST have remarkably somehow managed to stay relevant after over fourty years not just as a classic heritage act but champions and metal torchbearers right through to the modern day; the shirts in the crowd ranging from the expected DIO and IRON MAIDEN to PARKWAY DRIVE and WATAIN are testament to that. A song like the dystopian Electric Eye still feels cutting edge and the army of robotic warriors marching in the background during Metal Gods still feels like a threat from the future. The only thing about their performance that feels the slightest bit dated is the “yeah-yeah” call and response that they wheel out at every show, but even then no one really cares because it’s Rob Halford, and then they lurch into You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’and they’re immediately the coolest thing in the world again.

Four and a half years on from having to fill the shoes of founding guitarist K.K. Downing, Richie Faulkner is more comfortable than ever and has fully settled into that role studded leather and all, and his six string partner Glenn Tipton continues to be one of the most unsung heroes in heavy metal guitar playing history. JUDAS PRIEST’s longest serving drummer Scott Travis is also the best, and when he takes to the mic to address the crowd it’s easy to know exactly what song is coming next as the immortal intro to Painkiller is pounded out with massive force. Even bassist Ian Hillgets a rare moment at the forefront when deeper British Steel cut The Rage is unearthed. Of course Rob Halford, the metal god himself, is peerless. He’s gone through certain patches in his career where his voice hasn’t quite been at its former range but on this recent run supporting Redeemer of Souls he seems rejuvenated, and it only takes the ungodly power of the undying scream at the end of Victim of Changesto prove it. His enthusiasm for music and refusal to be left behind as some washed up old timer sees him injecting occasional death growls into these old school tracks for no reason other than being a total badass, and he’s the embodiment of everything a classic metal frontman should still be in 2015.

At this stage it’s a surprise if a PRIEST show isn’t great. Of course the emergence of the motorbike through the smoke for Hell Bent for Leather gets a great response, of course Breaking the Law tears the room to pieces with every word and even every riff being echoed from the audience’s lips, and while Turbo Lover might come from an often maligned overly commercial synth-ridden album here it’s greeted like any other timeless singalong. The cuts from Redeemer of Souls shine in the live environment, lifted from the bog of bizarre limp production they’re trapped in in their studio form, and Halford screeching Halls of Valhalla is as joyously metal a moment as any. If there’s any nitpicking to be done it’s that with seventeen albums worth of material to draw from they could do more to vary up the setlists but at the same time there’s no obvious answer as to what should be cut; everything rules. Their hour and fourty minute set zips by and JUDAS PRIEST, both due to how entertaining they are and how many cast iron classics from their back catalogue don’t get an airing tonight, could easily play twice that amount and have the place in the palm of their leather gloved hand through to the end and beyond.

Rating: 9/10

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