by MIKE CHAIKEN
All hail the conquering Priest.
Judas Priest, that is.
Judas Priest is back and the fans love it.
There was a moment during the venerable metal band’s show at the Mohegan Sun Arena on March 22 that epitomized the current state of affairs for Judas Priest, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Lead singer Rob Halford was standing at the edge of the stage during a pause between the metallic jackhammer of guitars, bass, and drums. The crowd on the jam-packed open floor of the Sun suddenly began pumping its fists in the air, shouting “Priest! Priest!” and the mass of undulating flesh below Halford began to ripple in waves. You could see the lead singer stand a little taller, his chest puffing out a little bit, reveling in the love from the crowd.
Judas Priest finds itself in a sudden moment of pop culture resurrection. The Mohegan Sun looked as if the band—which is on tour with Saxon and Black Star Riders—had sold out the joint.
And Halford proudly announced that the group’s latest album, “Firepower,” in its first few weeks of release, has outsold every other album in their catalogue in the same time period. This includes the band’s classic album “British Steel.”
Reviews have been fantastic for the album. And as the group ripped into some of the new tracks on stage—such as “Evil Never Dies” and “Lightning Strikes—they fit squarely into the Judas Priest canon.
The ecstatic crowd surely had something to do with the band’s whipped up performance. The musicians played with precision and energy. Guitarists Richie Faulkner and Andy Sheap were a fabulous duo of lead and rhythm guitars. Ian Hill on bass and Scott Travis on drums held the bottom down, providing the power and glory on stage.
And Rob Halford… he proved once again that he is the template for all heavy metal singers that followed his arrival. Yes, folks like Ozzy Osbourne and Robert Plant are viewed as classic metal belters. But truth be told, but Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin although they were heavy, they weren’t pure heavy metal. Judas Priest had always been intended as a heavy band and they flew the flag proudly throughout their career. And Halford is the epitome of the leather-lunged belter. Even though Halford is a long-time veteran of the metal wars, unlike some of his metal peers, his voice keeps getting better. The notes he hit would cause a younger singer to squirm.
And there is the music of Judas Priest. It was great to hear classic tracks like “Painkiller,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Turbo” next to deep tracks like “Saints in Hell” (from “Stained Class”) and “Ripper” (from “Sad Wings of Destiny”).
Saxon was a member of the era known as the New Wave of Heavy Metal, rising up in the U.K. beside groups such as Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. Although they are lesser known in the USA, the group also showed at the Mohegan Sun that metal music can be a Fountain of Youth. They were a perfect opener for Judas Priest because they brought the fire and fury of the best of metal. And it was a great opportunity for fans to rediscover what they might have missed when Saxon was on the rise.
And like Judas Priest, Saxon is experiencing a renaissance. Their latest album “Thunderbolt” has become its biggest seller in the states since 1980.
Opening act, Black Star Riders is Thin Lizzy by any other name. The members typically tour as Thin Lizzy, keeping the song catalogue of the late Philip Lynott alive. However, when they opted to record original music sans Lynott, out of respect, they called themselves Black Star Riders.
The group, which did perform “The Boys Are Back in Town,” clearly have the Thin Lizzy pedigree. But their new songs show they are as much about the future as the past. Black Star Riders also brought an energy and power that helped provide the template for the evening to come. Black Star Riders are currently touring behind their third release “Heavy Fire.”
I give Judas Priest (along with Saxon and Black Star Riders) at the Mohegan Sun Arena on March 22 four out of four stars.