Judas PriestEagerness was growing deep inside of me as people all around me were rushing through the corridors of the underground towards a most famous venue, Le Zénith, of the so-called world’s most beautiful city.
As a matter of fact, within less than an hour, what a plethora of “metal maniacs”, to quote Rob Halford, had long been expecting would already be in session: the very first Judas Priest gig in France for eighteen years.
Eighteen years, you heard that right: the band had actually not set foot in our country since their original singer left the line-up in the early nineties, after the end of a most successful world tour promoting their then latest, fastest, most aggressive and probably biggest success so far, it goes without saying: “Painkiller,” in 1991.
Oddly enough, not only were French fans omitted for the “Retribution Tour” which kicked off in June 2004 and ended in December 2005, but also for the first European leg of their “Nostradamus Tour“ in 2008. Respectively, those world tours were undertaken in support of the band’s first studio album since their reunion in July 2003, “Angel Of Retribution,” and their long awaited double concept-album about the so-called prophet of the same name, “Nostradamus.”
However, to emphasize the event, dubbed for the occasion “Priest Feast” as far as European shows were concerned, Judas Priest came along with Testament and Megadeth as support acts; two major thrash metal pioneers of the eighties.
For you to get a better glimpse of the musical landscape in the middle of which such an
all-time, worldwide famous heavy metal symbol grew and managed to build its own reputation, allow me to take you back to the late sixties, when it all started…
Back then in 1969, deep down in the industrial area of Birmingham, otherwhise known as the most famous Black Country, while the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin were busy taking over the world with their brand new hard rock, restless and wild if any, close friends guitarist Kenneth Downing and bass player Ian Hill formed a band influenced by the music of rock veterans such as The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience or even Cream, and whose name was inspired by a song from Bob Dylan’s 1967 "John Wesley Harding," "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest."
As for most music bands, the original line-up, and especially the man holding the
drumsticks, was to change quite often at the beginning. Indeed, so it was during their early years, as Judas Priest was firstly restricted to a trio, comprising a single guitarist and a rhythm section consisting of a bassist and a drummer called John Ellis.
They nonetheless soon became a quartet, as singer Al Atkins joined in. The latter even contributed to writing some material that was going to be reused further on and become some of their standards on stage, such as the eerie "Victim Of Changes" from their second album.
Afterwards, he eventually left in 1974 because of growing strain with the band’s managing company.
With vacant room behind both the drum kit and the mike stand, the Downing-led hard rock act quickly filled its vacancies with the arrival of singer Rob Halford and drummer John Hinch.
However, as they were gradually heading towards a rather heavier sound, and on their record company’s request, the band needed to incorporate another extra musician who was to be found in the person of guitarist Glenn Tipton from the Stafford-based Flying Hat Band.
As Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse, they were now ready to enter the studio and record
their first album, "Rocka Rolla," which unfortunately suffered from quite a poor sound quality and too little public recognition to take them immediately to the top of the world’s rock scene.
Thanks to drummer Les Binks who took on the drums in 1977, new horizons opened to Judas Priest, as they chose to experiment with more straightforward and dynamic rhythmical parts, as well as much stronger metallic-sounding lead guitars and sharper lead vocals, as heard in "Sin After Sin," and more particularly their very first major genuine heavy metal anthem, "Sinner."
Anyway, it was not until 1979 and their fifth studio album, "Killing Machine," that the band triggered what was soon going to become a whole new fashion amongst most Hard Rock and Heavy Metal acts, and actually even the whole world till nowadays. Although Judas Priest’s debuts are still pictured as bluesy jams performed by musicians sporting loose robes along with bell-bottom jeans, part of their fame is to be credited to radically different antics and looks, as depicted on their record cover: studded leather outfits, decorated with chains and patched parts everywhere were from now on the band’s trade mark.
Thereby allowing an actual breakthrough for the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal at the dawn of the eighties, Judas Priest began collecting platinum records, as they were gradually climbing towards the summit of the national charts. Meanwhile, they also had to face busier and busier a schedule, juggling between television appearances or radio sessions, for example on the all-seeing and all-hearing B.B.C. and on M.T.V. for rehearsals for their music
Rob Halford‘s very distinctive and unique voice even earned him the title of "Metal God," after their eponymous song. The band furthermore took part in Live Aid on July 13th 1985, playing three of their classics for the average 99,000 people attending John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia.
Even though their career was stressed by various alterations of their music so as to adapt to contemporary trends, from the late eighties all the way to the nineties, the band managed to remain a torchbearer for heavy metal and thereby a major influence for the abounding new subcategories that began to proliferate at the time.
They succeeded in living on through the decades despite perilously swaying to the threshold of disbandment during the middle-nineties, and, similarly later on, another most criticized change of their musical approach with their replacement singer, Tim "Ripper" Owens. Fortunately, as you can gladly witness nowadays, they eventually reunited, drown under a flood of applause and welcome, seven years ago.
As I was catching up with the surface, the denseness of outfits depicting covers and tour posters of AC/DC, Iron Maiden, you name it, happened to cross my way, quite fortunately actually for someone who was seeking a path to reach the venue. Now all I had to do was to follow these fellow travelers.
Kid’s stuff, and somehow ironical given the average age, since approximately half of the attendees had to be old enough back in the day to attend such events as release parties for
"News Of The World" or the first live performance ever of "The Wall."
Most were merely hanging whimsically all over the place. Some were busy boozing, as they were, in a jolly way, some others were even already drunk out of their minds to prepare
for the event. After all, who’s to blame when you notice quite a noteworthy profit is made from beers inside concert halls?
Well, at least there was definitely no doubt the gig succeeded in rousing dramatic crowds from every corner of the country. Once at the gates, I deserved what you just cannot skip: the usual body search for cameras, recorders or even weapons of any kind, in order to avoid large scale disasters like that of James Vance‘s demise, or how Judas Priest ended up in a trial in 1990 alleging circumstantial responsibility in the self-inflicted gunshot wounds of two teenagers five years earlier.
However, no sooner had I stridden a few steps behind the metallic gate, or, don’t get me wrong, was it made of British steel?, than I heard the roar of the crowd. I could picture the scene. But unlike a "Juke Box Hero," without even putting my ear to the wall, and like a distant scream, I heard one guitar, which surely blew me away!
What a pity, should the opening act arrive before schedule, I happened to be right on time. As the first overdriven chords to "Over The Wall" were strummed, the Priest Feast’s bells tolled 6:50 P.M..
No time to worry about it though, since I had to run like hell all the way through the hall, and then upwards the stairway to the main one, and therefore, to heaven. Indeed, little did I know that, right at the top, pretty maids were standing all in a row, waiting for me to guide me to mine. I had just followed one of them within the surrounding, what’s more, urging darkness, that the overture to Testament’s next song resounded.
After a smile and a quick nod at my pathfinder, I could finally take my seat and gaze at the glittering stage I had been awaiting all day.
Two hours and twenty minutes, and intense, however too short, shows by the opening bands later, the stage went pitch black all of a sudden as in the meantime the volume of the
continuous music broadcast through all the hall’s loudspeakers was increasing. As a matter of fact, Black Sabbath’s "Luke's Wall / War Pigs" were grunting so loud I wondered whether the roadies did not confuse the stage spotlights with the playlist.
My doubts turned out to be short-lived as Tony Iommi’s guitar solo made way for the opening flute of the headliner’s "Dawn of Creation," and the darkness for a wide stage arranged in the fashion of the cover for "Nostradamus," at the top of which were towering Scott Travis’s awe striking drums, while the following piano notes meddling with smooth layers of synthesizers were being played.
Such mildness was soon eclipsed by rather thundering rototoms gradually intensifying so much so they became fearsomely deafening.
Right at that moment, as the escalation in the use of the bass drum reached its climax, as the whole venue was quaking to the rhythm of each strike; this peculiar and paramount chill down your spine you may feel every now and then during seldom moments of ultimate enjoyment suddenly transpired, and in the circumstances, that one almost had me to freeze spontaneously on the spot, as if comfortably numb with delight.
Most likely due to the sudden increase in ambient heat triggered by the first number on the setlist, a phenomenon comparable to a paramount ice, rather than metal, meltdown
followed as the powerful "PROPHECY" began resonating all across the whole skyline of Le Zénith.
Up there from my velvet seat, looking down upon the pit where the most wicked ones were bouncing against one another, the angle was absolutely perfect for a comprehensive gaze of the whole stage.
Whereas both guitarists soon followed by Ian Hill ran onto the stage from each side, the latter settling in his regular right corner, as usual; being literally flabbergasted before such a display of energy and strength for the overture, it took me a few seconds to notice that, while the first verses were already being sung, there was no microphone within sight.
What I believed to be yet another stage prop at first sight, concealed under an utterly reflecting metallic gown at the top of the left crimson column of the stage, suddenly started to move, and, majestically, flung its amazing cloak down below, thus revealing the mighty figure of Rob Halford, who was holding an actual scepter he was passing off as his mike stand, and wearing his usual large dark over-studded outfit.
What a surprise to witness so much vividness amongst the five of them!
Indeed, the band did not lose any of its splendour: ubiquitous sturdiness and accuracy in each single note, forcible overdrive along with various other guitar effects, a rumbling rhythm from both Ian’s Spector and Travis’s D.W. kit, and, obviously, Rob’s legendary strenuous vocals were still there alright.
Against all odds, had the last notes just begun to wear off of the sustain on Glenn’s Phantom, than, not even letting us catch our breath, and instead of proceeding onto the
next section from "Nostradamus," the band started to strum the opening power chords running down from E to D to one of their greatest stage staples:
Surprisingly, almost thirty years later, the whole band managed to bring as much power to "Metal Gods" as, for instance, back up their successful "Vengeance Tour" in 1982. Ironically, as Rob started singing the first lines: "We've taken too much for granted - And all the time it had grown - From the techno seeds we first planted - Evolved a mind of its' own,"
you could notice, given the whole excitement which was taking us way above the ground inside Le Zénith, as a matter of fact, the reputation of Judas Priest had only but expanded as times passed the realm of Rock’n’Roll by; with the result that they became an actual myth for those who never had a chance to attend a concert of theirs.
Following such a powerful piece, and just as everyone around had to have warmed up beyond reason, nothing could have been more convenient than even tougher songs like the impending harder trio comprising a furious "Eat Me Alive," a stalwart "Between The Hammer And The Anvil" along with their catchy stringent "Devil’s Child."
Unfortunately, even though Judas Priest’s metal was far from having rusted along the years, one cannot turn a blind eye on the fact that, where Halford initiated a pivotal evolution in the use of harsh vocals in 1982’s heavy metal, as heard on "Screaming For Vengeance," the combo’s fastest songs more likely to flirt with Thrash Metal were nowadays at times too
high-pitched for their singer’s current vocal range. As it happens, "Devil’s Child" and the later "Painkiller" foremost suffered this weakness.
Once able to reach a range wider than 4 octaves, even the metal god happens not to be invulnerable to the ravages of time. However tough this might be to accept -oh baby it’s a wild world-, eventually, you inavoidably reach a breakpoint where you sadly have to let go of some past achievements you turn out ot be highly proud of, to move on; even though it doesn’t mean you have to abnegate them either.
Therein, every single Judas Priest aficionado on Earth all the way to the edge of the world should know, it is high time, cymbaline, that the band dropped a few hit numbers of theirs which have already long done their time, so as to profit some more recent songs suiting Halford’s present day abilities better, unless, of course, you think the music’ll sit around as the world goes by, in which case you’ve got another thing comin’…
Hopefully for us, the sole choruses were mainly to blame; hence the music only sounded to a slight extent belittled by so tiny anecdotic misdemeanours.
How appropriate, anyway, as the latter announced we were about to "deal with the law": "Breakin’ the what?" he screamed, and there the infamous A-B-C-A-B-C-A-B-C / F-G-A-F-G-A / G-C-B progression came, as intense as always, although perhaps too much, as the lawbreaker remained under the length of 3 minutes.
Amongst the actually very-well balanced setlist the band offered us that night, the whole concert managed to keep the same quality standard all along; it is, however, necessary to mention a few other noteworthy high points bringing the average level even higher.
"Painkiller," starting with an extended drum introduction unavoidably giving you goose bumps was a track to remember despite a few vocal inaccuracies earlier mentioned. By the way, Travis seemed to be in a great shape that night, always busy throwing his drumsticks up and down above his kit or rotating them in his hands in fancy ways, besides drumming in itself of course; which delightfully brought the global strength of the show further as well.
"Dissident Aggressor" was a great surprise as such, as it turned out to be one of the band’s oldest tunes on the setlist, even if it had already been resurrected a couple of years ago during Judas Priest’s previous tours. "Sinner" shall obviously be introduced no longer, let alone its break, risen close to the seventh heaven thanks to K. K.’s almost 4 minute-long spaced out guitar solo, performed as he often does in an arched shape stretching with his
immaculate Flying V, excessively harassing his tremolo bar for the sake of a combined overdriven sweep-picking technique.
He who dreadeth a lack of variety between two dates of the same leg needeth to worry no longer as French fans were awarded a very seldom played "Rock Hard Ride Free,"
which no wonder rocked the living daylights out of us, performed in a great emotion shared both by the band and the whole Zénith, as well as a very welcome second encore, only played in a very few venues, in the shape of "Living After Midnight."
To cap it all, Rob had most pleasantly been very communicative with the audience, being in a charming mood all night long, and addressing the crowd a few nice words between songs.
Among the criticisms, what I would regret most are the too few songs performed from
"Nostradamus," which is, I believe, what people had mainly come from.
Fans may love in vain the band’s trademark staples like their "1984"-inspired "Electric
Eye," their Fleetwood Mac’s "The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged-Crown)" cover or even their rarer "Hell Patrol;" they still want to hear new material from Judas Priest, whose career has moreover granted them enough of their time on stage yet. Beside
"DEATH" and both opening tracks, only the power-ballad "Angel," that marvelously allowed the audience to embark on a lower mid-tempo rhythm, emerged from the band’s far too promoted "classic" period.
Instead of launching an American Leg supported by Whitesnake a few months later during which they played "British Steel" in its entirety, which in itself remains an impressive enterprise received as astonishment, given the ambitiousness of the whole recording; they perhaps ought to have chosen their latest album.
As well, whereas performances of "Victim Of Changes" or "The Ripper" had been given on other venues, destiny did not put its sad wings around us that one night. Rob’s Harley Davidson motorcycle did however shrill through the amps just before appearing from the middle column of the stage as a classic introduction to "Hell Bent For Leather," thus reviving yet another memorable stage antic depicted on the band’s 1979-recorded live "Unleashed In The East."
What’s more, in order to make sure it would be a night to remember, the singer, then sporting the French flag unfurled on his shoulders, undertook an exclusive vocal interlude
shared by an unanimous crowed chant during a couple of minutes to segue finally into "You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’."
Even after having lasted approximately 2 hours, closing the show with such a song from their 1980’s L.P., the concert nonetheless ended still before the eponymous time, a little more than 2 Minutes To Midnight, though.
But for music’s sake, what a show!
After an about 5 minute-long emphasized standing ovation, I eventually decided to walk down the tiers towards the exit, thereby getting closer to the stage and realizing it was actually way bigger than it looked.
There were definitely too many people at the several trinket stalls scattered all over the place for me to stand and stare, so I moved on and got a chance to breathe in the nocturnal fresh air from La Cité des Sciences before everybody came out.
Calling it a day, I then gradually walked back on my way out, as I was in the meantime getting lost in my thoughts, mingling with diamonds and rust which had been ticking away the moments that made up but a dull day.
Thus looking back at Le Zénith, I, for one, would surely not argue that it was indeed a great gig in the sky.
01) Dawn of Creation (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
02) PROPHECY (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
03) Metal Gods (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
04) Eat Me Alive (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
05) Between The Hammer And The Anvil (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
06) Devil’s Child (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
07) Breaking The Law (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
08) Hell Patrol (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
09) DEATH (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
10) Dissident Aggressor (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
11) Angel (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
12) The Hellion (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
13) Electric Eye (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
14) Rock Hard Ride Free (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
15) Sinner (Tipton; Halford)
16) Painkiller (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
17) Hell Bent For Leather (Tipton)
18) The Green
Manalishi (With The Two Pronged-Crown) (Green)
19) Crowd Chant (Halford)
20) You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ (Tipton; Halford; Downing)
21) Living After Midnight (Tipton; Halford; Downing)