Review: Judas Priest @ Manchester Apollo

By Andrew Nowell & Liam Barnes

The Apollo raised the roof for the last-ever Manchester appearance of metal legends Judas Priest in a barnstorming journey through almost 40 years of hard-rocking history.

Legions of fans descended for the final opportunity to see one of the pioneers of the genre bring the curtain down on a career that has seen them play to millions of people and rack up over 50million album sales.

The main support act comes in the form of Seattle progressive metallers Queensryche. Starting a little slowly with a song off their new album, they quickly build up momentum and tear through a high-paced set drawn from across their lengthy their back catalogue.

While the songs from their seminal 1988 opus Operation: Mindcrime get the loudest audience reactions, it’s the oldest numbers in the set ‘NM156’ and ‘Screaming in Digital’ that make the strongest impression, propelled along by Scott Rockenfield’s thunderous drumming.

The band play energetically and recent recruit Parker Lundgren is well integrated into the line-up, but Geoff Tate’s voice sounds under strain in the higher register, and he is forced to re-work some of the falsetto passages.

No such problems in the vocal department for tonight’s headliners: Rob Halford’s voice sounds magnificent, better than on previous tours.

Despite that, however, the main event gets off to a stuttering start, with several pauses between songs while various issues with the guitar pedals and effects’ boards are sorted out.

Once those hiccups are overcome, however, Judas Priest proceed to show everyone exactly why they are still the Metal Gods after 40 years, as classic song after classic song is flawlessly delivered, together with a light show that would put Pulse-era Pink Floyd to shame.

The stage show is a little subdued compared to previous arena outings, with the trapdoors and lifts banished and no enormous electric eye backdrop, but the band seem to relish the smaller setting for this tour, with live recruit Richie Faulkner – replacing the retired axe-man KK Downing – spending the entire night leaning into the audience conducting front-row singalongs and Rob Halford’s banter seeming more spontaneous than in previous years.

The set spans the entirety of Priest’s varied career, from their 2009 double-album Nostradamus to a very rare outing for two tracks from their 1973 debut Rocka Rolla (only the two mid-90s albums when Halford had left the band were ignored, and with fairly good reason as far as most fans were concerned).

The tone is set with a pacy and powerful run through ‘Rapid Fire’ and ‘Metal Gods’, the opening numbers from magnum opus British Steel, before the first of many trips into neglected corners of the back catalogue with Point of Entry’s ‘Heading Out to the Highway’.

Scott Travis’ powerful drumming gets a good airing on the bone-shaking ‘Judas Rising’, before the band wind the clock back 30 years with a selection of early classics, including the epic ‘Victim of Changes’ and a reworked version of ‘Diamonds and Rust’, the slower, melancholic beginning perfect for a night of celebration tinged with nostalgia and sadness that the end is nigh.

After a trip back to the future with 2009’s ‘Prophecy’ more overlooked gems from the 1980s are revisited, and ‘Turbo Lover’, the title track from the experimental and (at the time) much-maligned 1986 album, receives a rapturous reception, aided by veteran Glenn Tipton’s awesome soloing and interaction with his young assistant Faulkner.

A personal highlight of the night is the inclusion of epic metal ballad ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’: from 1978’s Stained Class, at the start of Priest’s near-decade of metal domination, the showcasing of Halford’s vocal dexterity and Tipton’s fluid guitar work was a fine embodiment of just how much the band have accomplished.

The end of a marathon two-hour-plus set sees a barrage of the biggest hits, with Halford letting the crowd sing all of signature song ‘Breaking the Law’ before blasting through ‘Painkiller’, ‘Hellion/Electric Eye’ and the motorbike anthem ‘Hell Bent for Leather’.

It’s slightly ironic for a farewell tour to end on a song called ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, and the emotion and feeling in the audience could have stayed for hours on end, but ultimately it is a satisfying summation for one of metal’s true greats, as a band often under-rated in their own country were given a fitting send-off.

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