For me the long drive from London to the city of Birmingham was filled with excitement but also with trepidation! Excitement, as I was going to watch the 4th date of Judas Priests Priest Feast UK tour at the newly named LG Arena (previously NEC Arena) in Birmingham, trepidation, because the motorway's of England are notoriously traffic ridden and totally unpredictable! Would I make it to the gig or be stuck in a tailback for 5 hours on the M40 motorway? Thankfully the roads were as clear as a bell as I made my way steadily to the ancestral birthplace of heavy metal itself, the birthplace of Judas Priest and of the legendary Black Sabbath.
The LG Arena is a terrific venue with stewards and staff very friendly, helpful and well organised, I was very happy to have a standing ticket as I wanted to get as close to the stage as I could for this amazing bill of Testament, Megadeth and headliners Priest!
San Franscisco thrashers Testament took to the stage at around 18.20pm, to a rather good reception, the arena was far from full, but there were obviously quite a few of hardcore Testament fans in attendance.
The band tore threw some old classics such as Practice What You Preach and The New Order with excellent drummer Paul Bostaph laying down some amazing rhythums, while axe masters Skolnick and Peterson shredded for all their worth, vocalist Chuck Billy roared like unholy thunder throughout. They suffered from slightly stodgy sound at times, the guitars having difficulty cutting through. But the sound did improve, as the band referenced their new album The Formation Of Damnation by playing a couple of new tracks.
Testament are excellent at what they do, they're a very competant and highly technical thrash metal band. But I always thought that their songwriting maybe wasn't quite as good as it could be and no disrespect to Chuck, but I always had problems with Billy's vocals, with a Ripper Owens / Halford style vocalist with a very big vocal range this band could really have soared, but they failed to make it into the big metal leagues back in the 90's. But who knows, now fully reformed with renewed fire in their bellies they may yet prove doubters wrong, their new album has garnered very good reviews. Testament put in a very strong and competent 40 minute performance, the future could yet be very kind to them.
Soon it was time for my favourite band on this bill, the amazing Megadeth! 19.30pm arrived at last and the band took to the stage with the brilliant Sleepwalker, the NEC crowd were totally up for some Megadeth style metal, the atmosphere was terrific. A superb Wake Up Dead followed, a huge amount of head banging was undertaken by the assembled masses, I could not help but fully join in! Simply metal heaven!
Relatively new guitarist Chris Broderick seems fully at home with the Deth, as he shredded out superb solo after solo, drummer Shawn Drover on his amazing silver cage kit pounded the drums with total precision, very lively bass player James Lomenzo underpinned the drumming perfectly.
Dave Mustaine is quite simply the perfect metal ringmaster, with amazing charisma, snarling vocals and with incredibly precise guitar playing, he was very much on form as always. They played beautiful versions of Tout le Monde and In My Darkest Hour also an amazing version of my personal fave Deth track She-Wolf, Dave dedicated it as this was Valentines Day to all the She-Wolfs in attendance!
The Deth hammered through Hanger 18, Symphony Of Destruction, Washington Is Next and the classic Peace Sells' together with the hammer blows of Skin o'my Teeth and Holy Wars. The band got an amazing reception from the metal hungry Birmingham crowd for their hours work, so much so that a little crowd surfing occurred towards the end of the set, the likes of which I've not seen at this venue for a while! If the new Deth record is as good as is hoped, then it will surely not be long before they can once again headline arena's such as the LG, the resurgence of Megadeth in the 21st century is a truly wonderful event for any true metalhead.
As the crowd caught there collective breath for 30 minutes before the headliners arrived, it was amazing to reflect that Judas Priest have been making metal for around 35 years, this is a band that along with Black Sabbath virtually created metal as we know it today, the clothes & imagery, twin lead guitar shred fests and banshee like screaming vocals! I had not witnessed the Priest since around 1990 on their Painkiller tour, so to say I was excited was most definately an understatment! The great old band put on a masterful 100 minute show with a few choice tracks from their latest opus Nostradamus thrown in with the classic old favourites and mixed with some more obscure tracks from the bands incredible back catalogue like Devils Child and Dissident Aggressor. They played my own Priest fave Breaking The Law relatively early which was a surprise!
Rob Halford is the great showman of classic metal, like a heavy metal Gandalf style wizard he strode the stage with outrageous costumes and beard, his screams as piercing and powerful as they were 30 years ago, only the song Painkiller forced him to use vocal effects to acheive the high pitched dog whistle style vocals. Guitarists KK and Glen Tipton just get better with age, they are the perfect twin lead guitar attack, no band in metal can touch these guys at their best, pure metal gold. Bassist Ian Hill is still the same, seemingly tethered to the back of the stage, no movement bar his headbanging & bass waving! Drummer Scott Travis is definately one of the top 5 drummers in metal, as a drummer myself I watch in amazment at his abilties, he was born to drum for the Priest.
The band played several golden classics like Green Manalishi, Sinner and Hell Bent For Leather. The only track I really missed them playing was Living After Midnight which is one if the best metal singalong chourus's ever! The Priest Feast show was pure metal heaven, Judas Priest showed that they have much much more left in their locker, they may be approaching their sixties now, but my god can they still make amazing metal!
I cannot wait until they tour again, Hail to the Priest!!!