Judas Priest “Epitaph” DVD review by John The Rock Doctor

EPITAPH Judas Priest (Sony Legacy DVD/ Blu-Ray) *****“Pounding the world, like a battering ram/ forging the furnace, for the final grand slam”. So begins the opening track on Judas Priest’s brilliant new DVD Epitaph, recorded on the final night of the world tour of the same name, at London’s Hammersmith Odeon.  After watching this DVD several times since last Thursday I’ve come to the (perhaps inevitable) conclusion that there isn’t a better heavy metal band working anywhere on this planet- and that includes my beloved Black Sabbath.I saw Priest in Edmonton near the beginning of this tour and so expected to enjoy this DVD, but was pleasantly surprised to be smitten.  Just over 2 hours and 20 minutes long and with 23 songs if you include the instrumental Battle Hymn that plays as the band takes the stage, they pulled songs from every one of their 17 studio records for this show.  Great concert aside, this is also a pretty good Judas Priest history lesson.The show starts with Rapid Fire off of British Steel (a song Metallica points to as being the beginning of thrash) and that pretty much sets the pace.  The stage dressing is prototypically heavy metal, with big grey cloths and heavy looking chains draped over the amps, fire pots that go off precisely on cue, lasers, and a huge backdrop that alternately displays video elements, scenes and album artwork.  The set list is certainly not chronological, constructed more like how a fan might do a ‘best of’ compilation for themselves.  Are some of my favorites missing? Sure- but I can also honestly say I like every single song included, so this set list is as close to faultless as you’re likely to get.Performances of each track are both energetic and quite enjoyable.  The edits from camera to camera are  quick, but they’re done in time to the music so after a while it simply becomes part of the show.  The London crowd is extremely enthusiastic and with Priest the entire way, singing along even when not prompted, lifting the group to an entire level of performance that may have surprised even them.As a former drummer I kept an eye on Scott Travis, one of the best double kick drummers in metal, feeling slight pangs of jealousy at how easy he makes it seem- he is rock solid the entire way.  Bassist Ian Hill, as he always has done, stands at the back of the stage, keeping time with his left foot and leg, swinging his instrument around to the music while he lays down mostly simple (yet crucial) bass lines.  He is the heartbeat of the band, a solid foundation on which the rest stand.On guitar of course, is Glenn Tipton- one of the best players in metal, laying down his dextrous runs like it ain’t no thang.  In his early 60’s I question the fashion choice of red leather pants, but he’s worn them for years so what the hell?  The new guy is guitarist Richie Faulkner , brought in to replace original member KK Downing when some sort of clash in the ranks that still hasn’t been clearly discussed made it impossible for him to tour the world one last time with the band he helped start.  That aside, Faulkner is a powerhouse, a very athletic player that adds a lot of impact to Priest’s twin guitar attack.  He looks somewhat like KK but is a far more ferocious player, reminding one more of Zakk Wylde in terms of stage presence.And then there’s The Metal God himself, Rob Halford.  Also in his early sixties one might rightly expect him to nail a couple of high notes as if to say “see, I can do it if I want to”, but no- the crazy bastard hits them all night long.  His stage presence has changed quite a bit over the years- instead of running all over the place extorting the crowd to react, he focuses most of his energy on singing.  He leans heavily on his mic stand and, at one point, he prowls the stage sporting a cane, but I’ve learned quite recently that he has severe back problems- problems that, hopefully, will be sorted out soon.  So he may not scamper about the stage like a twenty-something might, but as a singer by God he delivers the goods with room to spare, and he has truly earned the nickname ‘The Metal God’.Judas Priest is currently in the studio on their next album, reportedly with 4 songs already in the can.  And there will be more live shows too- just no more of the punishing worldwide tours they have become known for.  Epitaph is 23 songs, many of them some of the genre’s best, delivered with all the muscle, finesse and respect one could hope for- thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to audio production by (amongst others) Tom Allom.  Not only does it earn the title of the best Judas Priest gig to be released on DVD, it is one of the best rock shows I’ve ever witnessed, bar none.COOL CUTS: Rapid Fire, Diamonds & Rust, Beyond The Realms Of Death, and an abso-fuckin’-lutely EPIC rendition of You’ve Got Another Thing Coming


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