By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Outside of Birmingham metal godfathers Black Sabbath, no band has influenced the sound and look of heavy metal more than Judas Priest. One could also forcefully say that no metal singer has set the bar higher than the band’s iconic frontman, Rob Halford. A charismatic stage presence who continues to unleash his searing moans on headbanging audiences around the world for half a century into his career, Halford has rightly earned his nickname as the god of metal.
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While Priest’s roots date back to 1969, the band’s classic line-up of vocalist Halford, guitarists KK Downing and Glenn Tipton, bassist Ian Hill and drummer John Hinch (the first in a long line of players to occupy the chair) did not reunite until just before Priest entered the studio to record his 1974 debut for Gull Records, Rocka Rolla.
Although the album relied more on psychedelia, prog rock and hard rock than metal, hard-hitting tracks like “Cheater” and “Never Satisfied” proved the band could deliver equal heaviness to Sabbath and Deep Purple. Their second album sad wings of fate had some of the same production issues that plagued the band’s early days, but it marked a shift towards a style that would help define heavy metal.
The effort included some of Priest’s early gems, including Halford’s epic and lyrical showcase ‘Victim of Changes’ and the dual-guitar-laden tracks ‘Tyrant’, ‘The Ripper’ and ‘Genocide’ which proved to be the Influential model the band would refine on future releases. Their major debut sin after sin in 1977 continued to push faster tempos and darker subject matter with galloping rockers ‘Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest’, ‘Sinner’ and ‘Dissident Aggressor’ which paved the way for the sound of British disciples Iron Maiden and even the rise of thrash metal in the 80s (Slayer would later cover “Dissident Aggressor” as a tribute).
By the time the band released their seminal live album Unleashed in the East, the members had embraced the leather-and-studs wardrobe that would codify metal fashion in the next decade while adopting a more pop (but still undeniably heavy) sound on songs like “Hell Bent For Leather”. Priest had a commercial breakthrough in 1980 with British steelenjoying his first real taste of chart success and radio airplay with “Livin’ After Midnight” and “Breaking the Law.”
With this album and the platinum follow-up records Cry out for revenge and Defenders of the Faith, the quintet have established themselves as one of the most popular metal bands on the planet. The band’s success would continue throughout the decade, although some longtime fans were taken aback by the band’s glamorous new image and use of guitar synthesizers on turbo in 1986. shoot it down two years later the trend continued towards a more commercial sound, but the band rebounded with the 1990s Pain killera recording that introduced more thrash elements and was hailed as Priest’s heaviest effort in a decade.
The 90s would bring new challenges to the group, with members forced to appear in court for a civil lawsuit that claimed backwards masked messages in the song “Better by You, Better than Me” (a cover of a song from Spooky Tooth) led to the fatal suicide pact of two young metal fans in Spark, Nevada. The lawsuit would be dismissed by the judge, but a far more seismic change for Judas Priest would be Halford’s departure in 1992.
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The singer would record and tour with thrash-oriented band Fight and industrial project 2wo before returning to mainstream metal with the eponymous band Halford in 2000, while Priest would find new vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, touring extensively and stalking a pair. of studio albums. Yet any interview with Halford or members of Judas Priest inevitably turned to the question of a possible reunion. Fans finally got what they wanted in 2003 when the singer joined the band.
Top-notch live performances like a co-headliner at Ozzfest the following year and a string of successful album releases beginning with angel of punishment in 2005 reaffirmed Priest as one of the premier metal suppliers. Even after KK Downing retired in 2011 on the Epitaph World Tour (a getaway the band had suggested would be their final farewell), Priest persevered with the addition of new guitarist Richie Faulkner. Fresh blood seemed to reinvigorate the band, which released their 17th album redeemer of souls to strong reviews in 2014.
Two years later, Priest teased that the band had started working on their next record. Working with classic-era producer Tom Allom – who crafted the first three Black Sabbath records and a 10-year span of Judas Priest efforts since Unleashed in the East for Smash it — and modern metal production maven Andy Sneap (the former Sabbat guitarist who made albums by Megadeth, Accept, Testament and Saxon among many others), Judas Priest has put together nearly an hour of new material for his last opus, Firepower.
Hailed by some as Priest’s best album in nearly 20 years, Firepower was finally released in the spring of 2018 to great acclaim among metal fans. Brimming with an energy never heard since the band’s classic Pain killer record, the album became Priest’s highest charting album in the US and his first UK Top Ten record in decades (since the release of British steel in 1980).
When Priest first hit the road to promote the album, the band faced a new challenge after Tipton announced he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and would be retiring from touring at full-time. Sneap stepped in to play second guitar with the band, with Tipton appearing during the encores. The band planned to kick off their 50th anniversary tour across Europe and North America in 2020, but the pandemic forced those plans to be postponed.
When the band were able to resume touring last year, they got a serious scare in late September when Faulkner suffered a ruptured aorta while performing and had to be rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery. While the band had to reschedule those fall dates (including their scheduled Bay Area appearance in Oakland), Faulkner recovered and is back with the band.
For this sold-out, rescheduled concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland this Saturday, Priest will be joined by Northwestern progressive metal favorites Queensrÿche. Founded in 1980 in Washington State, the band would release a string of acclaimed albums over the decade, including the landmark political concept album Operation: Mindcrime in 1988.
The group achieved even greater commercial success with their follow-up album Empire which was fueled by MTV hits “Jet City Woman” and Pink Floyd-style ballad “Silent Lucidity.” The band continued through the 90s and 2000s until now, but never matched that success while dealing with staff turnover, including the acrimonious departure of vocalist Geoff Tate in 2012. The current version of the band with founding members Michael Wilton on guitar and Eddie Jackson on bass are joined by longtime vocalist Todd La Torre for a greatest hits set to kick off the show.
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Judas Priest and Queensrÿche
Saturday, March 12, 7:30 p.m. $59.50-$119.50