How could it go so wrong? How can one of the Big Four of thrash metal end up in this situation? I am certain that I wasn’t the only one who asked myself those questions after MEGADETH‘s opening slot for JUDAS PRIEST on this Sunday evening in Copenhagen, Denmark.
What is the cause of these dramatic questions? Well, the thing is this: Dave Mustaine and his hardy men jump on stage and launch into a furious version of one of the best thrash songs ever written, namely ‘Hangar 18’. The sound is near perfect, Ellefson’s bass and Verbeuren’s drums are like thunder, Mustaine and Louriero’s guitars rip through the air. What a f*cking ride!
But, hang on, what is this? MegaDave goes to the microphone to snarl the infamous “Welcome to our fortress tall”, which he clearly does, and…nothing beyond a mere whisper can be heard. “Right,” one thinks, “initial sound problems aren’t unusual – they’ll fix it.”
However, it’s not fixed! It remains impossible to hear what Mustaine sings throughout ‘Hangar 18’, which of course is a darn shame.
Here comes the worst part: ‘The Threat Is Real’ from the strong Dystopia album is as powerful as they go, but, alas, the vocals are still not audible! ‘Take No Prisoners’…same story! ‘She-Wolf’…you guessed it – same story!
Finally, with ‘Sweating Bullets’, you can all of a sudden hear Dave. This is a relief! Until you realise that this is merely due to the fact that there is no instrumentation over the vocals in the beginning. As soon as guitars and drums set in, the vocals are again diminished to a whispering indication.
The weird thing is that the response from the 6500 metal souls in Royal Arena is almost overwhelmingly positive and warm. The cheer between songs is massive, the applause resounding. Perhaps simply because the band plays their well-construed set with precision and power? I dunno.
Despite a very, very slight improvement of the volume level from here on, fact remains that ‘Tornado of Souls’, the title track off Dystopia, ‘Symphony of Destruction’, ”Peace Sells…’ (including guest appearance by Vic Rattlehead) and ‘Mechanix’ all suffer just as much as the first half of the set from the absence of Mustaine’s characteristic vocals. ‘Holy Wars…The Punishment is Due’ concludes this odd Megadeth experience on an instrumentally high note.
“You’ve been great, we’ve been Megadeth”, a humble Dave Mustaine exclaims when the band departs, and I’d like to add to that: “…and someone in the soundboot sucked big time”. What a shame!
Here’s a snippet of the opening gig, which could have been the perfect support for Priest, but sadly failed to be so:
Obviously, the sound guy has upped his ante (or was replaced entirely) during the 30-minute break. The vocals come across in an altogether different way when JUDAS PRIEST hit the stage, and nothing is left to coincidence.
No prisoners are taken from the very first second as ‘Firepower’, the title track from the latest album, blasts into Royal Arena. The Priest is razor sharp, and the Metal God himself is locked and loaded.
Although it is immensely sad that Glenn Tipton is suffering from Parkinsons, there is some consolation to be found in his tour replacement, Andy Sneap. There is much talk about Sneap as an acclaimed producer, but forget not that he recorded his first album as a guitarist at the tender age of 18, when he and Martin Walkyier pushed pagan thrash metallers Sabbat to critical acclaim durng the 80s. That was exactly 30 years ago in April. He’s no spring chick, this one!
Sneap’s presence is one that emanates focus, solidity and humility towards the task at hand and offers a contrast to Richie Faulkner’s performance, which, if anything, is a pastiche of KK Downing during the early eighties. Which is cool.
The word cool also describes Ian Hill. I picture an internal band conversation around 1980, where someone goes:
“Right, Ian, we think you should move across the stage at this point and put your foot on the monitor.”
Ian: “Huh, no.”
Someone: “What do you mean?”
Ian: “I’m not going anywhere.”
Ian: “You heard me. I’ll stand right here, in the right-hand corner, play my bass, make my moves, play it solid, and that’s it, alright.”
And that’s what he does. Always. Forever. The man’s a rock.
Since I didn’t have a photographer with me and no decent camera in my press seat on the right flank of the stage, I recorded a few seconds of the Priest’s entrance. Thought you might appreciate that:
You probably get the sense that Halford means business like the rest of the band. He does. It’s amazing how those 68-year-old vocal chords can still vibrate and shatter ears to pieces. Again and again throughout the evening, I’m blown away by his vocal performance, which is no less impressive than when I first saw Judas Priest in 1991.
After ‘Firepower’ has set the stage, a relentless version of ‘Grinder’ takes over. What a mighty riff it is! Then ‘Sinner’ is next up and Halford impresses again. Just hear that scream at the end of this snippet:
‘The Ripper’ is presented in a fierce version tonight, accompanied by an effectful and rather brutal film backdrop. This is followed by new tune ‘Lightning Strike’, which is very effective and very much modern-day Priest. One of the revelations for me tonight is a song I haven’t listened to in a while, namely ‘Bloodstone’. My goodness, how could I forget what a precious song that is!
The next revelation comes right after that when a 40-year-old track is pulled out of the leather sleeves: ‘Saints in Hell’, no less. Again, stunning performance by Halford.
Everyone knows how controversial the Turbo album was when it came out, and how it divided fans. But, listen, what would a Judas Priest concert be today without ‘Turbo Lover’? Exactly! A poor one! Rock solid stuff!
With ‘Tyrant’, the Priest hurls us back to a better day once more. What strikes me is that this song so brilliantly displays exactly what made a band like Priest so special: the twin guitars. That’s it, right there – even if it’s not Downing and Tipton in front of us, it sounds right, and looks right.
‘Night Comes Down’ is probably THE epitome of the heavy metal ballad for me, although Priest made other contenders to that throne. Tonight it sounds absolutely wonderful, and it provides a perfect contrast to the hectic uptempo waltz of ‘Freewheel Burning’, which ensues. At this stage, a moshpit forms in front of stage!
Halford changes garments every now and then throughout the set, and also before appearing for ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin”. We certainly do. We have the customary appearence of the Metal God on his Harley, and we know that the roar of the engine signals ‘Hell Bent for Leather’. Hell, yeah!
Another thing you know if you’ve seen the Priest a few times since the beginning of the 90s is this: When the rest of the band leave the stage and Scott Travis remains behind his kit, the clock has struck ‘Painkiller’ time. My favourite Priest song? Possibly. Even Halford bangs his ol’ head to this one. It is SO metal. A bit shrill vocally on the Metal God’s behalf, but screw it, it’s fookin’ great nevertheless.
A short break before the encores and Judas Priest launch into the mid-tempo ballady tune ‘Rising from Ruins’ from Firepower. Very nice and approved.
As a pleasant surprise, Glenn Tipton now wanders unto stage and is hailed by the Copenhagen crowd. Sneap appropriately steps over in the opposite corner of Ian Hill’s corner and remains there for the triumvirate of ‘Metal Gods’, ‘Breaking the Law’ and the mega-hit ‘Living After Midnight’.
It is both sad and moving to see a great musician standing there behind sunglasses and cap, chewing gum, as he focuses 100% on churning out those riffs that he has played for decades. It isn’t easy for him, that much one can tell. It’s a grim decease, that’s for sure.
All the more touching to watch Tipton take a couple of steps back during ‘Metal Gods’ as if by drawn by a natural force to stand on a line with Sneap, Faulkner and Hill, moving in sync with them, as a unit of metal brothers. Strength in metal, my friends, strength metal – it’s more than just the music.
1. Hangar 18
2. The Threat Is Real
3. Take No Prisoners
5. Sweating Bullets
6. Tornado of Souls
8. Symphony of Destruction
9. Peace Sells...
11. Holy Wars...The Punishment is Due
Judas Priest setlist:
4. The Ripper
5. Lightning Strike
7. Saints in Hell
8. Turbo Lover
10. Night Comes Down
11. Freewheel Burning
12. You've Got Another Thing Comin'
13. Hell Bent for Leather
15. Rising from Ruins
16. Metal Gods
17. Breaking the Law
18. Living After Midnight
Playing Time: Megadeth: 60 minutes Judas Pries: 90 minutes
Dave Mustaine - vocals (?) and guitars
Dave Ellefson - bass, backing vocals
Kiko Louriero - guitars
Dirk Verbeuren - drums
Rob Halford - vocals (!)
Richie Faulkner - guitars
Andy Sneap - guitars
Glenn Tipton - guitars
Ian Hill - bass
Scott Travis - drums