Stacks: Judas Priest

heystacks:

Judas Priest
“Riding On The Wind”
A Touch Of Evil: Live, 2009

I actually had a few friends ask me where the metal was in my Stacks entries. Few genres have as many career defining live records as hard rock and metal, and many, many metal bands have built long lasting legacies and careers solely on live performance. One of those bands is Judas Priest, who have sold 50 million albums worldwide, but in the States have never had a top 10 album nor a top 40 single.

They built their fan base through extensive touring, year after year, show after show, and nearly forty years into their careers still play arenas and headline festivals. They also have one of the greatest live albums of all time on their resume (the “studio enhanced” Unleashed In The East), as well as one of the most unfairly maligned (Priest…Live!).

However, instead of talking about their proverbial peak or nadir, I want to shine a light on the post-reunion Priest record, A Touch Of Evil: Live.

The album is a mix of songs recorded in 2005 on the tour for the reunion album Angel Of Death and on the 2008 tour for the album Nostradamus. Instead of recreating a typical set or documenting a particular show, A Touch Of Evil: Live was intended to showcase songs that hadn’t appeared on prior live releases. Some are from their post-reunion albums, but most are deep cuts from their vast catalog; there is no “Breaking The Law” or “Living After Midnight” to be found. Instead, you get Painkiller‘s “Between The Hammer & The Anvil” and extreme metal forebearer “Dissident Aggressor”. It’s a fair tradeoff, sounding new and invigorating instead of perfunctory or tired.

“Riding On The Wind” first appeared on the album Screaming For Vengeance, and was a regular part of the setlist for the resulting tour. It then was shelved for over half a decade, returning on Halford’s last tour before leaving the band in the early 90s. As such, I don’t think any fan expected it to played every night of the 2005 tour.

But it was, and—as this recording shows—it deserved to be rediscovered.

On the 1982 studio version, it’s another Priest galloper, the momentum always forward: simple but classic unison riffing and trademark alternating solos, with Halford rising high and clear into his upper register. You could almost say it’s Priest by numbers as nearly every album has at least one chugging road to blast into the heavens from your car on hot summer nights. On the DVDs Live Vengeance ‘82 and 1983 US Festival (included on the 30th anniversary edition of the album), the song was more stripped down: all chug, barely any frills and trills, and Rob Halford was left to carry all the song’s dynamics with his soaring voice.

In 2005 Rob was not able to soar quite so high. After a typically Halfordian intro of “Are you ready? Are you ready? Are you ready? Let’s go riding on that wind right now…” the first thing you notice is they’ve dropped the key. This does two things; first, it adds heft to what was a bit of a tinny riff, and the meatiness both gives more substance to the tune and better fills the space under Rob; and secondly, it means Halford doesn’t need to stretch to heights he can’t reach to keep the interval between the two the same as written. It’s a little thing, but the two combine to make the song better.

The added heft also works well with the grit that has understandably crept into Halford’s voice over the years. He lost some pure, angelic, tonality but the snarl that colors more of his range works wonders on the road songs. Halford now sounds like the biker he’s long portrayed, a bit grizzled but still strong.

A Touch Of Evil: Live isn’t the crowning point in their careers, or their best live album (sometimes received wisdom is true, and Unleashed In The East is too good to beat), but it is the sound of a veteran band still firing on all cylinders. Rare as that feat is, “Riding On The Wind” here is something even rarer: a thirty-year-old song reclaimed and remade even stronger.

—Erik

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