[2 December 2005]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s not very often that you get a long-awaited band reunion that turns out as well as Judas Priest’s has. In fact, it’s been a great time for the band, after welcoming back lead screamer Rob Halford after more than a decade apart: the career-spanning retrospective Metalogy was one of the best metal box sets ever, the band sounded re-invigorated on their long-awaited comeback album Angel of Retribution, and to the delight of their legions of fans, they’ve toured the world over, and continue to do so, keeping the metal fires burning in literally every corner of the globe. When Bruce Dickinson rejoined Iron Maiden in 1999, old school metal fans hoped for the day that Halford would return to the mighty Priest, and today, with both bands sounding as solid as they ever have, all seems finally right with the world.
Of course, in this day and age, with a reunion that attracts this much attention and generates so much excitement among the fans, a live concert DVD is a must. While the seven live tracks on the Dual Disc release of Angel of Retribution gave us a good teaser of what to expect from the forthcoming tour, the band knew the fans wanted more, and to their credit, they’ve managed to film, cut, mix, and package a full-length concert from this past spring, all right on the heels of a major North American tour, arriving just in time for Christmas. Simple, straightforward, and focused, Rising in the East serves up a first-rate account of the live Priest experience in 2005.
Filmed back in late May at the legendary Budokan in Tokyo, Japan, Rising in the East sees the band returning to the nation where they recorded their first live album, the well-regarded Unleashed in the East. 26 years later, the band look older, the wrinkles showing, the hair thinning, but it doesn’t take long to realize that the band has not lost their power, as lead guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing trade their flashy leads and sharp riffs, while the rhythm section of bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis anchor the music in typical, workmanlike fashion. The 2005 Priest experience, though, is all about witnessing Halford return to the fold, and the self-professed metal god is in fine form.
Appearing from above the drum riser during the opening song “Electric Eye”, resplendent in a fringed leather and studded coat, Halford makes several grand entrances and exits, levitating on a hydraulic lift on the side of the stage midway through the same song, then sinking back beneath the stage at the end of “A Touch of Evil”, only to resurface, perched high upon a flaming pulpit for “Judas is Rising”. And of course, at the end, he makes the grandest entrance of them all, astride his Harley, sitting coolly as he and his mates let loose “Hell Bent For Leather”. With as many wardrobe changes as Cher, Halford paces himself, stalking the stage in a dignified manner, but as has always been the case with Priest, it’s not so much about the energy onstage, than the sheer force of the music coming through the massive amplifiers, and on this night, it’s sounds near great.
The robotic stomp of the British Steel classic “Metal Gods” is followed by a searing “Riding on the Wind”, Halford in full shriek mode, crouched toward the stage floor in an effort to get the maximum vocal power. “The Ripper”, a downright lovely acoustic version of “Diamonds and Rust”, and a fantastic rendition of the timeless “Victim of Changes” are treats from the band’s early days, while lighter fare like “Hot Rockin’”, “Breaking the Law”, and “Living After Midnight” take us back to their arena-pleasing, early ‘80s heyday. The five Angel of Retribution songs hold up well, especially the double-bass drum driven “Judas is Rising” and the very underrated “Worth Fighting For”. The real showstoppers, though, come late in the set, as we get a roaring performance of the Stained Class epic “Beyond the Realms of Death”, the proto-thrash metal of “Exciter”, and the highlight of the entire show, the pummeling “Painkiller”. While age is catching up with Halford, his voice holds up, as he manages to hit all the high notes at crucial moments during “Victim of Changes” and “Beyond the Realms of Death”.
What makes this DVD so effective is the fact that Judas Priest never, ever change, so anyone who has seen the band on their recent world tour has seen the exact same show (save for the odd song change or two), and in fact, it’s the same concert shtick the guys have been doing for the past quarter century. We get the same old four-note solo by Tipton midway through “Victim of Changes”, the same vocal cues during “Breaking the Law” (“If you did you’d find yourself/Doing the same thing, too… DO IT FOR ME NOW!”), the same lengthy “Oh yeah!” chant before “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming”. What they lack in improvisation is made up by their reliability, and although we’ve heard all the banter before, it’s great to hear it once again.
The concert film is well-shot, and well-edited, allowing us a few seconds to watch a member of the band, instead of overly frantic jump cuts, and the sound, produced by longtime Priest cohort Tom Allom, is presented in sharp, 5.1 surround (though the only gripe would be that it’s not in widescreen). Many will be taken aback that there are no extras on the DVD, just the concert, and nothing else, and while some may whine about the lack of bonus documentary footage, it’s a bold but wise move to skip the fluff, and focus on the music. Besides, the documentary on the Angel of Retribution DualDisc does just fine. Less a cash grab than a case of an honest band showing their fans how much they appreciate the support, Rising in the East is a real pleasure, a glimpse at a legendary band who still has plenty of metal-rich blood coursing through their veins.