There’s nothing quite like the devotion of metal fans. When they latch on to a band, it’s for life, and it couldn’t be more evident these days as album sales continue their sharp decline. Still stubbornly an album-oriented genre, metal has been charting very strongly over the past year, largely due to the fact that when a new album comes out, those fans go out en masse during that first week and buy, buy, buy, to the point now where even the most marginally popular band can sell 10,000 copies in the first week and be assured of a strong chart position. Such loyalty is not lost on these bands, either, especially the veteran acts who have been around for decades, as they continually reward their legions of fans with live albums and DVDs from their most recent tours. Judas Priest is one such band, who ever since reuniting with singer extraordinaire Rob Halford in 2003, has treated audiences to two spirited studio albums, a retrospective box set, a pair of live DVDs, and now a new live album, the British band’s fifth such document overall.
Unlike such tepid affairs as 1988’s Priest…Live!, ’98 Live Meltdown, and 2003’s Demolition Live, A Touch of Evil Live avoids the sprawling double live route, sparing us redundant renditions of live staples like “Breaking the Law”, “Electric Eye”, and “Living After Midnight” and focusing specifically on the deeper tracks in Judas Priest’s massive back catalog. It’s an interesting decision, one that might stick in the craw of those fusspots who would rather hear a complete show uninterrupted, but for all its various locales and fade-outs after tracks, this album turns out to be quite the revelation. In a way, one can look at the new record as a sequel of sorts to the similarly-sequenced fan fave Unleashed in the East from 30 years ago, an immensely rewarding snapshot of a band that continues to defy age, sounding as gargantuan and inspired as ever.
Comprised of 11 tracks, A Touch of Evil Live is an eclectic selection of songs that span the band’s entire career, with four songs coming from their last two albums. Recorded during the band’s triumphant tour in support of 2005’s Angel of Retribution, “Judas Rising” and “Hellrider” are faithful, energetic renditions that mine the classic Priest sound of 1982-1984, while the two cuts from last year’s Nostradamus double album are much more revelatory, “Prophecy” deliciously theatrical and “Death” transformed into a powerful doom metal dirge, Halford a commanding vocal presence on both tracks.
The real treat, though, is the older material, on which the entire band sounds rejuvenated. Slayer might have famously covered 1977’s “Dissident Aggressor” on their 1988 classic South of Heaven, but Priest absolutely dwarfs their American disciples here with their pummeling rendition of the Sin After Sin track, the rhythm section of drummer Scott Travis and bassist Ian Hill anchoring the track with a formidable bottom end. Originally appearing on 1978’s influential Stained Class and on Unleashed in the East, the new version of the epic “Beyond the Realm of Death” is reinvented, Halford smartly avoiding trying to replicate the multi-octave screeches of the original, playing to his current strengths, his more mid-range delivery lending the song a more somber, less bombastic air. The more straightforward “Riding on the Wind”, from ’82’s Screaming For Vengeance, is great fun, Halford’s high-pitched snarl belying his age, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing trading leads as slickly as they’ve ever done. The lascivious “Eat Me Alive”, from 1984’s Defenders of the Faith, is dusted off and given a good spit and polish here, as is Painkiller‘s “Between the Hammer and the Anvil”.
Interestingly, A Touch of Evil Live is limited to just an hour-long running time, and while it makes for a good, concise listen that’s never for a moment dull, fans will be wondering why such recently performed rarities as “Devil’s Child”, “Hell Patrol”, and “Rock Hard, Ride Free” were not included, but when we hear the band roar through the classic “Painkiller”, Halford turning in one of his most ferocious, maniacal vocal performances on record, it’s hard to complain. Judas Priest continues to prove that metal is not just a young person’s game anymore, and with this album they’ve done so with astounding authority.