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MASTERS OF METAL


MASTERS OF METAL: JUDAS PRIEST / HEAVEN & HELL / MOTORHEAD / TESTAMENT

First Midwest Bank Ampitheater
Tinley Park, Illinois 8/19/08
Review by Dr. Abner Mality
Pictures by Gary Hill



Heaven & Hell was surely an appropriate band to see on this night, because that's what I had to move to get time off from work and attend the show. Of all the big tours to see this year, there was never any doubt that this would be the pick of the bunch so I finagled my way out of work early and made the long, dusty trek with Dark Starr through suburban Chicago to the infamous Tinley Park concert venue, which has been much maligned throughout the years. This was my first time to the venue and while the journey there was long and expensive, I found the place more than acceptable.

It was a beautiful summer evening as I lowered myself into a seat just in time to see Testament hit the ground running. Tonight was a metal feast and Testament was the perfect appetizer to set the stage. First cut in was "Over The Wall", followed by the thrashing "Into the Pit". Testament had only a ridiculous half hour to play, so they put maximum intensity into their brief set. A muddy sound (typical for opening bands everywhere) didn't disquise the excellence of guitar work from Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson. It's great to see Alex back in Testament and he shredded the axe like nobody's business. The crowd was continuing to file in as Testament played but it still had to be gratifying for them to see thousands instead of hundreds hailing tunes like "Practice What You Preach". Chuck Billy sounded great. Some find his growlier vocals off-putting...I think the mixture of more melodic (but still aggressive) singing with brutality works extremely well, especially in Billy's case. People need to figure out that the voice is an instrument with many different facets and that the days of metal singers exclusively trying to sound like Dickinson, Dio and Halford are long gone.

The band wrapped up with some cuts from the new "Formation of Damnation", all of which sounded pretty good and merged seamlessly with their older material. Although the title track is the heaviest, "Henchman's Ride" with its ultra-catchy chorus looks set to join the list of Testament classics. And then, almost as soon as it began, the set was over.

It was a lot of fun to check out the crowd here. Heavy metal is truly multi-generational, as I saw numerous examples of Mom and Dad decked out in biker gear, accompanied by kids obviously born in the 90's who are the same age their parents were when Judas Priest and Black Sabbath first hit hard. A great mixture of ages in the crowd tonight. Also saw a lot of spiky haired punks and even some brave brothers who defied peer pressure to check out rock n' roll instead of rap.

Motorhead certainly had a lot of fans in the crowd. They are nothing less than an instiution, if not a way of life.
Despite that, tonight did not rank with the best shows I have seen from the veterans. A boomy. blown out sound did them no favors, but more than that, their set just seemed to lack a freshness to it. Mikkey Dee did the same drum solo that it seems he's been doing for 20 years now....impressive, but so what? Not to mention, I would have like to have squeezed another song or two into the set in its place. Most of Lemmy's quips also seemed overly familiar, although I did grin when he dedicated "In The Name of Tragedy" to "England's greatest poet, William Fuckin' Shakespeare"! When the band played "Over the Top" and "Killers", things seemed to get kicked up a notch and at least they ended on a higher note than when they began. "Killed By Death" and "Overkill" are favorites for sure, but I think Motorhead should have taken a page from Judas Priest's book tonight and shook up the set list. Motorhead rules...they always will...but it seems to me they are better in a more intimate atmosphere than giant arena shows.

I have seen more rock n roll shows than Dick Cheney has had heart attacks but very, very few of them would I describe as flawless. Heaven & Hell's set tonight was one of those rare shows. What a privilege it is to see a band at the absolute top of its game...it's something to be savored as one of life's rare pleasures. In 1980, I saw this version of Black Sabbath (and it is Black Sabbath, no matter what Sharon Osbourne says) play a flawed and troubled set at a mudcaked Rockford Speedway. 28 years later, redemption comes.

On a beautiful looking stage festooned with giant gargoyles and candelabras, these four men created metal magic that held a huge crowd in a hypnotic spell. Opening with the crashing rage of "The Mob Rules", we knew we were in for a treat, but with "Children of the Sea", it became apparent that this was going to be a very special show indeed. The sound troubles that marred Motorhead's set were nowhere in evidence. I hate to keep beating the word to death, but flawless is the best way to describe this experience. They played "I" and "Time Machine" from "Dehumanizer", an album that Dio described as "the most underrated record I have ever been associated with" and it was brilliant. Geezer's bass was booming and Tony Iommi's razorsharp solos would bring a tear to the eye of every true metalhead.

They reached deep into the past to pull out two of the best Sabbath cuts, "The Sign of the Southern Cross" and "Falling Off The Edge of the World". The former was a slow paced doom metal classic that held all of us in a cobra-like gaze while the latter kicked up the pace in furious fashion. Vinny Appice kicked in a powerful drum solo...again, his talent is awesome but I would have like them to try "Lady Evil" or "Country Girl"...and even the Spinal Tap-like malfunctioning of one of the gargoyles...it failed to spit a cloud of fog...couldn't derail the power of the moment.

As one might predict, the band brought their tremendous set to a close with an extra long version of "Heaven & Hell"
where the crowd joined in enthusiastically and the rousing "Neon Knights", one of my favorite Sabbath songs ever. I have seen Dio many times and he never sounded better than tonight. He is truly a vocal giant. If no other band than Heaven & Hell played tonight, I still would have been satisfied with this masterpiece.

As the pastel colors of a gorgeous sunset faded into darkness, the crowd awaited the arrival of Judas Priest. These guys would have to put on the show of their lives to surpass what we just got from Heaven & Hell. Were they up to the task? Is Paris Hilton a dim-witted whore?

Priest rose to the occasion magnificently. I'm not sure if this was the best of the many times I have seen them...I remember a tremendous show at Alpine Valley in 1984 that made me feel like I could crush boulders bare-handed...but the magic was there.

Under the brooding gaze of the seer Nostradamus, the band took to the stage with "Prophecy", one of the best tracks from their new double CD devoted to the French prophet. It was the only track tonight from that somewhat controversial effort and it was awesome. Dark Starr told me he thought it was even better than the recorded version. Covered in a shining silver robe and carrying a mystic staff, Halford stalked the stage in regal fashion, barking out the chorus of "I am Nostradamus/Do you believe?". Rob was 100% on his game tonight and full of energy....a contrast to the last time I saw him in Rockford, when he was physically exhausted by the end of the night.

Priest finally have realized that their set needed some changes....hoary old standards have been dropped and rarities have been inserted. "Eat Me Alive" had all the furious thrashing energy of Testament and more. Then the band really mixed things up with "Between the Hammer and the Anvil" and "Hell Patrol" from "Painkiller". The freshness and heaviness of these tracks energized the crowd as well as the band. The Priest held us all in the palm of their hand.

Familiar cuts like "Breaking the Law" and "Electric Eye" didn't seem so tired when put next to stuff like "Dissident Aggressor" and a raging "Devil's Child". Rob just about made my testicles pop with his shrieking high notes on the latter....this is the best version of the tune I have ever seen or heard!!!

The only real lull in the action came with the heartfelt ballad "Angel". So sincere were Halford's vocals and so pure
and clear was the guitar work of Downing and Tipton that the song didn't mar the set at all, but demonstrated that Judas Priest can deliver emotion with more than just screaming metal.

I swear they got even more intense as the set wore on, with "Rock Hard, Ride Free" coming across better live than on record and "Painkiller" finding Halford bent over double in near agony as he emitted an amazing variety of shrieks and screams.. Rob also did his usual "yeah yeah yeah yeah" call-and-response with the crowd and seemed overwhelmed by the response. This is the rare show where performer and fans fuse together into one unit. It was a terrific experience.

The band did trot out "You've Got Another Thing Coming" as their last song, but dispensed at last with "Living After Midnight". Every cut was a gem and performed with maximum power and professionalism. THIS IS HEAVY METAL!!!

No one hungry for metal could have left this show wanting more. It was a great night and fun was had by all. Wait for the DVD...I hope they were filming tonight!