"Epitaph" DVD

By Dr. Abner Mality

This DVD supposedly commemorates the final show of Judas Priest's final world tour. Seeing how "final" the last tours of bands such as Scorpions and Kiss have been, you can take that with a grain of salt the size of Manhattan. Hyperbole aside, it is always a pleasure to see the masters in action and "Epitaph" proves to be no different. It is said to feature one song from each Priest outright falsehood, since no songs from Ripper Owens' efforts are included. It seems those albums are now to be erased from history. A shame, as I would have enjoyed hearing Rob Halford sing a "Jugulator" track such as "Bullet Train". The less said about "Demolition", the better.

Still, this is quite a monumental set and although most of the song choices are pretty staid, there are some cool surprises. It can't be easy choosing a set list from a band with a history of classics like Priest. I'm thinking of stuff like "Tyrant", "Sinner", "Riding On the Wind", "Hot Rockin'", etc, etc. Here we get an absolutely slamming opening attack of "Rapid Fire" and "Metal Gods" of the best one-two punches in metal history. The eternal figure of Mr. K.K. Downing is absent for the first time since Prohibition was is strange not seeing him on stage. That puts Mr. Richie Faulkner in a pressure-packed spot, which he emerges from with flying colors. Richie fits the Priest niche very well indeed and injects a ton of youthful energy to the concert in much the same way drummer Scott Travis did when he joined Priest in 1990. His guitar playing prowess is top notch as well and he gets a lot of time to shine. His energy is needed, because age has caught up to Glenn Tipton heavily in the last few years. He once covered the stage well, but now stands stock still much like Tony Iommi, leaving the headbanging to Richie and the rock solid Ian Hill, who anchors Priest in much the same way Malcolm Young does for AC/DC.

Expected tunes like "Living After Midnight", "Breaking the Law", "Heading Out To The Highway" and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" are trotted out and no more needs to be said of them. More interesting is the inclusion of the lumbering "Starbreaker" from "Sin After Sin" and the hoary old chestnut "Never Satisfied" from "Rocka Rolla". I remember Halford playing this latter tune with his solo band. We also get the cyber-injected "Blood Red Skies", which has emerged to become a true cult favorite, and the unusual semi-mellow version of "Diamonds and Rust" which Priest played during their last tour with Heaven and Hell.

The main focus, as always, is Mr Robert Halford and he is as always fascinating to watch and listen to. It is obvious now he cannot do the high shrieks and vocal contortions of years ago but he masterfully "adapts" his singing to his new limits and the results are mostly pleasing. I've heard him compared to an aging fighter who, now lacking a knockout punch, has learned how to bob and weave to make up for it. He is also a most genial host and engages in some humble and historical banter with the crowd.

The lighting and effects are superb throughout the concert and I'm sadly reminded that the days of the big arena metal show seem to be coming to a close. We will not see the like of this for much longer, but Priest show us how it is done. One aspect of the DVD that I felt was lacking was shots of the crowd...very few are shown. A lot of times, such shots are overdone, but this was an occasion that called for more reaction shots. A minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless.

Does "Epitaph" show Judas Priest as the height of their powers? Well, it is not the same band of the late 70's/early 80's who epitomized heavy metal like no other, but it is royalty in action, a legendary band delivering 40 years of metal history as only they can. As such, this set comes recommended.