Live music has been in a tough spot for the last 18 months. The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 and its variants brought concerts to a halt, leaving bands to release albums and singles from seclusion. Touring was thought to be a pipe dream, something only attainable after herd immunity had been achieved. As weeks turned into months, fans and commentators debated whether live music would return to its normal, mass-congregation format. For fans of the veteran heavy metal band Judas Priest and relative newcomer Sabaton, however, the answer is clear; live music is back and louder than ever. The Mahoning Valley got a loud, live dose of the Metal Gods this Thursday evening, as Youngstown sang along with the band. The debate has been clearly settled; live music is back, and louder than ever.
Sabaton, a Swedish metal powerhouse started the evening off with power and might. As I arrived at the venue, I noticed fans wearing the band’s gear. I had hoped that the band would be received with open arms, given their reputation for dynamic stage shows. The quintet began their set with Ghost Division. A thundering bassline and intense, powerful vocal provided by Pär Sundström and Joakim Brodén respectively, transfixed the crowd.
The band then moved through songs from older records, such as “The Last Stand,” “Swedish Pagans,” and “The Red Baron,” all of which got the crowd on their feet. The highlight of the show was when the band moved to material from their latest studio effort The Great War. As the band started “Fields of Verdun,” I noticed the crowd get even more into the bands’ set, with even more people out of their seats and singing along. A costume change for “The Attack of the Dead Men,” a song about Battle of Osoweic Fortress, a World War I battle wherein the German Army lambasted a Russian fortress with gas, leading the doomed Russian men to attack the German army whist gravely injured. Each member of the band donned an era-appropriate gas mask, while singer Joakim Brodén came out carrying a mock flamethrower. The theatrical flare made the crowd go even wilder, as they cheered and yelled in support of the band’s commitment to the theme of the music.
Finally, Sabaton wrapped the show with “To Hell and Back,” and invited a young fan to join them on stage. This young fan, who said he was 9 years old, was elated as the band let him and a guardian hang out on stage, even allowing the little boy to ‘play guitar’ with the band and otherwise join in the festivities. This, to me, is the mark of a truly great band: making a connection with all of your fans, no matter their age!
After a brief respite, Judas Priest came to rock the house. As the band’s piped-in opening track (Black Sabbath’s masterpiece War Pigs) played, the iconic pitchfork logo of Judas Priest arose into the air, carrying with it much of the stage lighting. The band took the stage with “One Shot at Glory,” from the album Painkiller. Rob Halford, the iconic singer of the band, is in remarkably good voice this tour. While he is not attempting the overly high notes of his former days, his range is impressive and his voice is very clear. Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner, the dueling guitarists, ripped through solos while Ian Hill and Scott Travis kept the band grounded with impeccable bass and drum compliments. Other songs that delighted were the classic “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” and “The Sentinel.” However, the highlight of the evening has to be “A Touch of Evil,” also from Painkiller. The song, notorious for the high notes sung by
Halford, were taken a few steps down from their former glory, yet still stood strong. Given that Halford is well into his seventh decade, it is fair for him to ‘tune it down’ a notch or two!
All told, both bands put on fantastic shows with one crowd pleaser after another. Sabaton, an up-and-coming band, proved that they have both the songwriting and stagecraft to be a legendary act in this space, while Judas Priest re-confirmed that they are the true “Metal Gods.” If the tour comes to your neighborhood, it is well worth it to see two devilishly good bands!