Judas Priest - '98 Live Meltdown

Good: Electric Eye, Metal Gods, Beyond the Realms of Death, Victim of Changes,
The Green Manalishi, Hell Bent

Misses: Metal Meltdown, Painkiller, Abductors, guitar mix

Bottom Line: The greatest live album since Live After Death.
A definite treat for all metal fans.

It's rare when a CD gives me goosebumps. Back in February (1998) when I saw The Priest live in concert twice, I was blown away at the newfound energy these metal veterans had. From the first note to the last, Judas Priest played their hearts out with the excitement of a band playing its first big gig. They were, by far, the most incredible shows I have ever seen in my life.

As most of you know, my car stereo system is the de facto test for any CD I buy. I spend most of my "music listening time" inside my car since I have a nightmare of a commute. Judas Priest's '98 Live Meltdown was the latest candidate. I have a hard time describing the feeling that went through me the instant that first note of "Electric Eye" blasted through the speakers. Every hair on my body stood on end. And, once again, that stupid grin appeared on my face as I punched the accelerator on I-287. "The!"

Instantly, I had a Judas Priest concert inside my car. I was there, again, in the front row, right in the middle of what a live performance should sound like. What's even better about this CD is the fact that it was recorded overseas where the crowds are, I am sad to say, much more vocal than we are in the U.S. and become a huge part of the show. Every time I hear the "HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!" I can picture thousands of fans throwing their fists in the air and jumping up and down in unison. It's intense!

'98 Live Meltdown explodes with The Hellion/Electric Eye and the band continues to pound away on the classics Metal Gods, Grinder and the re-worked Rapid Fire (which, in my book, is the very first speed metal/thrash song! Who played music like this back in 1982? Credit Priest with another first...). You can see the smile on the band's faces in your mind as you listen to this CD. The power of the music comes through on every single note, on every strike of the snare drum. Priest hasn't played the classics like this in a very long time. You can't help enjoying this! If anyone doubts that this band isn't in its top form, they're crazy. It started with the addition of Scott "The Octopus" Travis in 1989 (I can't say enough about this man's playing...), and now with a fresh set of vocal chords and a new attitude, Judas Priest is showing the world how to put on a metal show.

Bloodstained comes off surprisingly well, helped by the crowd. This song just beats the crap out of you! The rest of CD #1 keeps pounding away with incredible performances of The Sentinel, Touch of Evil, The Ripper, Death Row, and a transcendental version of Beyond the Realms of Death. It's absolutely magical, especially with one of the greatest guitar solos of all time. Unfortunately, Burn in Hell loses a bit of appeal since the band decided to edit the beginning of the song (what makes the song so powerful). Guys, PLEASE play the song in its entirety!!!!!

CD #2 is a slight letdown, mostly because of the two Painkiller songs included. Metal Meltdown and Painkiller just don't go over too well in concert. They are extremely difficult songs for Tim to sing. Even Rob Halford struggled with these screamers, so it's not a stab at Tim's abilities, which are stellar, to say the least. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Meltdown is the "unplugged" version of Diamonds and Rust. If there is ever a moment where Tim Owens will send chills through your body, it's on this song. Victim of Changes, The Green Manalishi, and Hell Bent for Leather come off as you would expect: perfect!

I may be cited for blasphemy, but I think it's time the band retired "Breaking the Law" and "Living After Midnight." Compared to the rest of the band's portfolio, these are very weak songs and have become quite boring. There are many other songs they could play in these spots (Bloodstone, Rock Hard Ride Free, fill in the blank...). Granted, the enthusiasm of the crowd during Living is fantastic. Sadly, it appears the band has dropped Hell Bent for Leather on the latest leg of the Jugulator tour. A big mistake considering how tremendous the song is on Meltdown.

There are a couple of other "drawbacks" to the album, but that's all subjective. For instance, being a huge guitar fan, I'd like to hear the guitars in the mix a little more. However, don't underestimate this double CD collection for a second. If there ever was a live recording that captured the true power of a metal show, the intensity of a band that is on top of the world playing in front of a wild audience, and true musical genius, this is it. What's even cooler (and I haven't seen any comments from anyone about this yet) is the fact that you can actually hear the crowd singing along with half of the songs! The polish that made Priest...Live (1986) a clean and commercial production is gone. What you get here is a seat in the front row of a concert that is going to kick your ass.

There have been relatively few live albums that stand out in the metal world or deserve the designation of being a "classic." The last one was Iron Maiden's Live After Death. Now we have '98 Live Meltdown from Judas Priest. Raw. Intense. Loud. In your face. And I can't get enough of it! "Judas Fucking Priest Heavy Metal!" Oh yeah...

-Devin Comiskey
October 1998