Judas Priest, Heaven and Hell, Motörhead, Testament
Sunday, Aug. 31. 5:30 p.m. $25-$125, Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Long before heshers were pumping their goat-horned fists and chanting "Slay-ER!," an earlier generation paid equally rabid fealty to Halford and company.
Though the iconic lead singer split from the group in the early '90s, the constant clamor for a reunion made his triumphant 2003 return almost inevitable. Since then, the self-proclaimed metal gods reaffirmed their status through scorching live shows and the solid material found on 2005's Angel of Retribution. This year, Priest offered fans what may be the boldest move of its long career: a two-disc, 100-minute concept record on the life of 16th-century French seer Nostradamus. What could have been the band's Dark Side of the Moon unfortunately comes closer to Spinal Tap's ill-advised epic "Stonehenge" as Priest derails its usual locomotive energy and sharp songwriting focus with a flabby, self-serious effort woefully lacking in momentum.
An interminable listen plagued by bland keyboard wash, indistinct songwriting, and midtempo plod, Nostradamus is the aural equivalent of running a marathon through knee-high wet cement. While it admittedly took massive brass balls for the band to embark on this ambitious venture, the hubris contained in those metal testicles weighs down this sprawling blunder of an album. Largely ditching the propulsive drive and furious attack characteristic of Priest's best work, Nostradamus relies far too heavily on moody symphonic bombast. In a recent phone interview, Halford explained the band did most of the composing on keyboards. That very approach makes much of Tipton and Downing's trademark riffage feel like an afterthought. Though there are flashes of classic dueling-guitar mayhem on "Revelations," "Visions," and "Persecution" — the album's first balls-out rager that gets buried at the end of disc one — too often the ax grinding gets obscured by overblown string arrangements.
Of course, some might argue this isn't the first time the metal titans have stumbled from their lofty throne. As Bay Area thrash pioneers Metallica and Exodus started forging a faster, more aggressive sound in the 1980s, Priest got caught on the wrong side of the spandex-clad glam-metal fence with its dubious mid-decade clunker Turbo. After Halford's sudden exit in 1992, the group hovered in limbo for years before finally hiring former tribute band singer Tim "Ripper" Owens for a pair of lackluster studio duds. Sadly, just as Halford's departure ended the great promise of the pulverizing tunes found on 1990's Painkiller, so the maudlin cheese of Nostradamus halts the move toward modern relevance Angel of Retribution seemed to offer.
Those attending Priest's current Masters of Metal tour with Heaven and Hell (aka Dio-fronted Sabbath), Motörhead, and local thrash titans Testament will mercifully be spared a sizable dose of Nostradamus as the band wisely digs deep into its back catalog (including — fuck, yeah! — the Sin After Sin gem "Dissident Aggressor"). However, the band will still bring the bloated Nostradamus beast on the road as an elaborate stage production. "In my mind, I want to go completely over the fucking top with it," Halford enthuses. "I want to see a full chorus. I want to see everybody in costume and stage sets and lights and the whole shebang." Priest's commitment to the ridiculous project could pay off, but it's a safer bet that this latest direction will leave fans crossing their fingers for a quick curtain.