Home Gigs Gig Review : Judas Priest, Saxon and Uriah Heep – Wembley Arena

Gig Review : Judas Priest, Saxon and Uriah Heep – Wembley Arena

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Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM

It was the Metal event of the year, three titans onstage together for a UK tour for the first time, the perfect package billed as ‘Metal Masters 2024’.

With Judas Priest, Saxon and Uriah Heep all riding high on the critical and public acclaim of their respective most recent albums, there was no doubt that heavy metal was back and as popular as ever. Further cementing this thought, the all-age audience that filled the cavernous interior of the North London venue saw generations of fans come together for the celebration, all ready for some high voltage, high decibel rock ‘n’ roll.

With an almost full arena, despite the early start, London veterans Uriah Heep launched into opening number ‘Save Me Tonight’ from new album ‘Chaos and Colour’, the fire and punch showing the band had lost none of its power. It was a breathless start and with the set perfectly placed to include newer numbers like ‘Grazed By Heaven’ amongst the classics, this career spanning outing was perfect for the committed and curious. It’s loud. Very loud. It’s also clear, the sound mix perfect and every crack of the snare or flourish on the keys heard by every single person in the place.

Despite how loud everything is, Bernie Shaw’s voice cuts through and his obvious enthusiasm is something that’s able to light up the arena, the ever-smiling Legend, Mr Mick Box by his side. The beating heart of all things Heep, the guitarist pulls out riffs old and new with equal aplomb, the ass-kicking ‘Free and Easy’ and an intoxicating ‘Gypsy’ that sees him dual with keys wiz Phil Lanzon showing that true class is timeless. Closing with the adrenaline rush of ‘Easy Livin” it was all over too soon, their short set just a tantalising taster for those new to their storied career. The may have not been the heaviest band on the bill, but Heep well and truly earn their place tonight, Box’s image surely one to add to the Mount Rushmore of 70’s Rock Giants and the band still showing the pretenders exactly how it’s done.

Saxon have waited to play Wembley Arena for forty-four years now and tonight that dream came true. Due to open for Rainbow at the venue in 1980, the Barnsley boys were seemingly too much of a threat to Mr Blackmore so he cut them from the show. This was them making up for lost time and they grabbed the opportunity with both hands and played a set for of classic anthems and absolute bangers from the new ‘Hell, Fire and Damnation’ release. Certainly, the titular album track was an impressive and forceful opener, the sonorous voice of Brian Blessed booming over the speakers before the band tore into its riff. This was an exercise in platinum standard British heavy metal, the seemingly ageless Biff Byford leading the troops in an all-out assault, the band firing on all cylinders and ‘new boy’ Brian Tatler having fitted in with the line-up so naturally you’d have thought that he’d been a member of Saxon since the start.

‘Motorcycle Man’ still has the ability to thrill, some four decades after ripping out of the speakers at the start of the seminal and career changing ‘Wheels of Steel’ album and ‘There’s Something in Roswell’ shows the mix of muscle and melody that Saxon have made built reputation on still bears true today. Given the fact they had to squeeze in so much into the length of the support slot, this smattering of fresh material was backed up by some all-time heavy hitting classics. With ‘And the Bands Played On’ and ‘Power and Glory’ followed by ‘Madame Guillotine’ a balance was found where everything shone equally as brightly, the rapier sharp fretwork of Tatler and Doug Scarratt, Nigel Glockler’s thunderous drumming and the constantly moving blur of Nibbs Carter on bass all the solid bedrock on which stand Byford’s extraordinary vocals.

Never once letting their foot of the gas, ‘Heavy Metal Thunder’, ‘Dallas 1 PM’, ‘747 Strangers in the Night’ and ‘Denim and Leather’ came in a rush of sound and fury. There’s never been any whiff of pretence with Saxon, their straightforward aim of entertaining and blasting out big songs a true reflection of their honest and hardworking ethic. Certainly, the band have dipped their toes in more than one historical subject, but this is down shorn of pretence of unnecessary frills and affectation, the quintet able to thrill arenas with ease but you could still imagine them laying waste to a bar with the sheer power of their music. Of that classic late 70’s / early 80’s era, few bands have had both the staying power or connection with the fans that Saxon have and by the time the last notes of closing one-two knockout punch ‘Wheels of Steel’ and ‘Princess of the Night’ are fading, the victory is assuredly theirs.

Judas Priest sound and look immense, their eardrum-bursting, retina-frying full-frontal assault making them one of the biggest and most legendary Heavy Metal bands on the planet. Leather and studded gods astride the globe like colossus, the quintet have become as part of the public conscience of what Metal is like alongside fellow Midlanders Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and London wrecking crew Deep Purple. It’s quite a legacy, the history here of laying waste to large portions of the planet’s population for the past five decades, smashed home with a string of killer albums that saw them take on the world and win every time.

With the third in a string of modern-day classics in ‘Invincible Shield’ welcoming with a justly rabid enthusiasm by critics and fans alike, there’s seemingly no stopping the band and the temptation to rest on their laurels ground into the dust. Here was a band uninterested in cruising or going through the motions, instead, the veterans put heart and soul into every note.

The opening salvo of ‘Panic Attack’, ‘Another Thing Coming’ and ‘Breaking the Law’ are crushing, the trio like being hit by a freight train but with the songwriting skills that brings irresistible hooks and sheer force together in one perfect package.

Rob Halford still has a voice that could shatter glass a mile away, his larynx an extraordinary thing as he prowls the stage either arms waving or with his head down, drawing every last roar out. To either side of him Richie Faulkner and super producer/touring guitarist Andy Snape slice and dice with every phrase and solo played, their work together capturing the visceral excitement that Priest have made their own. A big nod too must go to the ever reliable rhythm machines of Ian Hill and Scott Travis, the two providing the sheer muscle that keeps this gigantic beast moving ever forward.

New material like the emotive ‘Crown of Horns’ and a bruising ‘Invincible Shield’ fit in perfectly alongside such fan favourites like ‘Rapid Fire’ and ‘Turbo Lover’, some deeper cuts and older numbers really spicing up the set. Of course, there are some numbers that they absolutely have to play and the reception to set closers ‘The Green Manalishi (with the Two Prong Crown)’ and the brutal ‘Painkiller’ is suitably rapturous.

After their encore return for ‘Electric Eye’ and the trademark arrival of Halford on a motorbike for ‘Hell Bent for Leather’, things got even louder as the arena erupted in a roar as the singer introduced Glenn Tipton onto the stage.

Welcomed like a hero, the overwhelming warmth towards the guitarist was tangible, lifting the assault of ‘Metal Gods’ and ‘Living After Midnight’ to another plain entirely. There was no better way to close the night and to anyone who still insists that rock is dead, tell that to the multiple thousands who’ll witness this tour and they’ll soon be put straight. With a century and a half between the three bands, it’s proof positive that heavy metal is for life and will be for generations to come.

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