It’s been a long wait to get Judas Priest home. Since their last UK appearance (at Bloodstock 2018, no less), the band seem to have played everywhere besides the UK, and their spot as special guests for fellow Brummie metal godfather Ozzy Osbourne was bumped due to health issues and Covid. All of that anticipation proves to be entirely worth it to have them home (or an hour’s drive from home, at least), as they close out Bloodstock’s mammoth five-day return.
Easy as it would be for the band to just come out, fly through the hits and trundle off with 20,000 delighted fans in their wake, Judas Priest have something more special in mind for their 50th Anniversary Celebration. Opening on One Shot At Glory (played live for the first time ever), the band settle in for a two-hour masterclass in exactly why they are one of heavy metal’s most important and influential groups. Rarities fly thick and fast: Exciter and A Touch Of Evil haven’t featured in Priest setlists since Rob Halford re-joined the band in 2005, while a decidedly souped-up Rocka Rolla hasn’t been played since the late 70s.
Even with these left-field choices, the crowd are utterly delighted – and why shouldn’t they be? Priest sound enormous, every instrument hammering with half a century’s worth of momentum behind it. The hits we do get are the stuff most bands can only dream of, guaranteed to get the whole crowd roaring. You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’, The Sentinel, Turbo Lover, Painkiller, Electric Eye – thousands of voices roaring those songs with absolute conviction is enough to tear down the encroaching doom and gloom of the outside world, if only for a brief two-hour span.
It’s a special kind of understated yet effortlessly cool atmosphere that Priest strike. The visuals might be low-key compared to the likes of Rammstein, Ghost or even Parkway Drive, but Priest don’t bother with theatrics when sheer panache is equally as effective. The closest we get to props are Halford’s iconic motorcycle moment (is it even worth playing Hell Bent For Leather without it?) and an enormous bull (like the big bronze sculpture kids climb over in Birmingham city centre every weekend) brought out for the last few songs of the set. For his own part, Halford looks every bit the metal god, his sequinned gold jacket reminding us that Priest haven’t just championed heavy metal since the 70s, they defined it in style and tone.
Not bothering with an encore (only taking a brief breather to play the intro tape of The Hellion before roaring back to life with Electric Eye), there’s no real sense of lull as Priest ring in 52 glorious years as heavy metal heroes. Back when ‘heavy metal’ was a dirty word for hard rock bands with a penchant for distorted guitars and riffs, Priest were the first to truly champion the genre and celebrate it, so it seems fitting they should be the closing note for the first full-scale heavy metal celebration since the pandemic hit. Picking songs from across their illustrious career – going right the way up to 2018’s Firepower – the band show no signs of relinquishing their dominion over the heavy metal landscape. From the stomping rock’n’roll of Victim Of Changes to an honest-to-God death growl from Rob Halford, its all about showing just how superbly unassailable Judas Priest are.
For the close of the set, Priest quite literally bring things home. In addition to the aforementioned Birmingham bull, Halford himself sports a back-patch of the Black Country flag, proving you can take the boy out of the Black Country, but… well, you know the rest. The band also bring out long-time lead guitarist Glenn Tipton for a final triumphant triumvirate of Metal Gods, Breaking The Law and Living After Midnight, a last victory lap that brings the main stage of Bloodstock 2021 to a close as the crowd roar long into the night.
As live music comes back in splutters and starts, Bloodstock shines like a beacon of hope and positivity that when things do come back in full force, they can be every bit as good as we remember. Whether weathering over 50 years or just five long days in a field under the baking August sun, Bloodstock shows that – to paraphrase Priest themselves some 41 years ago – in heavy metal we really are united, and united we never shall fall.
Judas Priest Bloodstock setlist
One Shot at Glory (Live debut)
You've Got Another Thing Comin'
Exciter (First performance since 2005)
Hell Patrol (First since 2009)
Halls of Valhalla
Rocka Rolla (First since 1976)
Victim of Changes
A Touch of Evil (First since 2005)
Dissident Aggressor (First since 2009)
Blood Red Skies (First since 2012)
Invader (Live debut)
Hell Bent for Leather
Metal Gods (with Glenn Tipton)
Breaking the Law (with Glenn Tipton)
Living After Midnight (with Glenn Tipton)