"No holograms, no troupes of dancers, just a giant light-up trident descending from the ceiling": Judas Priest keep it simple on a triumphant first night of the Invincible Shield tour

A show 160 years in the making: Judas Priest, Saxon and Uriah Heap take to the stage in Glasgow

Judas Priest onstage in Glasgow
(Image: © Roberto Ricciuti/Redferns via Getty Images)

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There are only two kinds of music that matter tonight: Heavy and Metal. Three British bands, with a total of 160 years on the clock between them, have packed out the 12,000-seater OVO Hydro. Here, the chaos of the world is kept outside, this giant concrete and glass colosseum on the banks of the Clyde surrounded by an invisible forcefield. Or maybe an invincible shield.

This is the first night of the world tour in support of Judas Priest’s 19th album, Invincible Shield (yeah, we went there). It’s a screaming demon of a record that keeps up the hot streak which began with 2014’s rocket-fuelled Redeemer Of Souls and continued through 2018’s pulverising Firepower. Do Priest – 55 years and counting in the game themselves – have the energy to pull it off? Oh yes, they definitely do.

We’ll get to that, but first the undercard. Openers Uriah Heep have been doing this as long as Priest, doughty footsoldiers on heavy metal’s long and unending route march. They rattle through a set so short it’s a wonder they bothered to pull themselves away from the telly, but Gypsy and Easy Livin’ sound as exhilarating now as they did when double denim and luxuriant moustaches were all the rage first time around.

Saxon are the young bucks on tonight’s bill by comparison, even if Biff Byford increasingly resembles an old oak, topped with silver and more rooted to the spot than he used to be. We get four songs from their latest album, Hell, Fire And Damnation, which is a touch on the generous side (though There’s Something In Roswell is way better than its crackpot title suggests). But everyone’s here for the classics, and they know it: Motorcycle Man, And The Bands Played On, Dallas 1pm, Wheels Of Steel and Princess Of The Night, still the greatest song about a steam train ever written. “This is what it’s fucking all about,” booms Biff before a euphoric Denim And Leather. He’s not wrong.

There’s a reason Priest called their new album what they did, given the rough time of it they’ve had in the last few years. Talismanic guitarist Glenn Tipton’s Parkinson’s diagnosis and subsequent retirement, recent-ish recruit Richie Faulkner’s near-fatal onstage heart attack, Rob Halford’s recovery from prostate cancer – if there is a God, it looks like he’s not much of a Judas Priest fan. Yet here they are, leather-clad and studded up, striding onto the OVO stage to a fanfare worthy of a Queen (or at least Queen), as youthful in spirit, if not in body, as they‘ve ever been.

Invincible Shield is a top-tier Priest album, and one that doesn’t sound too far away from the ones they used to make, so few here begrudge them opening with the adrenalised assault of recent single Panic Attack. Even those who have resolutely refused to listen to anything after Painkiller will be pacified by Rapid Fire, despatched in quick succession. Halford manages to lose his way a little in the tongue-tangling wordplay – come on, he’s only been singing it for 44 years – but at least he nails ‘desolisating’, which is the important bit. When exactly did heavy metal bands stop making up their own words anyway?

Priest haven’t played UK arenas for decades, and it’s easy to forget just how boomingly heavy they sound. Not least bassist Ian Hill, the rock on which Priest have been built for the last 50-odd years. Does it matter that his great thwacking bass is the loudest thing in the mix? No, it does not. There’s some milksop with an acoustic guitar playing across town if it’s too loud for you.

Halford himself is obscenely sprightly tonight, which is to say way more agile than any 72-year old wrapped in a layer of leather, rivet-work and, sporadically, a spangly silver coat has a right to be. Vocally, he‘s on fire – the high notes are hit precisely when they should be, which, in the case of Screaming For Vengeance, is pretty much from start to finish. He even tosses in what sounds like a death growl during the immortal Metal Gods.

By modern standards, the stage set is relatively restrained yet undeniably effective. Banks of giant screens at the back of the stage project a retina-roasting array of colours and images – a dirty and scuffed Union Jack during Breaking The Law, footage from the old silent horror movie Nosferatu during Love Bites, vintage footage of the absent Tipton during a stellar Victim Of Changes, his hair flowing and his red patent leather strides positively creaking with intent. Beyond that, there’s not much - no second stage, no holograms, no troupes of dancers, just a giant light-up trident that periodically descends from the ceiling. But sometimes a giant light-up trident is all you need.

The setlist is as perfectly balanced as can be expected from a band with as deep a catalogue as Priest. There are new songs (Lightning Strike, Panic Attack, Trial By Fire and Invincible Shield itself all get a run out, the first ever for the latter three). There are old songs (You Got Another Thing Coming, Turbo, Green Manalishi). There are even a couple of deep-ish cuts in the form of Saints In Hell and Love Bites.

The wrap it up, naturally, with a triumphant Hell Bent For Leather – sung by Halford on his Harley, of course – and Livin’ After Midnight. “We hit Glasgow about 1am,” Rob sings on the latter – optimistic, maybe, but 12,000-odd people are right there partying with him in their heads. “We’ll be back,” he says when it’s finished. Time may march on, but only a fool would bet against that.

Judas Priest's Invincible Shield tour continues at the First Direct Arena in Leeds on Wednesday evening (March 13). For full dates and tickets, visit the Judas Priest website.

Rob Halford appears on the cover of the new issue of Metal Hammer (with some kittens), while Halford and Richie Faulkner are interviewed about the making of Invincible Shield in the new issue of Classic Rock.

Judas Priest: Glasgow OVO Hydro setlist

Panic Attack
Rapid Fire
You've Got Another Thing Comin'
Metal Gods
Lightning Strike
Love Bites
Breaking the Law
Saints in Hell
Trial by Fire
Turbo Lover
Invincible Shield
Beyond the Realms of Death
Victim of Changes
Screaming for Vengeance
The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)
Hell Bent for Leather
Living After Midnight

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.