Thursday, April 26, 2012

Judas Priest - '98 Live Meltdown (1998)

It seems with each iteration of the Judas Priest live record, the contents are swelling alongside the body of studio work they can drawn upon, so '98 Live Meltdown, with over two hours of content, is justifiably the fattest exchange for your currency. Alas, this is one of the Tim 'Ripper' Owens fronted lives, so anyone seeking to experience the magnificence of Rob Halford performing Painkiller tunes to an audience on disc will be out of luck for several more years (beyond the obvious bootleg alternative). I bring up Painkiller, because this is probably where Owens grates on me the least in these 24 tracks. He uses a lower, more feral approach than Halford, more like a David Wayne or Udo Dirkschneider, but the raw aggression of his voice does work well with the heavier tunes from that album like "Night Crawler", "Metal Meltdown" or "Painkiller" itself.

Unfortunately, I can't really say the same of the numerous early classics that populate the double album. His inflection on tunes like "Metal Gods", "Electric Eye", "Grinder" and "The Sentinel" might seem beefy enough to get the fists and necks of the crowd pumping, since they already paid for their tickets to the gig, but it's by no means exemplary or proof positive for me of why this guy was chosen to front the band. I suppose there's a certain barroom appeal, that the hard working everyman can live out his dreams (as captured by that Mark Wahlberg film loosely based on Owens' ascent to Priest), but hearing these tunes with anything other than the siren of Staffordshire is just not a satisfying return on my investment. Perhaps I could forgive the dearth of quality due to the quantity of Meltdown's selections, but that's like paying for an eight course meal of mediocrity. Who does that? To top off the disappointment, there are a number of lame Jugulator tracks here like "Blood Stained", "Bullet Train", "Burn in Hell", "Death Row" and "Abductors" which sound no more exciting or memorable here than they did in the studio. Makes sense, since they were still heavily promoting and touring on the album, but each time one comes up I feel an impetus to hit the 'skip' button.

The audience interaction here does feel fresh and flush, which is surprising since this was recorded across numerous dates on the tour and meshed together. The guitars feel a lot more raw than they did on the previous Judas Priest...Live! over a decade earlier, but this matches the heavier modus operandi the band had been pursuing since Ram It Down. Scott Travis was obviously a more powerful presence on the drums than his predecessors, and the guy shines through the recording, but I felt the bass a little subdued, and the delivery of the guitar chords and chugs to seem somewhat sloppier, forgiving that the work involved was more technical. Certain climaxes in songs like "The Ripper", "A Touch of Evil" and "Breaking the Law" seem less effective than they do elsewhere, and really there are points on the discs where it feels like a complete cover band. On the other hand, there is something genuine and workmanlike about the more raw approach than the last two, so it's not that this is some complete failure or even all that offensive to the ears, because it feels very much 'live' and in your face and the 90s were pretty much THAT decade for the Brits.

I picked up this album for the same reasons I picked up Jugulator, or the Blaze Bayley era records of Iron Maiden, to give this new vocalist a chance and continue to support a band that had entertained me for many years before. Ultimately, though, there is almost zero possibility of me ever choosing this over the first two lives if I'm in the mood for Priest in the stage setting, and even the far more limited duration 2009 release A Touch of Evil: Live is preferable. Owens is not a poor front man, he engages the audience and does his best with the weapons he was given. I thought he was fine on "Painkiller", and he didn't necessarily do any disservice to the weaker tracks of Jugulator, but his presence in the band seems to be a hurdle I just can't get past, and one of the major obstacle which delegates this to the realm of the 'average'. Granted, I would rather sit through this than either of studio albums the guy sang on, or both of them combined, but it's not among the live efforts in my collection I feel compelled to dust off for even an infrequent listen.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

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