Last Saturday night, one of the newest venues in the St. Louis market cranked up the speakers, set the lights to dazzle, and got the seats packed to hold them down when metal icons Judas Priest brought their 50 Heavy Metal Years to the Saint Louis Music Park in Maryland Heights.

Leading off the double-punch of the night, Swedish melodic metal band Sabaton hit their combat-inspired stage set up, filled with crates and footlockers and combat rifles for mic stands. Frontman Joakim Brodén led the charge, flanked by Tommy Johansson and Chris Rörland on guitars, Pär Sundström on the bass, and Hannes Van Dahl backing them all up behind the drum kit.

Playing tracks like "Ghost Division," "The Red Baron," and "Fields of Verdun," WWI was a connective theme running throughout the set. "The Attack of the Dead Men" sees the band come out wearing early 20th century-era gas masks. The set closed out with "Steel Commanders" and "To Hell and Back." The band was tight and sounded fantastic, but the highlight of the set for me was that the band was quite obviously having fun. They were just playing the songs or smiling for cameras. If there had been three people in the audience, it was obvious that they would have done exactly the same thing, because they were playing as much for the fun of it as they were playing to the crowd. And that absolutely translates into the performance.

One interesting note on the Sabaton set I didn't catch while 'in the moment' at the show was that the bad was truly uniform. They were wearing matching black and grey combat pants and all three of the guitars on stage had the same matching camouflage pattern. Something that I would say is unique in modern times when getting everything customized and individualized is so simple. 

It's not at all a stretch to call Judas Priest icons of music in general, and certainly of hard rock and heavy metal. Established in 1969, the band has been out there for more than half a century, leading the New Wave of British Heavy Metal to American shores. Weathering line-up changes causes by everything from personality clashes to illness, Priest continues to bring their full power to every show.

With bassist Ian Hill at the core, Scott Travis on drums to fill out the rhythm section and lead guitarist Richie Faulkner bringing his flair and heat. While Glenn Tipton remains as the second guitarist, ongoing health issues for him have kept Andy Sneap keeping his place warm at stage-left. And all of them take the stage with the metal god himself, Rob Halford. Halford's voice, with his melodic cadence and noteworthy falsetto, is just as powerful as it ever was. Opening the show with "One Shot At Glory" from 1990's "Painkiller" album and then jumping into "Lightning Strikes" from 2018's "Firepower," if you didn't know you'd be hard pressed to tell the songs are separated by more than 30 years on the calendar.

One of the biggest hits for the band, "You've Got Another Thing Coming" had the crowd singing along, with encouragement from Halford. Every song you think you imagine you should hear from Priest made the setlist, along with many others. "Rocka Rolla" from the debut album of the same name, "A Touch of Evil," "The Sentinel," and "Painkiller" all found their place in the line up. Overall, 14 songs made up the main set, with four more filling in the encore, closing out the show with "Breaking The Law" and "Living After Midnight" (the irony, to me, being that the show ended before midnight, because if it had gone that long, they'd have been breaking the curfew law). If there was anything notable missing from the setlist, I'd probably say "Some Heads are Gonna Roll" and the band's cover of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi (with the Two Prong Crown)" were noteworthy in that regard.

Saturday night proved once again to me what it should feel like to photograph a rock concert. Amazing lights, incredible sound pulsating around and through you, and just knowing that, even if you missed a bunch of shots, the ones you got can't help but be good. Judas Priest is celebrating 50 Heavy Metal Years, and the reason they're still doing it is because they know how to do it right.

Parting thought here, just a few days after this concert in St. Louis and their appearance at the Louder than Life festival in Kentucky, Priest had to pull the plug on the rest of the shows due to a health issue with guitarist Richie Faulkner. The last reports are that he underwent a heart procedure and is doing well. Best wishes to the "Falcon" for a speedy recovery. The live-metal-music scene needs you guys back, but only when you're ready.

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