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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.
Ah, another Judas Priest live album. What makes this different from all the rest? Well, Rob Halford wasn’t in the band at this time, instead Tim “Ripper” Owens is filling in the god-like shoes of Mr. Halford. This could be quite the nerve-raking task. Is this live album as good as all the others?
Well, the music itself is performed great. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing do their part as they always do delivering crazy solos and energy to the stage. Ian Hill, is well, Ian Hill. His bass playing is as good as it gets. Scoot Travis can set fire to a drum set. This leaves one person… Tim Owens. His vocals as a whole are good, but on live performances it just seems like he’s holding something back. It’s sad how much potential he always seems to wasting. In the studio he’s amazing but it always feels like he’s not doing his best on stage. Anyway he does his job here, although he is no Halford he can still pack somewhat of a punch.
The set list itself is typical Judas Priest, which isn’t a bad thing. All time classics like “Painkiller”, Hell Bent For Leather”, and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” are all present and performed well. The crowd isn’t as loud as you’d expect them to be, but at least there existent. The songs performed off “Jugulator” are better on this album; much more energy and they feel like their performed a little faster.
This is a solid live performance from the extraordinary Judas Priest. Many die-hard fans will hate the fact that Rob Halford isn’t singing, but Tim does do a good enough job. Check it out if you haven’t heard anything from the Tim Owens era, you may find it interesting. Most Judas Priest fans should enjoy this, unless their that upset that Rob Halford isn't singing on it.
...but rip a couple of songs first. If this were two separate albums it would be: Disc one "50," disc two "87." It's not sooo bad, then again it's not exactly Priest in the East.
This is their third official live album and it's also the first, if not the only, one with Tim 'Ripper' Owens. I actually like him, he's not Halford, that's a fact. He CAN sing like Halford but he puts his own little twists. Listen to "The Ripper" or "VICTIM OF CHAAAAAANGEEES!" and tell me that he sucks donkey balls. Among the other songs in this rather strange show is "Rapid Fire(!)," "A Touch of EEEEVIL!" "Metal Meltdown," and a very special version of "Diamonds and Rust" this one being more faithful to the original. As of now, the band no longer plays the 70s version very often or at all, *sigh* I really liked that version. Owens is in top form in those songs, he is a remarkable singer and I'm definitely glad that Priest chose him over Scheepers.
The production is quite good, although the guitar tone leaves much to be desired. I'm not sure if the guitars are tuned real low or the guitar tone is too thick, but the guitars sound awfully muddy especially during the riffs. The bass...Aw c'mon guys! Give Poor Ian a break! He's not often audible though you CAN hear him, you just have to actively listen to him. The drums are very clear, but it's a little 'low' in the mix. The vocals benefit considerably from the production. I'm pretty sure Priest produced it like this just so they can say "Hey, Owens is a great singer!"
Being a double live album, this kind of suffers from the setlist. Disc one is kind of blah, except for a couple of songs. Rip "Rapid Fire (now with chorus)," "The Ripper," "Beyond the Realms of Death(!)" and "The Hellion/Electric Eye" before throwing it to the bin. The second disc is actually the best part of this album. All the Priest classics are in the second disc: "Hellbent for Leather," "Painkiller," the aforementioned "Victim of CHAAAAAANGEEES!" Damn, what a selection.
Now folks, I wouldn't recommend you to buy this at full price. Buy it used, or borrow it. Or buy the DVD instead.
A lot of live albums suffer from the stigma of being pretty much the same thing as their studio predecessors, just sloppier and released with the profit margin in mind (*coughMaidencough*). This, however, is not one of those albums - it is fully worth the $20 or whatever you have to pay. '98 Live Meltdown is nothing less than a complete and total reinvention of all but six songs on the two discs, and brutal reinditions of those six.
You all know the story of Tim "Ripper" Owens, so I'm not going to bore you with any of that crap...instead, I will simply talk about how utterly badass this live album is, most notably Owens's vocals. He's not Rob Halford, but neither is he a Halford imitator. This album shows it, with the production putting the singing far in the front while still keeping the other instruments, as well as the crowd, distinct.
As said, Judas Priest takes a catalog of (at that point) twenty-three years worth of music and gives it a good, swift kick in the ass. Everything is tuned down, turned up, and injected with a heavy dose of amphetamines - it's the grand heavy metal traditional of "kicking your ass till you like it." Disc One is probably the better of the two; "Rapid Fire," long suspected as possibly the first thrash metal song, is turned into a skin-shredder worthy of Exodus (except with better vocals) here. Ripper's version of "Touch of Evil" completely lays waste to his predecessor's, as does "The Ripper." The cut-down "Death Row" kicks the shit out of the mediocre album version, and "Bullet Train" translates one of the best Owens tracks to an even more effective live setting. And as for "The Sentinel", that song just rules you and you know it.
The second disc also has its moments; "Night Crawler" is an absolute beast, with Ripper throwing in primal screams and growls until that song rips and tears the way it should have in 1990. "Victim of Changes" really highlights his vocal abilities, and "Painkiller," while not quite vocally matching the original, is even heavier musically. That brings up the oft-forgotten superstar of the disc, drummer Scott Travis. Travis keeps up a solid beat throughout while tossing off high-speed and highly difficult drum parts like "Bullet Train" and "Painkiller" with ease; judging on his work on the songs where Downing and Tipton let him really cut loose, I'd put this guy in the Drumming Gods Social Club with Lombardo, Hoglan, Christy et. al.
So no, this album is not the Judas Priest of old - it's something different. Something heavier, harder, faster, and in some ways better. With the return of Rob Halford, Meltdown remains as a milestone in Priest's history, when they were fresh, rejuvenated, and ready to show the world that nobody was getting old in this camp. Before Glenn Tipton's bad ideas took over and Ripper got disillusioned (resulting in the poor Demolition and the uninspired Live In London), they recorded this, and it brought the heaviness.
This is one of the greatest live albums ever. Buy it and rejoice.
I would give this album an "81" rating, or thereabouts, if I didn't have five or six bootlegs from this tour that sound better than this. Especially on Tim Owens' singing - on this album, he doesn't do a too good version of "Painkiller", but I've heard him nail it repeatedly - did they pick the one performance where he wasn't up to par on purpose???
But, in the tradition of Priest live albums, the songs here sound better than on the studio versions. "Beyond the Realms of Death" is done very nicely, as is "Diamonds and Rust" in a different format than the thrashed-up version on Priest in the East. "The Ripper" and "Metal Gods" are crowd favourites, and the stuff from Jugulator sounds very nice too, especially "Burn in Hell" and "Death Row". Even the awful "Abductors" turns tolerable here.
The highlight of this album has to be "Touch of Evil", though. Rob Halford sang this one, and sang it well, both in 1990 in the studio, and on the 1991 tour. But Tim Owens actually outdoes him - turning this song into something completely menacing. His voice is perfect for this song especially. It's not 100% like that of Rob Halford, but it pretty much is the closest thing out there - he just chooses to give his own interpretations sometimes, and other than a few too many gratuitous high notes sometimes, he does do a good job.
But, as I said, on some bootlegs, he does a better job than on here. So that's why I can't unequivocally recommend this one. It is very good, but it could have been absolutely legendary.
My wife once made the assertion (in reference to former KISS drummer Eric Singer) that "you can't grow up listening to KISS and then BE KISS". Apparently that doesn't hold true for JUDAS PRIEST and their latest double-CD live set, '98 Live Meltdown, is the release that proves it. There's a good reason it's two discs - out of the twenty-four songs, only four are from Jugulator, their first outing with new singer Tim "Ripper" Owens (who lives up to his name, BTW). They jam-packed the rest with tons of tunes from the golden days and before - who can even remember last time they played "Victim of Changes" or "Rapid Fire" or "Grinder" or "The Ripper" or "The Green Manalishi" live with Rob Halford? And the classics are performed with every bit of energy and passion that you would expect from guys half their age, and Ripper sounds very much like a younger Halford while retaining his own identity. Glen and KK's guitars are thick and full, you can hear the bass for a change, and Scott Travis's drums really liven up some of the older stuff and thrash through the newer stuff - "Painkiller" kills I dare say even more than DEATH's recent cover (but that's another review. . .). And the set list is perfect - starting right off with "The Hellion/Electric Eye" (one of the best tunes on the album), leaving the moodier pieces like "Beyond the Realms of Death" and "Diamonds and Rust" for the middle, and slamming through the end with the big anthems "You've Got Another Thing Coming", "Hell Bent for Leather", and "Living after Midnight". Killer. There's nothing else to say, really. It's refreshing to see such a classic band still rocking harder than bands that have been around half as long (we won't name names - METALLICA wouldn't like it. . .). If you call yourself a Priest fan, get this - there's too much classic stuff on here to be missed.
(Originally published in Eternal Frost Webzine #5 and LARM (c) 1999)