Recently, former Judas Priest guitarist K. K. Downing, now of the band K.K.'s Priest, said that the current J.P. lineup was undoubtedly talented. Yet, he lamented that the interplay and solo trades that used to exist between himself and Glenn Tipton were no more. A few tours ago, when producer Andy Sneap stepped up to fill the live guitar duties once Tipton, battling Parkinson's Disease, was forced to step away from the stage. And focus almost exclusively on composing the band's complex music, it was true that the always impeccable Ritchie Faulkner (who replaced Downing) took most of the more complicated leads.

However, in 2021, that is no longer the case at all! Sneap has shown that, while the world was trying to best the wiles of COVID-19, he was surely holed up somewhere, mastering some of the most memorable solos in all of music history, and they were on full and flawless display as Judas Priest roared into Youngstown, Ohio to celebrate over fifty years of what they call, "Judas Priest style heavy metal."

Downing, while equally talented, may not have been aware of it, but he misspoke.

Over 50 years of metalology

Ritchie Faulkner, who joined Judas Priest in 2011, admitted to Audio Ink Nation that he "shed a tear" when thinking about what the band has actually accomplished whilst speaking about the 50 years (due to COVID lockdown, longer: 1969) milestone on September 15.

Likewise, singer Rob Halford told 105.7 The Hawk that even though his beard has made him "the Gandalf of heavy metal." Reflecting, he added: "Exactly. On the night, you're thinking of that show, and here we are on this specific date, you know, this week, this month, in the year 2021. You don't think about 1971, although that's subconsciously in the back of your mind.

You're presenting yourself with the experience that you can create, to try and define everything in the time that you've got."

Founding member and bassist Ian Hill, who was all of 17 years of age when he started it all, also told Louder: "Ultimately, it's been enormously enjoyable to do a job that I love. Some parts were less fun than others, but from sleeping in the van in the freezing cold at the beginning, until the present, well… each day, I count my blessings.

It's been a pleasure to do it with people I consider friends and not just colleagues."

One-shot at glory

Judas Priest is one of those rare bands which have more than one "quintessential" album. Some diehard fans argue that British Steel, once done in its entirety to celebrate its release anniversary, is "the" Judas Priest CD, while others would counter that Painkiller was much more timeless. Priest, this time, was holding back nothing. From the latter suggestion, "One Shot At Glory" opened the show, followed by the brutal onslaught of "Lightning Strikes," the only song played from 2018's massively successful, "Firepower" release.

From there onward, it was nothing less than prodigy-level musicianship, stunning vocal convictions, drumming brilliance, and a light show that would make Pink Floyd feel like they were missing out on all of the fun.

The little tweaks and surprises made this show, like so many others from Judas Priest, memorable. Unlike many bands with their staying power, they don't rely on the same few singles and hits to keep people coming back.

Quite the opposite, Judas Priest fans wait to see which obscure or lesser-known gems will make the cut (such as "Saints In Hell" did on the last tour, having never been played live and written in the 1970s) and when a regular classic like "Metal Gods" does not make the cut -- such as was the case this time -- the diversity overjoys most fans.

Such fans also wait to see what little changes will be made to the catalog's arrangements too. For example, the electronics are back on "Turbo Lover," a change that has not been the case for quite some time.

While the guitars still play many of the keyboard parts, Judas Priest certainly wanted to remind the world who helped industrial music progress, and this addition did just that.

Faulkner, perhaps one of the best guitarists extant today, handled the solo duties as if they were his own creations (newer music is his creations) as bassist Ian Hill chopped steadily on stage left, the wildly under-mentioned Scott Travis added nuance with every foot roll and accent on the drums, and Andy Sneap stepped up in ways that no one expected.

Sneap, also an accomplished producer, gave everyone a taste of his true talent during his rapid-fire adaptation of "Freewheel Burning," the complex solo-heavy monster from Judas Priest's classic "Defenders Of The Faith" L.P.

By the time that Sneap was done all but shearing the strings off of the guitar, the crowd fully understood that J.P. had, once again, two full-on lead guitar players!

One of the other aspects that have made "Judas Priest style heavy metal" so powerful is that both guitarists will often play the same part or play harmonic parts simultaneously, particularly during guitar solos. This calling card of the metal greats is also back on display, as heard when the band roared into Painkiller's "Hell Patrol."

During this song, the awe-inspiring, ageless voice of Rob Halford was again to claim the crown as the true metal god. If one was to close their eyes, one would be hard-pressed to tell if this was 2021, 1984, or 1990 -- the year the Painkiller worked to save heavy metal.

The last verse of "Hell Patrol" showed a range of vocal talent that simply can not be matched by anyone else who has ever lived.

A touch of evil

The hauntingly heavy "Touch Of Evil," also from the Painkiller classic (the fans have been clamoring for it), was a particular highlight in that it, too, also had its keyboard parts back. Like "Turbo," it was a mix of the guitars playing the cryptically haunting keyboard lines along with the actual sounds themselves, and it was wondrous to hear.

Likewise, "Victim Of Changes" is back in the setlist, a song with a little bit of everything and a song that mandates that the singer performing it be in 110% top form, a task that Halford owned. The sheer power and force mixed with the daunting octave jumping in the song's vocal line was enough to grip those in attendance, but it was the return of Sneap joining the prolific Faulkner that took the song to sonic perfection.

Similar to "The Sentinal," which has even more vocal jumps and faster solos, playing at the same time in perfect cadence took their delivery to legendary levels of perfection. If anything, "The Sentinal" reviled even "Hell Patrol" and the mighty "Victim Of Changes" in this regard, though Faulkner's adaption of K.K.'s solos on the latter can not be overstated.

Little things mean a lot in Judas Priest, too, and they didn't fail to highlight them to anyone who would take notice. For example, Priest visited 1981's "Point Of Entry," a release which got a lukewarm response coming after "British Steel" only to become a much-beloved "must-have" CD today, via the song "Desert Plains." The key change that just strolls in during the end of that song was delivered with a sense of lift that just made the whole track stand out.

It was fresh and invigorating.

If there was to be room for criticism, it came during Judas Priest's rendition of "Blood Red Skies," a song from the sickeningly underrated "Ram It Down" CD. While the addition of this song was certainly welcomed and the performance from the band was top-notch, for reasons unknown, Rob Halford's intro was left in one octave instead of the powerful intro which used to exist in the studio release of the song. Considering that the metal master had no problem hitting much higher notes during songs like "Painkiller" and "Victim Of Changes," the alteration in arrangement seemed to take away from the song just a bit.

Then again, if anyone was wondering about Halford's vocal prowess at 70, it was that very song, "Painkiller," which showed that such concerns were utterly baseless.

While the final note was not as drawn out as some of the other blistering notes during the evening, it was a song with no flaw to be heard. If Judas Priest had a "Master Of Puppets, "it would be "Painkiller," and they simply obliterated all doubt in its delivery.

The very obscure "Invader," a song which warns aliens to not to dare mess with the human race, was played, much to the delight of diehards. Just as "Saints In Hell" had done on the last tour, "Invader" did on this one. True fans were treated with a rare and wonderful gift.

The closing songs, "Breaking The Law," the radio constant "Living After Midnight," and "Hellbent For Leather," - where Halford rode his Harley onto the stage, just as he has done many times before, took place.

Other tours have seen the bike come out for other songs, but it was "Hellbent..." which got a return of the tradition this time.

One odd thing which seemed to not quite fit was found when the band had a massive bull with red glowing eyes at the end of the set inflated, it was easily a third as big as the stage, but since they didn't play "Metal Gods," it looked odd and terribly misplaced.

Then, the night ended. "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" was done at the start of the set, a bold move that saw their biggest song played early on. This was a very good idea, and it kept the fans from knowing how the show would end, though Halford did not forget to "Whoa O Whoa" chant the crowd, as is also tradition, before departing.

As they left, it was clear what band still held the title of the best metal band on the planet and, best of all, the banner waved on the big screen which sat above the stage set adorned with smoking barrels and medial warnings -- the banner that all Judas Preist fans wait to see.

It again promised, "JUDAS PRIEST WILL BE BACK." As long as that message waves and as long as they end with that, as is their tradition, the fans need not fear that they have seen the metal gods for the last time.