'98's Best: Judas Priest Are Live In Your Living Room

Heavy metal trailblazers are out with '98 Live Meltdown to prove they've still got it.

[Editor's note: Over the holiday season, SonicNet is looking back at

1998's top stories, chosen by our editors and writers. This story originally ran on Wednesday, Oct. 14.]

After Timothy "Ripper" Owens belted out the first line of "Victim of Changes" in a small cottage in Wales, the members of the heavy-metal act Judas Priest -- inactive since the 1991 departure of singer Rob Halford -- knew they'd found their new frontman.

Overnight, on the strength of a videotape and that audition, Owens was transported from his hometown of Akron, Ohio -- where he aped Halford in British Steel, a Judas Priest cover band -- to fronting the group itself in the studio and on stages around the world.

Fast-forward two years, and the Owens-fronted Priest have the 1997 album Jugulator and tours of the United States, Europe and Japan under their belts, making Tuesday's release of their live LP, '98 Live Meltdown, merely the logical next step in the quintet's comeback.

"We decided [to make a live album] because when we started touring it was all going so well, and the crowds were so crazy and so responsive, it just seemed right," Owens, 31, said. "We started talking about making a live album that would show what a live album should sound like -- a raw, live, album."

Powered by the twin-ax attack of guitarists and founding-members Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, the able bass of Ian Hill, Scott Travis' drums and Owens' operatic vocals, the fivesome continue to trailblaze the heavy-metal path they've followed since the band's formation in 1969, with songs such as "Living After Midnight" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Breaking the Law" (RealAudio excerpt).

As the five-piece band sifted through a year's worth of live shows, Tipton said the group made a concerted effort to capture the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd, particularly during songs such as "The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)," "Burn in Hell" and "Blood Stained."

Certain songs were a must for inclusion, Tipton said, such as "Victims of Changes" and an acoustic rendition of the band's cover of the Joan Baez song href="http://www.addict.com/music/Judas_Priest/Diamonds_And_Rust.ram">"Diamonds and Rust" (RealAudio excerpt), but a liberal sprinkling of new tunes such as "Bullet Train," "Death Row" and "Abductors" also made the cut.

"Basically we chose a lot of songs for the audience participation," Tipton said. "Listening back, we were discovering bits where the audience was singing along. We never even realized it was going on when it was happening, but there's a great atmosphere out there. We wanted to recreate the event of a Priest concert. It's not us and the audience, it's the whole thing."

For Owens, certain aspects of his new job as a rock star, such as 15-hour bus rides, are new and uncomfortable, but certain other aspects of the position have yet to lose their luster.

"The fans ... talking to newspapers all over the world, TV interviews, being in GQ magazine," Owens said. "When you get to sign [autographs] and do interviews, that's the best part about it."

Well, maybe for him. For their part, Tipton and his bandmates were certain from the start that Owens was the one to lead the latest incarnation of Judas Priest, and it only took a few shows on the Jugulator tour for them to know that the fans, too, were secure with Owens at the helm.

"When we went out, we were a bit apprehensive and the kids were a bit apprehensive," Tipton said. "Right from the first time we struck up the first note, the crowd welcomed the band back with open arms and totally accepted Ripper, beyond our wildest dreams. ... It's a return of the band, a celebration, if you will."