JUDAS PRIEST'S "Painkiller" tour seems to be intent on numbing its audience into a state of heavy metal nirvana or deafness, whichever comes first.
Last night's concert at the Capital Centre, which also featured metal up-and-comers Megadeath and Testament, proved that Priest badly wants back into the lucrative and fast-paced world of '90s heavy metal. The trouble is, they seem more like aging players, trying to regain their lost step only to stagger miserably.
Once a great rock band -- true godfathers of hard rock -- Priest is now subsisting as a mediocre speed metal outfit.
Gone are the shiny steel girders that hovered above the stage in previous shows. Gone is singer Rob Halford's confident swagger across the stage, almost daring anyone else to have more hard rock rhythm. Gone is any semblance of originality.
The only thing that remains is the music of the past -- and Priest didn't even deliver much of its best material last night.
Keeping within the framework of the "Painkiller" sound, which is also the title of their latest album -- a loud, thrashing, booming barrage of bass and high-decibel shrieking -- the band extracted only the hardest, toughest material from its catalog for the 18-song, 90-minute show.
Whereas "Hell Bent For Leather," "The Ripper" and "Electric Eye" made the cut for sheer power, others with a melody and a hook, such as "Locked In," "Heading Out To The Highway" and "Parental Guidance" didn't.
"Breaking The Law," "Livin' After Midnight" and "(You've Got) Another Thing Coming," which all came in the encore, took on an obvious harder edge in sound.
The only time the show slowed down even slightly was for "Beyond The Arms Of Death." But a minute into the apparent ballad the song broke into metallic frenzy.
What's most surprising is that it's not a totally different version of Priest.
After all, the players are still the same except for drummer Dave Holland, who has been capably replaced by Scott Travis. Travis, formerly in Racer X, is from Norfolk, Va., and had a nice following of fans in the crowd of more than 10,000.
Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing still provide the guitar work, and bassist Ian Hill slips inconspicuously into the scenery like he always did.
Halford's trademarks never seem to change. He comes onto stage on his Harley-Davidson. He wails three octaves high in a falsetto screech at the close of almost every song. He still has more leather and studded clothing and less hair than anyone in the business.
But when the pace and volume of the music reach epic proportions, Halford is sort of stuck on the stage with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
It's just becomes difficult to watch a band that used to have a personality fall into the nameless, faceless, one-dimensional trappings of anonymous speed metal.
If this "Painkiller" sound is the final twist in direction the band will take in its 16-year history -- it has been known to go back and forth and was even accused of "softening up" a few years ago -- Judas Priest's best live shows are gone forever.