Recently Kiss and Judas Priest released new live albums. Kiss Rocks Vegas showcases a 2014 residency at the Hard Rock Hotel in Los Vegas, while Battle Cry documents Judas Priests' 2015 headlining set at Germany's Wacken Festival.
I thought I'd take a look at these records and see what these two icons of heavy metal and hard rock have to offer after 40+ years of touring the globe.
Kiss Rocks Vegas. I guess that title really says it all. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised with this release. I have seen Kiss a couple times in recent years and I've always left the shows thinking, "Wow, that was much better than I thought it would be." My biggest problem with the recent Kiss shows has been Paul Stanley's strained vocal performances, and I will always miss seeing Ace & Peter on stage. With that said, listening to Kiss Rocks Vegas the concerns I had quickly faded away. First off the record sounds amazing and the song selection is pretty impressive. Paul's vocals sound a little strained, but overall he gives a strong performance throughout. Pretty brave to attempt "Tears Are Falling" and it turns out to be one of my favorites from this set, sounding heavier than it's slickly produced original version on 1985's Asylum.
Other Paul highlights include "Creatures of the Night," "Psycho Circus" and "Hell or Hallelujah." Gene sounds strong throughout, as well, but there are not any real rarities from Gene. Probably the coolest Gene song featured is "Parasite." Drummer Eric Singer takes lead vocals on "Black Diamond" and does a fine job. I think the longer Eric wears the Catman makeup he has slowly morphed into Peter Criss. He does a respectful job of playing the Catman. Guitarist Tommy Thayer doesn't get a featured vocal spot but he does get a guitar solo, which is brief and kind of uninspired. I'm not a Tommy hater, but they credit it as "guitar solo" and it's really just a tag at the end of "Hell or Hallelujah." Tommy's playing for the rest of the record is great. He's no Ace but he gets the job done.
Thayer's real contribution here is putting this whole package together. Tommy oversees a lot of the work that goes into most Kiss releases. This packaging looks great. I got the vinyl version, of course, and it is pretty stunning. Tons of great photos and it also includes a DVD of the entire show.
Is this essential? Probably not, but it is a fun collection for die-hard Kiss fans. (editor's note: Golly, where would we EVER find a die-hard KISS fan on Pencilstorm?)
If I were ranking the Kiss live albums this where Kiss Rocks Vegas would fall......
1. Kiss Alive! (duh!)
2. Kiss MTV Unplugged (this could almost tie with number one, it gets more spins than almost anything else in the Kiss discography)
3. Kiss Alive II (the side four studio tracks are the real attraction here)
4. Kiss Alive - The Millenium Concert (the reunited Kiss sounding pretty strong on this one)
5. Kiss Alive III (non-makeup Revenge-era Kiss sounding heavy)
6. Kiss Rocks Vegas
7. Kiss Symphony - Kiss Alive VI (this is the only Kiss live album that I think is a dud)
Battle Cry captures Judas Priest at the end of their Redeemer of Souls world tour, headlining Germany's Wacken Festival.
Like Kiss Rocks Vegas this record sounds amazing. Rob Halford can still hit some pretty impressive high notes and in some cases has found an alternate way of singing certain parts that may give him trouble, but allows him to pull it off like a true metal god. New guitarist Ritchie Faulkner, who replaced original Priest guitarist KK Downing, fits in perfectly and it's nice to hear his take on some classic Priest tracks.
Battle Cry is good mix of classic Priest along with some newer songs from their last studio record Redeemer of Souls. No real surprises here, although it is nice to hear "Jawbreaker" from 1984's Defenders of the Faith, "Devil's Child" from 1982's Screaming For Vengeance and "Beyond The Realms of Death" from 1978's Stained Class. The album opens with "Dragonaut" which is the first of three songs from Redeemer of Souls, the other two being "Halls of Vahalla" and the title track itself. The album closes with a roaring version of "Painkiller" which leaves no doubt that Judas Priest are still the reigning metal gods.
Again like Kiss Rocks Vegas, Battle Cry is not essential but is a nice snapshot of the band in their current incarnation.
Unleashed In the East is still THE Judas Priest live album, even though over the years it has become known as Unleashed In The Studio. The jury is still out on how much of that record is actually "live." In the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter as long as the essence of the performance is preserved and I think that is the case with Unleashed In The East.
I assume there has been a degree of studio touch-ups on both Kiss Rocks Vegas and Battle Cry but in the end they both sound great and have enough rough edges to make them feel authentic. If you want the "warts and all" versions, I'm sure there are plenty of YouTube clips to satisfy.
Kiss Rocks Vegas and Battle Cry are both available in several different formats: including vinyl, CD, DVD, Blu-Ray and different combinations of everything listed. I opted for the vinyl release in both instances and like I mentioned before Kiss Rocks Vegas includes a DVD with the vinyl. Battle Cry is just the vinyl but you do get a download card with it. If you are a casual fan I would say getting the DVD for both releases is probably the best way to go.
The heyday of live albums has definitely come and gone, but it's nice to see these iconic bands still putting a lot of effort into making live albums special.
On September 10th I will be seeing Kiss on their current Freedom To Rock tour and I will be seeing them in the same venue that I saw them play on September 10th, 1979 on their Dynasty tour and Judas Priest was the opening act at that show. This will be the subject of an upcoming Pencil Storm article. Until then........
Scott Carr is a guitarist who plays in the Columbus, OH bands Radio Tramps and Returning April. Scott is also an avid collector of vinyl records and works at Lost Weekend Records. So...if you are looking for Scott....you'll either find him in a dimly lit bar playing his guitar or in a record store digging for the holy grail.