Back to Rockville

Aging heavy metal deities of Judas Priest charm the Midland

Judas Priest
Judas Priest Photograph: Travis Shinn

Once one of the world’s most menacing heavy metal bands, Judas Priest was thoroughly charming Tuesday at the Midland theater.

Decades into a career filled with controversies, the British ensemble is now friendly rather than fierce.

The initial version of Judas Priest formed in 1969, but it wasn’t until the release of the breakout album “British Steel” in 1980 that the band became an international sensation. Three longstanding members of Judas Priest — vocalist Rob Halford, guitarist Glenn Tipton and bassist Ian Hill — performed in a quintet for an audience of about 2,500 on Tuesday.

The most telling episode of the band’s 90-minute appearance began when Halford rode a motorcycle onto the stage for a rendition of the 1978 nugget “Hell Bent for Leather.” Halford sat astride the vehicle for the duration of the song. Rather than serving as a symbol of rebellion, the motorcycle temporarily functioned like a scooter designed to assist people of limited mobility.

Halford may have roamed the stage with the deliberate shuffle of a dedicated mall walker for much of the show, but his voice sounded as virile as ever. One of heavy metal’s premier shriekers, Halford hit every piercing high note heard on the studio versions of the 16 songs on the set list while adding a few of the growls employed by many contemporary metal bands for good measure.

The band is touring in support of its 17th studio album, “Redeemer of Souls.” The power of the project’s five selections performed Tuesday provided one of the concert’s nicest surprises. Interpretations of former hits including “Breaking the Law” were even better, while the bluesy “Victim of Changes,” the oldest song revived for this concert, reminded the audience that the influential band acted as a bridge between the groundbreaking work of Black Sabbath and the subsequent wave of 1980s heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden.

Dated production values — a trait mocked in an amusing opening set by heavy metal parodists Steel Panther — added a quaint aspect to the concert. During “Beyond the Realms of Death,” for instance, primitive video images of global annihilation were paired with synchronized motions of the band members. The effect was unintentionally adorable.

Even so, the self-serving title of “Metal Gods,” a potent track from “British Steel,” remains an accurate characterization of Judas Priest. The formerly fearsome figures of Halford, Tipton and Hill have evolved into benevolent rock ’n’ roll deities.