Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” blared over the sound system at the Palace before the start of the performance by British heavy metal group Judas Priest, in the first of their two nights at the Albany theater.
Few fans left unhappy, with the metal gods still sounding vital and powerful on a set that reached back to classic songs like 1975’s “Tyrant.”
When Judas Priest first appeared onstage, singer Rob Halford paced around in a glittery purple cloak, swinging a skull on a stick à la Alice Cooper for a vamp through “Necromancer” from the band’s latest album, 2018’s “Firepower.”
The 50-year-old heavy metal band formed in 1969, hitting their commercial peak in the 1980s with “British Steel” and “Screaming for Vengeance.” Halford left the band in 1992 before returning in 2003, and Judas Priest’s last area appearance was in 2002 in Clifton Park featuring replacement singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.
In addition to Halford, the current lineup consists of original bassist Ian Hill, guitarist Richie Faulkner and drummer Scott Travis. (Guitarist Glenn Tipton, who’s performed on every album since their 1974 debut, is still in the band but can no longer tour due to Parkinson’s disease.)
At the sold-out Palace on Saturday, which swarmed with metalheads in Priest jean-jacket vests and Iron Maiden T-shirts, it was hard to imagine Judas Priest without Halford. Much of the thrill of the electric performance came from his presence.
The charismatic, now bald front man switched outfits often, sporting black aviator glasses, long shiny cloaks and leather studded motorcycle jackets. He stalked the stage on decades-old songs like “Heading Out to the Highway,” “The Sentinel,” “Starbreaker” and “All Guns Blazing.”
At 67, the singer can still largely hit the high notes too, reaching lofty ranges on new song “Spectre,” the triumphant “Judas Rising,” Viking anthem “Halls of Valhalla” and falsetto-fueled “Victim of Changes.”
“Thank you so much for coming tonight and keeping the heavy metal faith alive,” Halford said toward the end, recognizing the community of die-hard Priest fans in attendance.
Although the entire show bristled with energy, the encore was an undeniable highlight. Halford rode out on a chopper, brandishing a riding crop and dressed head-to-toe in leather for a trio of the band’s most iconic tunes: “Hell Bent for Leather,” “Breaking the Law” and sing-along party anthem “Living After Midnight.”
English hard rock band Uriah Heep, who opened with an hour-long set, are also members of the 50-year club, having formed back in 1969 in London, with lead guitarist Mick Box the one remaining original member. Like Priest, the band is also still making new music, having released a 25th studio album, “Living the Dream,” last year.
“You guys have got 100 years of British heavy metal and rock tonight,” said singer Bernie Shaw, who’s fronted Uriah Heep since 1986, replacing original vocalist David Byron, who died in 1985.
Marking the band’s first time in Albany, Uriah Heep’s nine-song set covered the four prime decades of their career, including newer releases with “Grazed by Heaven” and “Take Away My Soul.”
Although Shaw’s vocals don’t quite reach the quasi-operatic heights of Byron, he was still an energizing front man, leading the crunching five-piece through crowd favorites “Stealin’ ” and set-closer “Easy Living.”