It wasn’t that long ago since Judas Priest went out in the press and told us that they would call it a day. Judas Priest and singer Rob Halford had made an acclaimed reunion after some years apart and a couple of disastrous records on both parts and neither part were getting any response from the bigger – and especially Priest’s own – audience. They released the very good and classic Priest sounding album Angel Of Retribution (2005) and everything seemed to be hunky dory in the Priest camp. The same could be said of the mastodon project of the double album Nostradamus that followed in 2008 even though it did split the Priest camp in two. But when original guitarist K.K. Downing decided to leave the band in the middle of the Epitaph World Tour that started in 2010 it was clear that all wasn’t well in the Priest camp. In 2011, Richie Faulkner (ex Lauren Harris) was hired to complete the tour but by then it looked like the Priest saga was over.
Halford had spread the news that they would quit, before that tour started – the farewell tour. But as we all know, farewell tours are very rarely farewell tours and with a vitamin injection in the shape of Faulkner, the band got themselves a kick in the butt, so what to do other than to keep on going? The guys went to work and in 2015 we got the result of Faulkner’s debut as a guitarist and co-song writer with Judas Priest, Redeemer Of Souls, another album that split Priest fans in two camps. Yes, the album got some mixed reviews from both press and fans but what most fans could agree on is that it was a new-born Priest that went on tour to promote the album. The band had a real spark in the performance and Halford’s somewhat broken voice from a few years back seemed to have healed astonishingly.
So now when Priest is ready for the release of their new album it comes with some horrible news. Apparently, guitarist Glenn Tipton have suffered from Parkinson’s Disease for something like 10 years and now it have started to take its toll on him. Glenn performs on the new album but co-producer Andy Sneap (Accept, Saxon) is credited with additional guitars and it looks like he will join the band on tour as well with Tipton chipping in on some songs every now and then. So saddening to hear. On the good news front is that old producer Tom Allom, who produced earlier gems like British Steel (1980), Screaming For Vengeance (1982) and Defenders Of The Faith (1984), is back behind the board as the producer together with Sneap, something that raises the expectations a great deal.
The album’s first taster and title track opens the album and it sounds just like how a fist in the face would feel. It’s fast, hard, heavy and very classic 80’s Priest. Judas Priest have always been brilliant at mixing furious Metal with an embracing melody and that’s exactly what they do here. My mind instantly thinks Painkiller (1990) meets Screaming For Vengeance and I’m stunned just how amazingly fresh and vital this sounds – a real killer! First single “Lightning Strike”, a powerful and pounding Heavy Metal tune, follows and the classic mid 80’s Priest vibe runs all over this catchy jawbreaker (sic). “Evil Never Dies” slows things down a notch but takes nothing away from the heaviness of the previous two songs. The tune is in-your-face, ballsy and rocks with a darker feel – and it hits you right between the eyes. There’s a calmer breather as a middle-section but still with gloom and heaviness. Fan-bloody-tastic!
“Never The Heroes” starts with a synth intro and then turns into a mid-paced Metal tune with some really catchy riffs and a melody that really screams out classic Judas. The refrain isn’t hit-catchy but it did get stuck in my head for quite a while afterwards. Great tune. “Necromancer” brings on a Painkiller vibe but also Angel Of Retribution comes to mind here. The tune is in mid tempo and the chorus really hits where it should – very, very Judas Priest. There’s a big Black Sabbath vibe over the Metal groovy “Children Of The Sun”. The rhythm section is a fist-in-the-face and punchy, the middle-break goes back to Priest’s 70’s and we just might have a future Priest-classic on our hands here. “”Guardians” is a beautiful and melodic piano piece that works more as an intro to one of the album’s finest moments, the monumental Metal ballad “Rising From Ruins”. The song is built on a big riff, very heavy and the slow pace mixed with an epic arrangement, it brings classic highlights as “Out In The Cold” (Turbo, 1986) and “Blood Red Skies” (Ram It Down, 1988) to mind. Melodic and memorable, this tune is nothing short of brilliant!
The following “Flame Thrower” is the opposite to its predecessor – it’s a hard, aggressive and furious Metal tune that’s straight-forward and kicking. Painkiller meets Screaming For Vengeance. That said, I find this the weakest track on the album without being actually bad. It’s a decent song but it’s not great. But “Spectre” brings things back on track again. It’s a slow, heavy and very headbanging-friendly but also melodic and the main melody is very convincing. A striking chorus makes this tune a winner, a tune that makes me think of the brilliant Defenders Of The Faith and it’s impossible to go wrong with that. With razor-sharp riffs, a rough and heavy rhythm and an extremely melodic melody that borders to Power Metal, Priest comes blasting with “Traitors Gate”. There’s an Accept vibe present, probably Sneap’s doing, but also Defenders Of The Faith comes knocking. Brilliant!
Melodic mayhem occurs when “No Surrender” makes its acquaintance. The song takes a big and heavy, straight-forward Metal route but mixed in there is a huge Pop feel, especially in the chorus, with all the hooks in the world and a distinct catchiness that will in fact make you surrender – right on the spot. Amazingly awesome! The Sabbath influence returns for the über-heavy “Lone Wolf”, a full-on riff-fest but with a fat groove and a rhythm hard as steel. Still the tune is a bit of a dip in quality compared to the rest of the songs. It’s not a bad song at all but it’s just not as strong as the rest. I guess Priest have spoiled us rotten here. Priest closes the album on an epic note, with a huge, bombastic and majestic Heavy Metal ballad called “Sea Of Red”. The tune starts out with acoustic guitars in a slow pace but soon turns electric and heavy with not so little darkness surrounding it. One might think that a furious Metal track based on speed should be closing a Metal album but to me, this brilliant tune is a perfect closer.
If Redeemer Of Souls was a “We’re back” album, then Firepower is the “we’re not going anywhere” album and this album proves that there’s a lot of life left in Judas Priest despite the fact that some of the members are closer to 70 than 60 years old. The template for the record seems to be Screaming For Vengeance and Painkiller with their 80’s as the main focus. Yes, everything on this album screams classic Priest sound wise – it’s hard, rough and heavy. The idea to have Sneap and Allom to share production duties is also a very smart move. Most of the album has Allom’s trademark all over it but it’s also pretty easy to hear Sneap’s input and the two have managed to catch the essence of classic Priest.. But none of that would be worth an iota if they didn’t have the songs to match and on this album, they sure as Hell have written those songs. Because, folks, Priest have a killer on their hands, a record that very well could turn into a future Priest-classic. It’s really that good. I hold this record as their best since (the extremely underrated) Turbo. This album really floored me – and then some!
More Judas Priest reviews:
2. Lightning Strike
3. Evil Never Dies
4. Never The Heroes
6. Children Of The Sun
8. Rising From Ruins
9. Flame Thrower
11. Traitors Gate
12. No Surrender
13. Lone Wolf
14. Sea Of Red