With eighteen studio albums and almost fifty years under their bullet belts, Judas Priest, alongside Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, have managed to become a household name even in houses where the occupants haven’t even heard of Heavy Metal. Their legacy is inarguable. In fact, there is so little left to say about the band that hasn’t already been documented in some way over the last four (now virtually five) decades, that all you really need to know is this: They’re Judas fucking Priest.
Right, that’s the pointless introduction out of the way so let’s just get down to it, shall we?
Firepower (Epic) is a monster. A colossal metallic robot capable of crushing cities underfoot, paratamizing and vaporapeizing everything before it out of existence. For those of you who were less than whelmed by 2008’s ambitious but overblown Nostradamus (Epic)or 2014’s Redeemer of Souls (Epic/Columbia), then fear not. The Priest are back. And then some.
That said, don’t go expecting the Speed Metal histrionics of their classic Painkiller (Columbia) album, but rather material more in line with their early-mid ’80s output combined with the more mid-paced Painkiller cuts, and the feel of 2005’s superb comeback album Angel of Retribution (Epic).
Released onto the interweb a month ago, title track ‘Firepower’ is a classic Priest opener with crunching riffs, pounding drums, and some great twin guitar work, all heralded by a classic Rob Halford trademark scream. Released at the beginning of the year, first single ‘Lightning Strike’ is another example of Priest at their finest. “You’re sowing the seeds of a nightmare from Hell”. Indeed. ‘Never the Heroes’ features a slow, laid back riff, in the vein of ‘Worth Fighting For’ from Angel… but with a bit more depth and bite. Similarly, ‘Necromancer’ has echoes of ‘Hellrider’ but with a more EVIL chorus.
One of the album’s standout moments surely has to be ‘Flame Thrower’, a song so quintessentially Priest, you have to wonder if they didn’t already write it years ago for Defenders of the Faith or Screaming For Vengeance (both Columbia). The superb ‘Rising From Ruins’ with its jangling open chords doesn’t sound a million miles away from Bruce Dickinson‘s ‘Jerusalem’ mixed with a dash of ‘Bright Eyes’ by Blind Guardian. ‘Evil Never Dies’ speaks entirely for itself, while ‘Traitors Gate’ takes the subject matter of Iron Maiden’s ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’, of a man on his way to his own execution, but puts Priest’s inimitable stamp all over it. Closer ‘Sea of Red’, while disappointingly not a thirteen minute epic like AOR‘s annoyingly maligned ‘Loch Ness’ is still a suitably strong Priest power ballad, and features one of Rob’s finest vocal performances of the album.
On his second album after replacing legendary axeman K.K. Downing, guitarist Richie Faulkner sounds like he’s been in the band for many more years than he actually has, and while purists will undoubtedly claim it’s “not Priest without KK”, there are times when, no matter how heretical it might sound, you genuinely forget he’s not part of the band anymore.
Halford unsurprisingly turns in yet another exceptional performance, pushing himself further than a man of his years really should be doing. The rhythm section of drummer Scott Travis and bassist Ian Hill remains a spectacularly well-oiled machine, and you would never know that guitarist Glenn Tipton actually suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, a severe illness which after ten years has unfortunately forced him into reevaluating his role within the band.
Taking Tipton’s hallowed place on stage during the upcoming tour will be the album’s multi-talented co-producer Andy Sneap, who after joining forces with Tom Allom (the producer responsible for the band’s output from 1980-1988), has succeeded in furnishing Priest with both a classic and modern sound, while also allowing them to give an indisputable and mighty fuck you to anyone foolish enough to think they were done.