It has been 40 years since Judas Priest released their debut album, Rocka Rolla, a kitsch rock album that showcased little to suggest the career that was to follow. Just take a minute to take that in. Forty years. Four decades in which Priest have, along with Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, formed an unholy British triumvirate that has influenced every single metal band, bar none, between them. Unlike Maiden, who are at the peak of their popularity in their later years, and Sabbath, who since reuniting with Ozzy are world-wide festival headliners, the Priest never quite received the same level of consistent commercial success, despite tracks like ‘Breaking The Law’ being universally known, and their Painkiller album being one of the greatest metal albums ever released.
It has been strongly suggested that Ruby anniversary album Redeemer Of Souls (Epic/Columbia) is going to be their last foray into the recording studio, and that should come as no surprise. Not only has Redeemer been over 3 years in the making, but iconic vocalist Rob Halford and bassist Ian Hill are 62, while guitarist Glenn Tipton is 66. Despite such a lengthy career, his foil and lead sparring partner KK Downing has stepped down from the band due to a breakdown in relationships and doesn’t feature on a Priest album for the first time, unobtrusively replaced by Richie Faulkner.
So, against the backdrop of both their own incredible legacy, a confusing and underwhelming last album (2008’s Nostradamus), and recording without a long-term member for the first time, Judas Priest are releasing their swansong.
The first thing to point out is that they were never going to re-record Painkiller, itself nearly a quarter of a century old and THE most “metal” album of all time. So, if you’re expecting raging drums, pinch harmonic squeals, full on aggression, this isn’t the Priest album for you. The intention after Nostradamus was to release a more straightforward, down the line summation of what Priest is, does and stands for and what Redeemer Of Soulshas is a beautifully warm and classic Priest feel, not too dissimilar to the vibe embraced by Angel Of Retribution and highly reminiscent of a Sad Wings Of Destiny or Sin After Sin;
While Rob Halford’s ear-splitting attack has been toned down to a more mid-range delivery, he is still distinctive and stately over a series of strong rock songs that takes you through the dynamic range of what Priest have offered over the years. Opening triad ‘Dragonaut’, ‘Redeemer Of Souls’ and ‘Halls Of Valhalla’ bring the quick, single note, spiky riffs synonymous with tracks like ‘Nightcrawler’ or ‘Freewheel Burning’ and raise the horns, arms pumping, choruses soaring, an approach that serves ‘Down In Flames’ and the Hill driven ‘Hell & Back’ equally well.
But where Redeemer…really works is in the more mature, considered material like ‘Cold Blooded’, that amalgamates ‘Blood Stone’ with a downer, Heaven & Hell darkness, and ‘Sword Of Damacles’, ‘Crossfire’ and ‘March Of The Damned’, with their looser, head-nodding 70’s vibes. A very consistent album is finished strong with the epic ‘Secrets Of The Dead’, brother-in-arms to ‘One Shot At Glory’ the marvellous ‘Battle Cry’ before a very brave and interesting choice of closer ‘Beginning Of The End’, a reflective number in the vein of ‘Before The Dawn’ or Black Sabbath’s ‘Solitude’, finishes things.
Redeemer of Soulsfulfils the role of final chapter capably, as JudasPriest release a retrospective that nods to their career, recalling everything that has made them genuine legends of our metal world. I sincerely feel honoured and saddened to be writing about final release from one of the best there’s ever been; a true great that is signing off with a fitting epitaph.
8.5 / 10