(Wil Cifer reviews the new album by Judas Priest.)
I have now given this album time to sit with me. My first concern about a Priest album at this point in their career is how is Rob’s voice going to hold up? We might be able to live without KK, but as the Ripper Owens years proved, Rob’s voice is one of the defining traits of this band.
The first two songs are pretty much dialed-in versions of their former arena-rock classics. Think closer to Defenders of the Faith, which found the band trying to replicate the massive success of Screaming For Vengeance. While the ghost of Priest past might haunt some of the songs, it is without a doubt a better album than Redeemer of Souls. It has the up-tempo aggression that influenced the thrash bands that would follow. “Lightning Strike” has more of a gallop than the opener. The over-dubbed vocal layers that show Halford’s upper range are pretty convincing.
You can hear echoes of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” in “Evil Never Dies”, yet it doesn’t feel like they are just recycling their past. For a band like these guys there is the juggling act of not wavering from what decades of fans expect yet keeping it fresh, and the chorus to this song does that fairly well, creating a timeless blend of metal. Though I did wonder if the younger crop of metalheads who did not grow up with this band will even consider them metal at this point, since there are no breakdowns, blast-beats. or growled vocals. Are they able to see this in the context of there not being a Slayer if there had not been a Judas Priest?
“Never the Heroes” and other points on this album feel like they are marrying the songwriting of Turbo to the fire of Painkiller. If you never acquired the stomach for their big fist-pumping ’80s choruses, then there are moments that won’t sit well with you here either. Though if that is the case, why are you even reading a review of a Judas Priest album?
They continue to adhere to this formula on “Necromancer”, and why not, since it seems to work. They then break from it with the powerful drive of “Children of the Sun”, which recalls Rob’s days in Fight until the chorus.
It’s midway into the album that things really begin to feel invigorated. That is not to say the first act is flawed, it’s just uncanny how familiar it is. There are some interesting melodic touches to “Rising From Ruins”. They take many of the elements I normally don’t like about power-metal and make it work. It’s also hard not to bang your head to “Spectre”. My rule might normally be “cool riffs alone do not a good song make”, but these guys wrote the book on cool riffs, so they know how to make them work.
I might still be reluctant to catch their live show with neither of the original guitarists currently on board, but it’s good to hear the band still able to capture the magic in the studio. I think on a shuffle of Judas Priest on my iPod these songs are not going to be a jarring departure from the classics, and I can certainly live with that.