It is official. The Priest is finally back. Almost 15 years after vocalist Rob Halford reunited with one of the quintessential heavy metal bands, Judas Priest has finally released an album worthy of their reputation.
Their newest album, Firepower, is perhaps the most consistent album they have released since 1990’s Painkiller, with an album cover that looks awfully reminiscent of Screaming for Vengeance. New guitarist Richie Faulkner, who replaced retired K.K. Downing in 2011, really makes this album his own. After the Epitaph World Tour, which was the band’s intended farewell tour in 2012, he is credited for injecting new life into the band.
The album opens up with “Firepower,” and is a solid and relatively safe track compared to what is yet to come in the album. The lead single, “Lightning Strike,” on the other hand, is filled to the brim with dueling guitar chaos from Faulkner and guitarist Glenn Tipton. “Evil Never Dies,” while a heavy, plodding sledgehammer of a track, has some really cool key changes and sounds inspired by modern-day Accept.
“Never the Heroes” has a soaring chorus and a vibrant bass line. “Necromancer” is an absolute riff-monster of a track and sounds like it could pass as a B-side from Painkiller. “Children of the Sun” is a mid-paced rocker in the same vein as “Evil Never Dies,” but has a very bluesy intro and an absolutely killer dueling guitar solo between Faulkner and Tipton.
“Guardians” is a short instrumental driven by excellent melancholic piano work by Tipton, hearkening back to the old Sad Wings of Destiny days. This leads into “Rising From Ruins,” a classic patented Priest-style epic that blows the rest of the material out of the water. “Flame Thrower,” while by far the best titled song on the album, is very mediocre and does nothing to stand out from the rest of the material.
“Spectre” is arguably the most melodic track on the record, and has beautiful descending scales all over the guitar work. “Traitors Gate,” another phenomenal grandiose-sounding track, begins with clean picked arpeggios transitioning into a faster-paced masterpiece. This track quite possibly has vocalist Rob Halford put forth his best performance of the album.
“No Surrender” is an energetic, catchy rocker that sounds like it could be a staple in future live performances by the band. “Lone Wolf” is a gritty, doomy, slow-paced beast where if it was not for Halford, it could pass as a Black Sabbath song. “Sea of Red” is wispy, rock opera album closer, and a fitting end to a great album.
The song writing is the highest point of this album. Guitar performances by Faulkner and Tipton are outstanding, and Halford’s melodic baritone, as well as his signature high-pitched banshee shrieks, are the best he has sounded in a long while. Bassist Ian Hill’s groove is as dependable as always, and drummer Scott Travis has his most technical and precise drum work since Painkiller.
The lyrics make subtle metaphors and references to the current political and social issues going on within the world. Although nothing is explicitly stated, the meaning can be found through enough digging in the lyric sheets. The album was produced by Tom Allom, who produced many Judas Priest records in the 1980’s, as well as modern studio whiz Andy Sneap.
Speaking of Sneap, he is the current fill-in for Tipton for live performances. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 10 years ago, Tipton recently announced he is taking a step back from touring. If this does happen to be Judas Priest’s last record, it is a phenomenal swansong, and an excellent cherry on top for a legendary 50 year career.
Parker’s Picks: “Guardians/Rising From Ruins,” “Necromancer,” “Traitors Gate,” “Spectre”