Tuesday, 10 April 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Judas Priest, "Firepower"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 09/03/2018
Label: Columbia Records

“Firepower” is one of the best albums in Priest's canon- it has the songs, the sound and the playing to match their best.

“Firepower” CD//DD//LP track listing:

1. Firepower
2. Lightning Strike
3. Evil Never Dies
4. Never The Heroes
5. Necromancer
6. Children of the Sun
7. Guardians
8. Rising From Ruins
9. Flame Thrower
10. Spectre
11. Traitors Gate
12. No Surrender
13. Lone Wolf
14. Sea Of Red

The Review:

It would be fair and accurate to say that there are only a handful of bands in the metal genre that can accurately be described as legendary due to their progressing the genre and defining the sound and image. Naturally, Judas Priest are one of that very select number. The band brought twin guitars (with more bite than either Wishbone Ash or Thin Lizzy) into the metal world, along with screaming vocals- often with an aggressive edge to them- and utilised double bass drums and complex arrangements long before most.

Priest's 70's output catapulted the heavy metal genre forward- “Sad Wings of Destiny”, “Sin After Sin”, “Stained Class”, “Killing Machine” and “Unleashed In The East” are classics one and all (even if SAS is a little uneven) and sowed the seeds for thrash, power, speed and even death metal in their approach. 2018, then, finds the band 28 years on from their last classic (“Painkiller”) and a couple of decades on from a truly consistent album. To be clear, I love 70's Priest through and through. I love half of their 80's output; “British Steel”, “Screaming for Vengeance” and “Defenders of The Faith” are all fantastic. However, after that and “Painkiller” the band's work in progressing and defining the genre was done. “Painkiller” was a monstrous work of metal- still massively heavy and the production still sounds enormous- but it is not on the level of their 70s work in my view. “Turbo” and “Ram It Down” were quite simply woeful.

Throughout the 90's, Priest suffered a similar fate to Maiden in that they got in a younger vocalist after their erstwhile frontman went AWOL, who kept the band going. To be fair, “Jugulator”- featuring Tim Ripper Owen's superb vocals- was a good and very heavy record, “Demolition” was Ripper Owens' second with the band and suffers a little  from trying to keep up  with the times- but still contains some great tracks. Halford's return was lauded but produced somewhat uneven results; “Angel of Retribution” had some classics, but it also had the abysmal “Loch Ness”. “Nostradamus” was a conceptual misfire. “Redeemer of Souls” from a few years back was the best of the reunion albums, but was over long and lacked a little in terms of production and aggression. Oh well, thought the fans, they are getting on a bit- we can't expect the aural pyrotechnics of the past... maybe Priest are ready to wind down.

How wrong we were. The Priest is back! “Firepower” is their best album for decades. Certainly the best since “Painkiller”... maybe even better than that. What marks this record out? The songs, the performances and the production. This is the best set of tunes Priest has put together in a lifetime. The playing has real fire, Halford sings superbly. Scott Travis really works hard and puts in a superb turn on the kit- he sounds animated and powerful. Andy Sneap and Tom Allom have combined to make an incredible production team. The album sounds incredible. Muscular, heavy and with a sheen that makes this really listenable.

From the off, the band deliver two stone cold classics: the title track and “Lightning Strikes” could have opened any Priest album and been regarded as two of the best racks on there. They are that good. From there, the album is consistently good and often fantastic. “Evil Never Dies” is a foot stomping beast, “Necromancer” is classic metal in every sense of the word. There are more melodic songs too; “Never The Heroes” is a touching semi ballad- but still features a stunning riff. “Children From the Sun” and “Rising From Ruins” may hint a little too much at the more plodding material from “Defenders of the Faith..”. but they are still good songs and, frankly, the fact that I am even comparing them to the weaker tracks from one of Priest's best albums speaks for itself. They are still pretty good.

If “Flame Thrower” strays too close to Spinal Tap territory in the chorus lyrics, it makes up for this with energy and riffs for days. Plus, Halford's verses are pretty neat and have some nice references to the band's past- with some serious hooks in the bridge to boot. The band deliver another catchy mid tempo track in “Spectre”, another metal classic in the form of “Traitor's Gate” which has some great story telling, more anthemic hard rock/heavy metal in “No Surrender” (it could be from any of the band's best albums) and a Sabbath-esque curveball in the form of “Lone Wolf” which delivers sinister atmosphere and serious groove. Halford is absolutely on fire here as well. They even manage to sign off with the best ballad they have written since the 1970's in the form of “Sea of Red”- an epic finish to an album I thought the band would never make. Every band member excels.

“Firepower” is one of the best albums in Priest's canon- it has the songs, the sound and the playing to match their best. Even if being very picky, there are only a couple of weaker tracks and they are STILL good. For a classic band to make an album like this after so long is incredible. For it to be Priest to have done it is an absolute triumph. If this is to be Glenn Tipton's last record, he has signed off in style, having kept the band going through the good and bad times. If this is to be the latter day high point for Tipton, Halford, Hill, Travis and Faulker then that is fine with me. To be clear, this leaves every other giant metal band's work of the last twenty years in the dust (with the possible exception of Heaven and Hell's “The Devil You Know”- Dio-era Sabbath in all but name- which was a majestic album). “Firepower” is so good, I can't quite believe it. This can be added to Priest's list of classic albums. A long list just got one longer. There are fourteen tracks here, but this album goes to eleven. 

Band info: facebook