Tuesday 19 March 2024

ALBUM REVIEW: Judas Priest, "Invincible Shield"

By: Richard Maw

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 06/03/2024
Label: Columbia | Epic

“Invincible Shield” CD//DD//LP track listing:
1. Panic Attack
2. The Serpent And The King
3. Invincible Shield
4. Devil In Disguise
5. Gates Of Hell
6. Crown Of Horns
7. As God Is My Witness
8. Trial By Fire
9. Escape From Reality
10. Sons Of Thunder
11. Giants In The Sky
Deluxe edition bonus tracks:
12. Fight Of Your Life
13. Vicious Circle
14. The Lodger
The Review:

It’s been six years since “Firepower”, which was released 28 years after Judas Priest had made their last classic record, “Painkiller”. “Firepower”, as I stated at the time- and as I still affirm now- was nothing less than a latter day Priest classic. Can a band that is 50 years old still deliver the goods?!
As soon as “Panic Attack” opens this record the answer is emphatic: yes.
Of course, this is not exactly Judas Priest as we know them. KK Downing is long gone from the ranks. Glenn Tipton is still credited and listed as part of the band, but he must have taken a back seat in the recording process at least, as he is sadly suffering from Parkinsons and is now in his mid 70s. However, Rob Halford is back at the front, Ian Hill is as solid and unflashy on the bass as ever and Scott Travis remains behind the kit- as he has done for 34 years at this point.
Richie Faulkner must be given huge credit here; his guitar pyrotechnics are all over this record. He plays like a demon from hell. He shreds. He soars like a bird of prey. He is flashy, melodic, stone hard and occasionally delicate. Truly, the guitar work on this album is stellar. The solos and rhythm work is uncredited, but I really hope that Tipton got to play on here somewhere- if not every track.
The production, courtesy of erstwhile Sabbat man Andy Sneap is state of the art. It is slick, incredibly well mixed and it sounds, to be frank, incredible. Personally, I prefer more rough and ready sounding albums and drums that sound ‘live on stage/in a room’ but I cannot fault the production here for what it is: a modern, huge, and slick sounding metal behemoth. Judas Priest got things right with “Firepower” and they get things right again here. Metallica: take note.
The album covers a lot of ground and a lot of moods and approaches. Yes, Priest sound like Priest, but each record is different with its own identity. Turbo” is a far cry from “Painkiller”. “Stained Class” is very different to “British Steel”. “Jugulator” is totally different to “Nostradamus”. If comparisons are to be drawn, this is not dissimilar to “Firepower” but is perhaps closer in some ways to “Redeemer of Souls” in terms of moods and melody. Indeed, “Redeemer…” could have been a Priest classic, were it not for a lacklustre production and mix and too many mid paced moments.
Priest don’t make those mistakes here. The first three tracks are simply headbanging heaven. Neck-snapping nitro-glycerine for newbies and oldies alike. “Panic Attack”,The Serpent and the King” and the title track simply put the pedal to the heavy metal and fly. Screaming vocals, searing guitars and pounding drums create an adrenaline fuelled vehicle- made of metal. Halford sounds incredible and once again Travis is awake and on fire with his effortless and ambidextrous precision behind the kit.
It’s nice to hear the Halford lyricisms present and correct as well; instead of ‘desolisating’ we get ‘volatise’ and so on. A nice nod to the group’s history and Rob’s approach to words and the English language: if it sounds right… it’s in!
The band drop down the tempo for “Devil In Disguise” and it reminds me of a kind of throwback to “Killing Machine/Hell Bent For Leather”- a dose of melody, a dose of groove, some heavy riffage and a big chorus. It’s a really solid track and not one I would have expected on “Firepower”. This is the band spreading their sad wings wider.
“Gates of Hell” is again at a different tempo, utilises some excellent guitar motifs and features an excellent Halford performance. This one could have fitted in on “British Steel”, or Screaming…” or “Defenders…” it’s that kind of track. Quality hard rock/metal. “Crown of Horns” is up next and represents the slower and more melodic side of Priest. A side, to be honest, I don’t much care for. This would indeed have worked on “Redeemer of Souls”, “Point of Entry” or even “Turbo”. It’s well crafted and catchy, but NOT what I want from Judas Priest, even at this late stage of their career.
Pleasingly, “As God Is My Witness” sprints out of the blocks with the double bass drums rolling. This is what I’m here for; HEAVY METAL. Yep, this rules and sprinkles liberal doses of lead work throughout as Travis simply pulverises the kit. “Trial By Fire” drops tempo again, but more effectively this time. Interesting timing and clever riffing coalescing for a big chorus with a nice rolling feel- again shades of the best “Redeemer” material. Changing up again, “Escape From Reality” has a Sabbath vibe to the riff, before using dynamics to build the tension and another strong chorus. Halford channels Ozzy for the middle eight and it really works.
The last two tracks of the album proper are “Sons of Thunder” and “Giants in The Sky”. “Sons of Thunder” is a distant cousin of “Hell Bent For Leather” with a ‘freedom biker’ theme- and a gang backing vocal on the chorus. It’s fun, it’s metal; it opens the throttle up for the solo sections and allows Halford to once again give voice to his open-highway fantasies. “Giants In The Sky” is a celebratory affair but tinged with a little sadness. A tribute to the fallen gods of the metal world, Halford remembers his friends and pays heartfelt tribute to them here; you can imagine Lemmy, Dio et al voicing their approval and raising a glass in return. It’s lovely to hear Halford’s passion for the legends of the genre- he remains a fan, even after all these years.
It’s a nice closing statement and a reminder that Priest won’t be around forever. If this is the last studio album, it’s a very good one to go out on and represents everything that is good about the band; varied material, masterful metal and a real ear for melody missing from much of the modern-day genre. Halford’s final scream is excellent, as well.
If you are streaming the album, or if you shelled out for the special edition CD, you will also hear three bonus tracks. “Fight For Your Life” is a grooving stomper with another melodic chorus. It’s a decent track, but not quite up to the standard of the rest of the record, perhaps. “Vicious Circle” is a chugging monster and- for my money- could have made the main body of the record easily; a quality slice of steel.
Finally, there is the outlier. The oddball. The bonus track that wouldn’t have fitted on the main record. “The Lodger” is a strange one. It’s not written by the band. It is the work of Bob Halligan Jnr who wrote “Take These Chains”, in the band’s early 80s golden years on “SFV”. As a point of note, I dislike “Take These Chains” intensely. I don’t like “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” from “Defenders…” either. This song is like something out of a Broadway musical. It’s kind of a crime drama, but for me is far too close to Spinal Tap’sJack The Ripper” musical idea for comfort. He’s a naughty one, that Bob Halligan Jnr. All of that said, it is a bonus track and the band is to be commended for trying something different and giving the fans more for their money. Many will love it.
So, what’s the verdict? It’s a latter-day Priest triumph. I don’t think it quite matches up to “Firepower”, but some will disagree. This is a quality record through and through and certainly better than everything the band did in the latter half of the 80s and then better than everything other than “Painkiller” and “Firepower” since. Really, for a band half a century in, I could absolutely not ask for any more than this. The band is still firing on all cylinders and the vast majority of the eleven tracks that make up the album proper are excellent. Of the three bonus tracks, one is a killer, one is a filler and one is not for me at all. Overall, this is superlative heavy metal and absolutely worthy of one of the best bands in the genre.
Sign on the line and let The Priest have your soul, indeed.
For my own bonus track, here is my list of Priest studio albums in order of preference. Don’t get too upset, it’ll change tomorrow. And next week. And on and on.

1). Sad Wings of Destiny
2). Stained Class
3). British Steel
4). Firepower
5). Killing Machine (Hell Bent For Leather)
6). Painkiller
7). Sin After Sin
8). Defenders of The Faith
9). Invincible Shield
10). Jugulator
11). Screaming For Vengeance
12). Rocka Rolla
13). Redeemer of Souls
14). Angel of Retribution
15). Point of Entry
16). Ram It Down
17). Demolition
18). Turbo
19). Nostradamus

Band info: official || facebook