Judas Priest- Firepower (2018)
By now, we've all heard the controversy. Some controversial remarks by former co-lead guitarist KK Downing regarding the new album by Judas Priest, Firepower. How much the now publicly Parkinson's disease suffering guitarist Glenn Tipton plays on the album isn't exactly known, bands for years have obfuscated how much tweaking from session musicians albums have had, Kiss's Psycho Circus being a notorious example. Priest singer Halford has responded in the press by saying that Tipton played on the album.
Whoever you believe, it's the music that matters, and the new Priest does deliver the goods to a certain extent in that respect. One thing that is apparent is that getting knob twiddler Andy Sneap at the production helm is a move that should be followed by other veteran metal bands.
I can think of two examples right away that come to mind, namely Iron Maiden and Danzig would do much to benefit from his expertise. The instruments are the clearest they've been on any Priest record since Jugulator (and even here they're clearer) and the frequencies are as ear pleasing as they can get.
Not only have Priest sought out Sneap, they've also brought along Tom Allom, a name that should be familiar to any fan since he produced all of their 80's albums, to coproduce.
You can even hear Ian Hill's bass, which is a rarity among modern Priest albums. The drums are decent, a little bit like other Sneap's other productions, nothing exciting but they do the job well.
You can compare this album to the other post-reunion albums, and sonically at least, by far it is the best.
The performances are fantastic too, especially with Rob Halford. As for him, this is his best recording since Live Resurrection from his solo band, his voice is dynamic and full of life. High screams aren't as prominent, but it's overall a comeback for his vocal power.
As for guitars, it's undeniable that at least some of the leads and fills are Tipton, since they have his trademark sound. Whatever the case, maybe Faulkner played a lot more guitars this time around, we may never know the complete truth, but Tipton was undeniably involved in a major way with songwriting at least and at least some of the guitars if not more depending on who you believe.
Now as far as the songs:
This is where things vary a bit more, and are a bit more inconsistent. I'm still giving the album a shot as far as it growing on me, so this may change, but I definitely like it more than Redeemer of Souls. I found Redeemer to have a lot of filler, not to mention the mix and production being subpar, something they've obviously abated by bringing Sneap and Allom into the fold.
However controversial, my favorite "reunion" era Priest album remains Nostradamus, and perhaps I'll do a retrospective review on this blog to show my reasons for this opinion.
As for the best songs, it's kind of a best song sandwich, that is, the best are the beginning and towards the end. The beginning title track reminds me of "Dragonaut" from the last album, but is superior in every way. Lightning Strike is more classic Priest, and Evil Never Dies reminds me a bit of something off of Angel of Retribution. Never the Heroes is more of a moody song like Desert Plains, and this is where the album takes a bit of a dive.
Now this criticism is not meant to be a total bash of the following songs and riffs a hundred percent, but there are too many "protagonist" songs as I call them on the album. We all know these types of songs "Painkiller", "The Ripper", "Jugulator", "Exciter", "Sinner", etc- they used to appear only once or twice per album, but having songs such as "Necromancer", "Flamethrower", and "Spectre" all on one album is a bit much. Necromancer is kind of a heavier version of Nightcrawler from Painkiller (well there's another one), "Spectre" is a better song that has a cool groovy riff, but "Flamethrower"..well let's just say if this song would've been a bonus track (or what us old folks called a "bside"), that would be doing it justice. The single cheesiest lyric I've ever heard Halford utter "you're on the run from the stun of the flamethrower", just embarrassed me to no end. I get that Halford always likes to go for gay double entendres and such, but the fact the song sounds like pure filler doesn't really help it any.
The album doesn't really pick up completely again in my eyes until "Traitor's Gate"- a modern sounding power metal song with massive hooks and balls.
"No Surrender" has some killer vocals from Rob that recall Rock Hard Ride Free from Defenders of the Faith.
"Lone Wolf" is a great track that has a bluesy and moody Sabbathesque vibe and a cool lyrical premise about going it alone in life.
"Sea of Red" is the only true ballad on the album, and it's good, but not on par with songs like "Angel" from Angel of Retribution nor some of the softer songs on Nostradamus.
Overall, this is a good though not great album by Priest. At this age and from a band with their legacy, it's definitely "good enough" and has some real kick ass moments. I do wish they would've forsaken a few tracks like "Flamethrower" though and also taken more risks on a few songs and had more moments like "Lone Wolf" which weren't afraid to tinker with some of the Priest formula though.
Halford sounds terrific for someone who's 66 years old though, and the band is definitely revitalized.
I would rank this maybe slightly above Angel of Retribution in some respects, though this seems to be more of a grower like Nostradamus was. I never got truly into Redeemer of Souls, and this avoids much of the weaknesses of that album.
You can stay tuned for my review of Nostradamus, the Priest album that I find to (still) be their best since Painkiller, a controversial opinion but something I will elaborate on. I think if Sneap would've been behind the board for that one, it may have had more of an impact that it did, because he knows how to get such a good sound and performance.