Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.08.2014
Metal icons Judas Priest are back with their seventeenth studio album, Redeemer of Souls! But does it deliver on the band's undeniable legacy or fall flat? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Dragonaut" (4:26)
2. "Redeemer of Souls" (3:58)
3. "Halls of Valhalla" (6:04)
4. "Sword of Damocles" (4:54)
5. "March of the Damned" (3:55)
6. "Down in Flames" (3:56)
7. "Hell & Back" (4:46)
8. "Cold Blooded" (5:25)
9. "Metalizer" (4:37)
10. "Crossfire" (3:51)
11. "Secrets of the Dead" (5:41)
12. "Battle Cry" (5:18)
13. "Beginning of the End" (5:07)
When it comes to heavy metal, there are certain bands that just count as royalty. They reign together, sort of an oligarchy of driving riff and howling lyrics. Standing tall among those groups is Judas Priest. The band has been rocking the devil horn attitude for forty years as of 2014 and while they don't have the mainstream success of Metallica or Megadeth, they are undeniable forces within the metal community. With the powerful voice of Rob Halford leading the way for a vast majority of those years Judas Priest has maintained a passionate fanbase throughout some definite ups and downs of their career. Rumors have long run rampant that the band would be retiring, particularly after guitarist K.K. Downing left the band in 2011. Perhaps the band was not content with 2008's derided concept album Nostradamus as their final legacy, but whatever the reason they are back with their first album in six years in an attempt to put a stamp on their untouchable status as metal gods.
With Redeemer of Souls, Judas Priest returns to what they were best known for. The operatic elements of Nostradamus are a distant memory here; instead Halford and company rely on pure, old-fashioned hard-driving heavy metal. There's no attempt to reinvent themselves here; right from the first riff of opening track "Dragonaut" you can tell that this is Priest going back to their shredding glory days. With guitarist Richie Faulkner making his first appearance on a studio LP and ripping his way through the apocalyptic number, Halford growls his way through an entirely unsubtle but solid tale of the titular deific power featuring lyrics like "icon to the fall of man/worshipped like a king." It's the kind of goofy, fun metal that you can really enjoy without trying to make anything more of it, which is an important quality that some hard rock and metal acts forget about.
There is one thing that is absolutely inescapable while discussing Redeemer of Souls however, and it's a sad but undeniable fact: Rob Halford has lost a lot of his vocal power. The man who electrified listeners with tracks like "Painkiller" and "Breaking the Law" just isn't able to summon the same strength anymore. It's bound to happen after four decades of belting out the notes he hits every night he's on tour, and that's even before you get into his well-documented drug issues from the 1980s. But Halford, to his credit, recognizes this fact and has changed up his vocals to take on a sneering growl that works just as well. On tracks like the titular one, he flirts with the upper register that he could so famously hit in his prime but never lets his voice strain uncomfortably. And he still comes across quite well; even when he's not at his best, Halford is one of the better metal vocalists out there. When he hits those high notes like in the opening minute of "Halls of Valhalla" he slams it home because he's wisely picking his shots.
Meanwhile the instrumentation is classic metal, filled with killer riffs and power solos. On "Sword of Damocles" they deliver an unchecked aggression that is unattainable by metal groups well their juniors. It's power metal in as pure a form as you could ask for, punctuated by Scott Travis' thunderous drums and Faulkner and Glenn Tipton's fantastic guitar work. They don't all quite pan out of course, but when you've taken on a sixty-minute project that's to be expected. It seems rare these days for albums to reach the hour mark; most aim for the forty-five minute stage and anything else makes the album lose its way. Here that isn't quite the case, although the middle of the album sags a bit with "Hell and Back" and "Cold Blooded." That they follow up the superior "March of the Damned," with its strong concept and impressive bass work, and the very solid 1980s-sounding "Down in Flames" is unfortunate. But the two tracks just feel out of place, with "Hell and Back" perhaps featuring Halford's worst vocal work on the album amidst a ballad-like followed up by a relatively uninspiring heavier sound. And "Cold Blooded" takes a similar tack without much success.
But those two songs are the sole down points; from there it picks up nicely all the way through to the end. "Metalizer" has Scott Travis blasting his bass through with Halford's vocals matching nicely. This is the closest the band has come to their peak sound in quite some time. "Crossfire" is a bluesy metal joy and "Secrets of the Dead" lays on the mood to great effect. "Battle Cry" is exactly what its title implies, a take-no-prisoners power song, before they slow it down for the excellent "Beginning of the End." If it really is the end for them (and let's be honest, it may well not be), there are far worse ways to go out.
Standout Tracks: "Dragonaut," "Sword Of Damocles," "March Of The Damned," "Metalizer," "Secrets of the Dead," "Beginning Of The End"
Skippable: "Hell and Back," "Cold Blooded"
The 411: With Redeemer of Souls, Judas Priest goes back to what has worked best for them and the results are fantastic. This is power metal the way that it needs to be and if Rob Halford's voice isn't what it used to be, he still shows that he has a lot to offer. Full of mythological wackiness and calls to arms, Redeemer of Souls is easily their best work since Painkiller and while it doesn't top that album, it still stands tall within the group's discography. If the band does finally hang it up without producing another album the way they've been hinting at for a while now, they can certainly say they went out on a high note.