There’ve been some instances in the past three or so years that have hinted at the end of Metal Gods Judas Priest. First was when founding guitarist K.K. Downing retired, and when the following tour was entitled the “Epitaph” tour and featured the band playing at least one song off of ever single album they’ve released, all (at the time) 16 of them no matter how obscure (like Never Satisfied from their Rocka Rolla album). But the talks of Judas Priest’s demise have slightly diminished in recent years.
I’m not going to go through the history of the band, as I’ve done with reviews on bands in the past, but I will point out one thing about the band; they’ve been incorrectly typecast and constrained to playing music the way the fans want rather than how they want. The prime example is their second most recent album Nostradamus. Not only was that double album filled with some of the best written songs in the bands history, and miles better than their reunion album Angel of Retribution, but it also showed a new side of Judas Priest, one I didn’t think possible, but was it well received? No. Why? Because it was no Painkiller. This is part of what led to the exit of K.K. Downing; he just didn’t see the point anymore if he couldn’t do things his way. Of course this didn’t stop him back in the late 80s when they added synthesizers to a high degree on their Turbo album (an album that I love, but understand why it got the reception it did).
So this leads to their long awaiting seventeenth album Redeemer of Souls. There’s no experimentation and there’s no ventures. It’s just classic Judas Priest at their best. They come out all guns blazing (pun not intended for the Priest fans who understand why that would be a pun) with Dragonaut. The pace of the song is that of your typical Judas Priest fast song, it’s as heavy as anyone would want it to be and the band plays just as well as ever. “Metal God” Rob Halford doesn’t hide his flaws as an aged singer, rather embraces them and doesn’t let them restrain him. This song in particular doesn’t require any of his high pitch screams, but rest assured they’re coming.
Many of the albums songs follow that similar pattern, such as the title track Redeemer of Souls (which has my favourite chorus on the album) the slightly slower March of the Damned, Down in Flames (which features my favourite intro to the album) and the completely balls out track Battle Cry. There is also Metalizer, but that song takes a back seat to the better thought out and better played previously mentioned tracks. One thing that is unfortunately noticed throughout the album, particularly these faster songs, is the absence of K.K. as Glenn Tipton’s guitar duelling partner. Don’t get me wrong, Richie Faulkner is a heck of a guitarist who got a lucky break, and his contributions to Judas Priest’s writing of the album are terrific. It’s just that in almost 40 years, Tipton and Downing had just the perfect blend and familiarity between them. Take their late 80s floor shaking track Ram It Down; that song has one of my favourite guitar solos of all time, featuring the standard Judas Priest guitar duel between the two, and it’s not easy to tell which one is playing what because they just knew each other so well. Bringing in a new guy just changed that dynamic, but just for the guitar solos is it really noticed.
My two favourite songs on the album are Halls of Valhalla and Cold Blooded. Both songs sound different from the other. The former of the two is a six minute epic, with a faster pace like the previously mentioned songs, but reminiscent of something that may have been released on Nostradamus (due to its darker sound and subject) if Nostradamus was done more to Priest fans likings (due to its faster pace). The latter of the two is one of the slower paced songs on the album and features some of the best vocal and guitar melodies on the album. It’s one of the slowest paced songs on the album. Songs like Sword of Damocles, Hell & Back (save for its intro,) Crossfire and Secrets of the Dead also have a slower pace, but are all heavy in their own right while Cold Blooded is less heavy but has more emotion to it.
The album ends with the slowest paced song on the album, Beginning of the End. It’s an effective ending to the album, kind of like something you’d listen to after the walls of your house have all crumbled from the sheer heavy metal of the twelve songs that came before it. The guitars are clean compared to the rest of the album, the drums are completely held back and the melody is what takes front stage. I couldn’t imagine the album ending any other way.
There is a bonus disc for those who spend the extra few bucks. I usually don’t mention bonus tracks, I think I have maybe twice before now, but these deserve a mention. With the exception of Snake Bite – really just a filler track and nothing special at all – the rest of the tracks, including Tears of Blood, Creatures and Bring It On are definitely worth the listen. Glenn Tipton mentioned they weren’t included on the album because they weren’t consistent with the other thirteen tracks. That may be true with Bring It On, but you can be the judge of the others. The last of the five bonus songs, Never Forget, is something rather uncharacteristic of Judas Priest; it serves as a thank you to fans. Now I’m not saying Priest doesn’t love their fans, they are one of the most appreciative bands towards their fans that I know, I just wouldn’t have expected such a gesture and am pleasantly surprised. This does however raise more verification toward Redeemer of Souls being the bands last album.
I don’t see how lifelong Priest fans can be disappointed with Redeemer of Souls. It’s not quite a second coming of Painkiller, but it’s the closest thing the band has released to Painkiller since Painkiller. But really, omitting the “Ripper” sung Judas Priest albums they’ve only released three albums since Painkiller. Regardless, the album is a reminder to all that Judas Priest will always be one of, if not the best, heavy metal band to have ever played. In my personal ranking of Priest albums, I’m not sure I’d put Redeemer of Souls close the top (Sad Wings of Destiny will always be a 10/10 in my books) but it’s far from the bottom. I’d probably place it below Painkiller but above Sin After Sin, I don’t know, I don’t have a literal ranking on Priest albums (though that would be fun to make…). The point is, it’s an exciting accomplishment to have such veterans release an album so long in their career that can rank among their best, and if this is the last new music we’ll hear from them, then what a way to go!
“Redeemer of Souls” – I guess it seems like the obvious choice, doesn’t it? But really, this was the first song the band released from the album, so naturally it was the first song I heard from the album, and it convinced me that Redeemer of Souls was going to be great and more than worth the purchase. If it can do that to me, I don’t see why it can’t do that to others.
8.5 (Out of 10)
|“Redeemer of Souls”||3:58|
|“Halls of Valhalla”||6:04|
|“Sword of Damocles”||4:54|
|“March of the Damned”||3:55|
|“Down in Flames”||3:56|
|“Hell & Back”||4:46|
|“Secrets of the Dead”||5:41|
|“Beginning of the End”||5:07|
|“Tears of Blood”||4:19|
|“Bring It On”||3:18|