Judas Priest – Firepower
Release Date: March 9, 2018
The mighty Judas Priest returns with their 18th studio album Firepower in a 40+ year career that has seen very few missteps and even those are arguable among the band’s world-wide legion of followers. For my part I’ve been a fan since the 1970’s, growing to love them while they were still just another British hard rock band with progressive proclivities, ie: 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny and ’77’s Sin After Sin. Nobody had any idea that they would virtually create and fly the banner for what was becoming heavy metal (along with Black Sabbath) as well as the leather and studs look that became synonymous with metal fashion. They became a catalyst that helped to birth and then sustain the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal).
A band with that kind of legacy faces huge challenges musically. After all, there are only so many ways to gallop or chug a riff along without it all starting to sound the same after 40 plus years. There is the risk that, if the band goes too far off kilter, fans may hate it and deride the band for losing its focus (Nostradamus anyone?). If, on the other hand, they keep things formulaic they run the risk of looking like they ‘mailed it in’ and ending up with an end product that is dismissed, or worse, ignored. Not an enviable position at all.
Given the foregoing then the question is where does Firepower fall? At 14 tracks it’s going to take a little space to arrive at a conclusion so grab a libation and let’s get started. For the sake of clarity we’ll give each track a rating between 1 and 4 stars then draw our conclusions overall below.
“Firepower” – When I first heard the opening title track I gave it an 8 on the “Meh” scale. Initially the riff seemed way too commonplace but after several listenings it grew on me due to the menacing, snarling chorus delivered by Halford and some killer guitar work in the classic Priest vein with harmonized dual leads and dive-bombing, palm-muted glory. Rating – 3/4.
“Lighting Strike” – I’ll admit, as soon as Halford snarls “I’ll bring you the head of the demon” I’m all in on this one as it encompasses everything that a grand Priest gallop with smoking lead guitar work and killer melody should be. Rating – 4/4
“Evil Never Dies” – What begins as a relatively pedestrian main riff becomes intriguing with a major chord pre-chorus that proceeds to a thrashy, sing-along chorus that will no doubt be accompanied by much fist-pumping and horn-throwing in a live setting. Rating – 3/4
“Never the Heroes” – With the pace slowing for the first time we hear Halford’s emotive wail over clean guitars building effectively toward another anthemic chorus sure to inspire more fist-pumping. Rating – 3/4
“Necromancer” – Our first instance of coming up against a formulaic track that, while there is nothing particularly wrong with it, simply isn’t that memorable. Rating – 2/4
“Children of the Sun” – A mid-paced chugger, this has great intentions out of the gate but falls flat at the chorus. Fortunately we are treated to a ’70’s Priest-style bridge that slows things down with Halford’s sorrowful mid-range reminding me of the classic mid-section of “Victim of Changes” from 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny. Rating – 2/4
“Guardians” – A beautiful, short instrumental that serves as the lead in to the next track. 3/4
“Rising From Ruins” – Another mid-paced track that boasts some fine lead work and a chorus that is an instant classic. In my mind’s ear I can hear arenas full of metal heads chanting “rising from ruins” along with Halford and the image gave me shivers. Rating – 4/4
“Flame Thrower” – An incocous predictable track that inspires little, only an engaging pre-chorus and chorus raise this one from the level of filler to merely decent. Rating – 2/4
“Spectre” – Beginning with an entertaining evil cackle this track is held together by great melody and guitar work that elevates it above the average. Rating – 3/4
“Traitor’s Gate” – Returning to stellar form, the band calls on several stylistic staples to create a track that is all at once fresh yet familiar. Some of the best guitar work can be heard on this one. Rating – 3/4
“No Surrender” – Another decent Judas Priest track that might be worthy of more attention on a weaker album. Again, there is nothing wrong with it, it’s a good Priest track. The simple fact is when stacked up against the strength of what came before it comes across as filler. Good filler, but filler nonetheless. Rating – 2/4
“Lonewolf” – Starts with a very cool heavy groove whose energy fizzles at the chorus. Rating – 2/4
“Sea of Red” – A pretty ballad to wrap the set can be a good idea. Or not. In this case the track is all about Halford’s amazing voice at age 67. No, he can’t wail and scream in the upper reaches like he did in the ’80’s but he can still bring it in ways that aspiring vocalists can only dream of. Rating – 3/4
Looking at it strictly by the numbers then what we have is two tracks that are fours, seven tracks that are threes and five tracks that are twos. No tracks received the lowest possible score of one. The numbers tell us that the album, while having relatively few spectacular moments, has many that are excellent and some that are merely good with no stinkers in the pile. That to me is a high recommendation but I will allow that at 14 tracks the album is somewhat bloated. Had they lopped four of the twos and trimmed it to ten tracks the overall rating would be higher. As it stands that extra bit of mediocrity doesn’t serve the whole and a much leaner package would have been better. That would have meant an overall average closer to 8.5 or 9 which is more appropriate given the greatness of the rest of Firepower. For me the album is the best Priest release since 1984’s Defenders of the Faith (with the possible exception of Painkiller) and is miles beyond what was achieved on Redeemer of Souls. Every metalhead who loves traditional classic metal should own it.
Overall Rating: 7/10
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