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Judas Priest

Nostradamus

Review by Gary Hill

I have been a Judas Priest fan for a very long time. I first heard the Hell Bent For Leather (Killing Machine for those of you not in the US) album when it was the latest release and was hooked. As I bought the back catalog and all their new releases I found that the period from Sad Wings of Destiny through Hell Bent For Leather was my favorite. Somehow it seemed to show the band at their most creative. Sure, I still liked a lot of the later stuff, but until Angel of Retribution was released, all the best Priest was way in the past.

Fast forward to 2007. I heard about Priest’s new album that was in the works. It was to be their first concept album and all about Nostradamus. I knew that this was either going to be really hokey or really cool. Then when I found that it was going to be a double disc set the stakes were even higher. There would be no middle ground with this release. It would either soar incredibly high or fall face down in the dirt. Such is the nature of music that is so far reaching and ambitious. Judas Priest has seldom failed, but you have to remember that no band sets out to make a bad album. These things just happen.

Well, now with the set in hand I can safely say that Priest have been soaring on high here. This is certainly their most ambitious and creative album of all time. It is also (in my opinion) their best ever! It will certainly be near the top of my list of best albums of 2008 – and will definitely be (barring another pure masterpiece being released) my metal album of the year. In fact, this CD is so good it will be in my list of top ten albums of all time. It does a wonderful job of combining classic Priest sounds (most of it reaching all the way back to Sad Wings Of Destiny) with modern symphonic metal and doing it all with a concept album that works – and still manages to rock out with the best of them. This is Judas Priest’s finest day to date. Hurry up and pick up the CD so you can share in their glory.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Act I
Dawn of Creation
This beautiful instrumental introductory piece combines dark and mysterious tones with a quiet power and majesty. Keyboard (yes, I know it’s actually guitar synthesizers) elements pair with more symphonic sounds here. Later in the piece sound effects and drumming in the background enter. This builds up from there and a guitar sound that harkens back to the second Judas Priest album emerges. They build and build before leading directly into the next track.
Prophecy
The guitar riff that leads this off is a powerhouse and it again calls to mind the Sad Wings of Destiny album. This is a killer track. It’s got some unusual Halford vocals and in some ways this reminds me of Alice Cooper’s Brutal Planet album.  Those looking for the real pure metal on this album will love this piece.  There is a break that’s got a bit more of a modern epic metal texture, but the spoken vocals on this cause it to again feel like very old school Priest. The twin guitar solo section on this is killer. They drop it back again later for a recitation of Nostradamus’ prophecies.
Awakening
A short track, this is essentially a metal ballad, but without any real metal. Halford’s voice conveys a lot emotion here and this again feels a lot like Sad Wings of Destiny.
Revelations
The riffing on this one is 100 percent Judas Priest, but they bring a European epic metal arrangement to the table here. Halford approaches the vocals on the verses with a staggered one word per line delivery. This has symphonic textures but is still packing plenty of metallic thunder. They pack a ton of changes into this and again it has a lot in common with the pre-British Steel era of the band. They pull out a bunch of epic metal, neo-symphonic stuff in the process, though. This powerhouse would be one to get prog-metal (and even fans of modern metallic progressive rock) fans to take a look at Judas Priest.
The Four Horsemen
Another short connecting piece, this has an almost operatic or perhaps church music feeling to it. What sounds like organ accompanies Halford through his vocal segment and then it shifts out to more symphonic textures. This segues straight into the next cut.
War
This is symphonic metal. It’s another strong tune, and becomes a bit like a metal take on Holtz’ “Mars” (the subtitle on that one was “The God of War”) for the chorus. I tend to think the resemblance is intentional. This is definitely metal, but it’s also one of the most symphonic and evolved pieces of metal you are likely to hear on a mainstream metal CD. The extended instrumental section gets extremely symphonic at times. You can hear swords clinging off of one another in the course of this. When they come back out it takes on a definite Sad Wings of Destiny sort of texture. A mellower symphonic section ends it – or more accurately moves it into the next piece.
Sands of Time
Here we have a moody ballad. This is a pretty, if melancholy, piece of music. There are some intricate and wonderful guitar lines moving around in this arrangement. The closing section is extremely classical in nature.
Pestilence And Plague
Building on the progression that started in the previous number this thunders out. It’s a scorching fast and fiery metal track. Still, they maintain some symphonic elements here and there. Symphonic elements serve as the segue to the next track with a bell being rung in both the end of this and the start of the next number.
Death
The musical elements that ended the last piece lead this off. The track turns into a slow moving metallic stomper that’s got a stripped down verse section with voice over the top of sound effects. I can feel both vintage Priest on this and that Brutal Planet Alice Cooper sound. They move through a few variations on this track and the guitar soloing is just plain amazing. In fact we get two distinct guitar solo sections and they are both powerhouses.
Peace
This acoustic guitar based ballad has icing made from symphonic elements. It’s evocative and potent.
Conquest
Here we get one of the most straight ahead metal tracks. This has vintage (1980’s perhaps) style Judas Priest written all over it. Still, they manage to put a few more symphonic elements (and some Eastern tones) into the mix.
Lost Love
This mellow, soundtrack meets ballad-type tune will probably be one that turns some away. For my money it works well within the structure of the whole saga, but perhaps not so well if taken by itself. Still, it’s got a tasty guitar solo. The ending of this is extremely pretty and gentle.

Persecution
This comes in like a dark progressive rock piece. Keyboard sounds and other effects serves as the background for a weird whispered vocal. They fire out from there with metallic fury that’s laced with symphonic elements. This has some of Halford’s more powerful vocals of the whole set. It also includes some scorching guitar soloing. This is a killer and one of the standouts of the set.
Act II
Solitude
An instrumental, this is gentle and piano (or is it guitar synth?) based. It’s also fairly short.
Exiled
An almost progressive rock texture brings this one in. It turns into something that’s essentially a balladic approach. Halford delivers one of his most emotionally charged vocal performances here. They power this up into a arena rock type ballad, but overall it’s just a ballad. That said, this thing is powerful and a highlight. There is an extended instrumental segment late in the track that is quite symphonic and also quite potent.
Alone
They start this in a balladic approach, acoustic guitar and symphonic elements serving as the backdrop. After it carries on like this for a time they power it out into a metal grind. That’s a musical concept that the band used to employ a lot in the early days and truly this slow segment that they create – along with the placement of the Halford screams – reminds me a lot of the Sin After Sin era. Even the guitar sound is in keeping with this. Truly the hard rocking portion of this track is one of the few points in the CD where there are extremely few, if any, of the symphonic elements. The guitar solo section on this reminds me a lot “Sinner.” They pull in an acoustic guitar based movement later. This gives way to a full on reprise of the mellower mode that started it, but they crank it back up from there in fine fashion.
Shadows in the Flame
A short piece, this is another acoustic guitar ballad.
Visions
They pound right in with a tasty riff on this one. It drops down quite a bit for the verse but then comes right back up. This has some symphonic elements, but the main impetus is pure metal. They bring some cool Eastern tones into the midst later and the guitar solo here is quite tasty. I wasn’t a quick convert to this piece, but it definitely grew on me. The vocal delivery on this one gets a bit theatrical at times.

Hope
The first half of this track is in the form of sort of a music box kind of thing. The second portion of it is delivered as a ballad. This moves straight into the next cut.
New Beginnings
They power this one up with a more dramatic progressive rock texture, but the musical themes are the same ones they began in the last number. It gains some metallic teeth later, but really this cut would feel at home on any modern neo-prog CD. Of course, it would probably rule that zoo, too.
Calm Before The Storm
As one might guess, this is a gentle piece. At a little over two minutes in length, this is a brief track.
Nostradamus
Symphonic styled motifs – in a rock box – lead this off. The vocals come in and Halford is his most operatic here. This holds the track for a time before they explode out into a metal powerhouse. They work through a series of changes and alterations in the course of this track – taking it quite neo-classical at times, but this furious piece is without question my favorite track on the whole set. It’s purely amazing and perhaps one of the best metal tracks ever created by anyone.
Future Of Mankind
They give us a study in contrasts here, and it’s sure to have the worst student in the world ready to go for the challenge. At times this is pure metal. At other points there are some extremely symphonic and theatric motifs. Some of this really sounds like it could have come straight from Sad Wings of Destiny. We get some more spoken Nostradamus couplets on this track. If it weren’t for the previous piece this metal masterpiece would be the best track on the CD. This one two punch is an amazing conclusion.
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