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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Judas Priest

Firepower

Review by Mike Korn

In this day and age when it seems like honest rock and heavy metal is withering before our eyes, every new release from a “legacy” band such as Judas Priest becomes more important. Will Firepower be their last? I don’t know, but even if it isn’t, the clock is ticking. The way the music industry is headed, we are highly unlikely to see new bands reaching the same heights as Judas Priest.

If Firepower is to be their last, at least they are going out on a high point. Last album Redeemer of Souls was solid heavy metal, but the production was very mediocre and there could have been more thrust and energy to the album. On Firepower the excellent Tom Allom has returned to helm the production job for the first time since Ram It Down, and he is ably assisted by Andy Sneap, who has a long and illustrious history behind the boards. The addition of these two gentlemen is electric, and from the first note of the title track to the last chords of “Sea of Red," there is a richness and vitality to Priest’s sound that has been missing for a while.

Firepower has touches of Screaming for Vengeance, Painkiller, Redeemer of Souls and even as far back as Sin After Sin, but it also has its own energy and style that helps it to stand on its own. Richie Faulkner comes even more into his own as a guitarist here, while this record may be the last to feature Glenn Tipton. Tipton is now dealing with Parkinson’s and will no longer be touring with Priest. I’m hoping he will fight successfully against Parkinson’s and continue to be a part of the Judas Priest legacy. Firepower is an album that really deserves a top spot in Priest’s list of accomplishments.


This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Firepower

The album gets off to a great ripping start with the title track. You can tell five seconds in this album has a much superior sound to Redeemer of Souls. It’s one of Priest’s faster tunes, but seems a bit more melodic than what they did on Painkiller. The record starts with a patented Halford scream, and it appears the extra energy has revitalized Rob as well. This will be a live favorite for sure.

Lightning Strike
They prove right away that the first song was no fluke. This is another quick and raging tune, slightly more complex and involved than the title track. A great song, this reminds me of something that could have been on one of the Halford solo albums. Two tracks in and this is more intense than anything since Painkiller (or Jugulator, which is an overlooked album in the Priest canon).
Evil Never Dies
Not quite as fast as the first two cuts, there’s plenty of crunch in this mid-paced bruiser. Another guy who seems refreshed is drummer Scott Travis, who hits the skins with a lusty blast throughout the length of the album. On Redeemer of Souls or Nostradamus, this song would have been the top track, but here it’s middle of the pack.
Never the Heroes
An urgent synthesizer beat and moody lead guitar lead into a weighty mid-paced riff. This is much more atmospheric than anything we’ve heard thus far, built on a throbbing Ian Hill bass line. The multi-tracked chorus is memorable and sinks in deep. This is a very accessible track yet still very heavy. It seems dedicated to the soldiers of the world who do the “dirty work” that keeps people safe.
Necromancer
This is another aggressive heavy tune that reminds me of the more modern Priest of the last three albums. I can’t say this is my favorite track, but there’s nothing wrong with it, either. The highlight here is a patented Priest guitar duel in the middle. Halford really puts his evil side into the chorus.
Children of the Sun
The riff that kicks this off is one of the catchiest things I have heard this band do in the last 30 years. It really reminds of their mid-80s period of Screaming for Vengeance/Defenders of the Faith.  It's just an awesome hook that will have your head banging right away. The chorus is also the strongest on the album. There’s an odd drop in intensity in the middle where the song becomes mellow and mysterious almost in a “Beyond the Realms of Death” fashion, but it returns to the original motif soon enough. In the 80s, this would have been a hit on the level of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’” or “Heading out To the Highway."
Guardians
This beautiful instrumental combines piano, strings and electric guitar to create a solemn lead-in to the following track. This really seems to be an updated version of something that could have been on Sin After Sin.
Rising from the Ruins
The piano continues as an accompaniment to this stately and somber track which features some of Halford’s most soulful work here. The track is still heavy, but the heaviness is in support to strong melody. It's a fine combination of older and modern Priest.
Flame Thrower
Sandwiched between two of the album’s more “Gothic” tracks, this simple bruiser seems to be coming from a different planet. The verse riff is kind of cool, but the vocal line on the chorus seems awkward. It’s not bad, but I’d say it’s a lesser track here.
Spectre
This mid-paced song has a very cold vibe to it. There’s more multi-tracked vocal from Halford on this dark and very deliberately paced tune which features some very cool and intertwining lead work.
Traitors Gate
Starting in a dark and mellow fashion, this mutates into one of the album’s best cuts. In fact, listening to it again, I would say this is the best song here and a defining Judas Priest track. If somebody asked me what pure heavy metal is, I might point them to this song. It’s hard as nails with awesome riffing and some of the best lyrics the band has done since the 80s. This kind of metal is timeless.
No Surrender
Here’s another scorcher that starts off with a phased guitar hook almost like “Bloodstone” before jumping into a pounding metal tune with an anthemic feel. This would make a fine single.
Lone Wolf
This thick and heavy stomper has a really bluesy feel to it. It sounds like an updated version of something that could have been on Hell Bent For Leather. There’s a real smoking lead here, as well. When you compare this to the next track, it reveals just how diverse Judas Priest’s sound really is.
Sea of Red
This album ending epic begins with a beautiful acoustic flourish. This is another song that touches on several eras of Priest history. The balladic beginning reminds me a bit of “Angel” from Angel of Retribution  but it eventually builds to something much heavier but still melodic. So many bands have been inspired by Priest’s creation of songs like this, it’s not funny. The song builds to a huge climax that brings a fitting end to this excellent album.   
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