Judas Priest - Nostradamus 4.5/5
1. Dawn of creation
5. The four horsemen
7. Sands of time
8. Pestilence and plague
12. Lost love
4. Shadows in the flame
7. New beginnings
8. Calm before the storm
10. Future of mankind
The true metal gods return with their most impressive CD since 'Painkiller', which is at once an ambitious change of tone in its epic, narrative concept, as well as a direct, uncompromising, and unassuming Judas Priest heavy metal through and through.
For my money, the mighty Priest is the single biggest reason for the metal I love the most, and once Sabbath birthed the metal genre, Judas Priest refined it to incredible heights with their sophomore 'Sad wings of destiny' in 1976, which amazingly created what would become subgenres of power metal, thrash, doom, and classical metal in a single incredible CD. The band’s career since has been glorious, varied and inconsistent. 'Stained class', 'Screaming for vengeance', 'Defenders of the faith', 'British steel', and 'Painkiller' all hit incredibly high points with subtly varying styles, while more overt changes in style weren’t always as successful in 'Turbo', 'Jugulator' or 'Demolition', and more mixed bags of 'Point of entry' and 'Ram it down'. Probably the biggest gap in quality came between 'Painkiller' and their last effort, the redeeming, if not-quite-spectacular 'Angel of retribution', which returned Judas Priest to absolutely solid form.
The announcement of 'Nostradamus' was certainly surprising, because for all of Priest’s variations and grandeur, an epic concept album was something that had never quite been hinted at, much less the even more extensive 2-disc effort of this album. The lyrics of course trace the life and times of the 16th century French purported seer. Fans like me were quite interested as to what, and how, Rob, K.K., Glenn, Ian, and Scott (pretty amazingly, the only band member not on their 1974 debut) would deliver the goods. The answer, magnificently, is, absolutely!
The band has already done 'Painkiller', probably their most overtly intense moment, and, like 'Angel of retribution', they show no urge to return to its histrionic extremes on this CD. Their ambition on this CD is not in speed or piercing notes, but in the overall breadth of the CD, its length, structure, and concept, and even more, its surgically sharp execution. Indeed, the CD makes the band seem confident, that they do not need to compete with their progeny, and now contemporaries, and “out Herod” them, or, in current metal terms, out speed Dragonforce or out shriek Ralf Scheepers or Lars Raatz.
Rob’s vocals are absolutely exquisite. While he perhaps wisely stays away from paint-peeling incendiary levels (which he may no longer effectively reach) everything he puts down here is magnificent, full of the passion and majesty which has always been a major part of his repertoire, and feels refreshingly familiar from a long time past. Indeed, the fact that neither he nor the band seems to be trying too hard to do anything but put down a great CD recaptures a feeling a presence I have not felt since... since first digging into 'Stained class' or 'British steel' so many years ago.
The guitar work by K.K. and Glenn is likewise phenomenal, and, also likewise, isn’t about trying to become the extra-bonus track on Guitar Hero World Tour, but about putting down an array of solid, memorable work, and sweet, sweet leads whose melody gets wedged in your head. Keep in mind, for songs like “Freewheel burning”, where Glenn and K.K. played the beginning of the solo at warp speed, some of the tastier parts were where they broke down into leads that were all about the melody. Ian Hill’s bass helps set the clear, epic, glorious tone of the CD as well Overall, Scott Travis is not asked to do as much as we know he’s capable of, but provides the clean structure for all of the building on this CD.
Like Royal Hunt’s 'The mission', Stainless Steel’s 'Wigant', and other similar CDs, each real song is sandwiched between a more introductory interlude, but surprisingly, these are not afterthoughts, detractions, or empty attempts to fill out the CD. They are not so much desultory instrumentals as they are brief sections that feel more like a part of each real song, and most have Rob’s vocals on them. I have, I think, matured enough that it’s been a long, long time since I’ve thought of quantity of songs as a CD as a general positive. (In fact, forgive my nostalgia, but a time when I’d be in Montgomery Wards, looking at cassettes of my as-yet-unpurchased Priest back catalog, and counting the tracks that made up 'Hell bent for leather'; 11!) However, when I shockingly get to the end of listening to this entire, 2-disc album, and find myself not having been the slightest bit bored, I can’t help but mention that as long as the music is all great, you’re getting 2 CDs worth of material for the price of one.
I think there is one chance for fans to be disappointed by this CD, and that is if they expect more in the line of all-out speed that Priest has displayed in the past in songs like “Freewheel burning”, “Screaming for vengeance”, “Painkiller”, and “All guns blazing”. There’s plenty in the vein of what surrounded those scorchers on the original CDs, but little of that full 5th-gear.
If that’s going to disappoint you, then the CD won’t have as much impact, but if you’re otherwise able to accept the full return of Judas Priest in all their other glory, this is essential.
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