Judas Priest - Angel of retribution 3.5/5
1. Judas rising
2. Deal with the devil
4. Worth fighting for
6. Wheels of fire
Hmm, how to judge this, by one of the greatest bands in the history of metal, is most difficult. However, if I consider they probably gain half a point by reputation, and lose half a point by expectation, I guess it all comes out in the wash.
This is truly a return to metal respectability for the metal gods, if not the highest glory they have ever achieved, at the very least it completely washes away the last 2 studio albums of this once mightiest of metal icons, which were, at least to me, thoroughly disappointing. (If they can be called such, given the climate, the band, and all other factors, the lessening of the band over ‘Jugulator’ and ‘Demolition’ could hardly be considered surprising or unexpected.) Of course, any analysis of the band’s history will show that they were never afraid of change, and their CDs reflect a vast diversity of style and quality over the years, from the greatest metal ever released to some relatively weak material.
What is perhaps surprising about this return is that it seems less forced than one might have expected. Given that they were obviously trying to overcome the metal fan’s (i.e., your typical Metal CD Ratings reader) dissatisfaction with 'Jugulator' and 'Demolition', it seemed more likely they would have tried over hard to mimic a power metal sound, perhaps the extremely aggressive version that rose to over-the-top moments in ‘Painkiller’, or perhaps a Stratoweenish power-melody of the purest euro-power metal sounds. Instead, the stylings are somewhat diverse around the typical metal core. For instance, whether it was the first piercing notes of Rob’s own renaissance in "Resurrection" (perhaps the greatest Priest related moment, since at least 'Painkiller') or 'Painkiller' itself, after the glammish 'Turbo' and middle of the road ‘Ram it down’, or, on a more negative side, the overly heavy bludgeon-ingness and Panteraisms of ‘Jugulator’, the band had shown a self-conscious drive to reinforce whatever particular image or sound was being put forth at the moment. Thus, given the type of change in sound Rob’s return to Priest heralded, with the opening track, above all, you would have expected to come out snarling and/or ripping the metronome to shreds, rather than being a solid but mid-paced number like "Judas rising", which presages a CD which is heavy metal, nothing more than less, but stylistically middle-of-the-road, and even around that element offers up quite a bit of exploration. Of course, the lyrics from that song, and tracks like "Demonizer", still reveal the sort of clenched teeth aggression that's still has the snarling Priest attitude associated with 'Painkiller' and a really bad day.
The CD opens with that "Judas rising", as mentioned, a rather brooding, mid-paced, but still powerful metal song, restrained in tempo but with a building, wall-of-sound force behind it, and the tenor of Halford's voice and the music leaves no doubt that Priest, not 'Jugulition', is back in force and fully in charge. "Deal with the devil" in the 2nd slot plays an eerily similar role to that which "Made in hell" played on the 'Resurrection' solo CD, that of autobiographical change of pace with some significant punch, and an uptempo touch of blues, and is equally effective as that song was. "Revolution" goes off kilter a bit, and, in one way shows the band wasn't overly-pandering to a power metal crowd, but is a slower, bluesier, and occasionally annoying effort. The band is overall strong enough to make this song okay, but nothing more than that, and I'm sure this song could have been omitted without disappointing too many fans. "Worth fighting for" is far more effective, a rather straightforward heavy metal song that's pretty accessible, nicely done, nothing extraordinary, and could almost make a transition to a country song if you added steel guitars and a twang, if you know what I mean.. "Demonizer", as you could guess from the title, brings back more of the aggressive snarl, with a brisk but restrained tempo, much like "Judas rising", but with a nice chorus that brings back to mind some of 'Painkiller''s side 2 (not that I had that on vinyl or tape.) (Do I feel like they're selling some kind of robot action figures, "Demonizer is attacked by Jugulator, but out of nowhere, Parametize swoops in with his Painkiller rockets! But watch out, it's the Metallian roaring down the road!") "Wheels of fire" straddles a hard/rock metal line with more motorcycle themage, while "Angel" offers up the once classic metal ballad, done with beautiful delicacy which Priest has always done pretty well. "Hell Rider" is, again somewhat expectedly, another snarler, with a touch more tempo and outright aggression than "Judas rising" or "Demonizer", but otherwise solidly in that camp. "Eulogy" like their similarly titled obscure gem "Epitaph" from almost 30 years ago, is awesome, again, delicate, beautiful, haunting and powerful, but far darker and less of a fully accessible song than "Angel", more in the line of something like Megadeth's "Dawn patrol", with a bit more finesse and real singing. The band closes out with a nicely epic track which, without really doing research, would appear to me to be one of the longest tracks they've ever done, as off the top of my head I can't recall anything other than "Crystal spires" really exceeding the length of a standard song, beyond 7 or 8 minutes. Anyway, this "Lochness" is a deliciously powerful, melodic, lengthy track, more brooding or doomy, but with a strong chorus that seems to push up from the heavy depths of the verses and their churning riffs like the mythic sea creature looking out on the beautiful Scottish scenery.
If you will forgive this aging classicists history lesson, Priest means to much to me to eschew the opportunity to at least remark on their glorious past and what they have met to metal. While Sabbath may have been the first metal band ever, I considered Priest, with their sophomore effort "Sad wings of destiny", to have been the first truly great metal band in honing together the elements which to me became the heavy metal I love so much. The innovation and amazing work on that CD will perhaps never be surpassed, given that they brought us power metal shrieking histrionics in "Island of domination" and the end of "Dreamer deceiver" (I still don't know if any metal singer hit a note as high as Rob achieves towards the end of "Dreamer deceiver"), the first thrash sections ever written in "Genocide", a harbinger to the classic euro-neo-classical and fantasy elements all at once in "Tyrant", the more classical doom elements in "Prelude", or even a completely accessible but nonetheless brilliant and powerful ballad in "Epitaph". To me, ‘Stained class’ and ‘Defenders of the faith’ marked similarly high points, if each in their own way, and given that bands from Slayer to Queensryche started out doing Priest covers, I think the breadth and depth of their influence on what is metal cannot be overestimated.
So, while this may not be their greatest or most perfect CD, it is a worthy and enjoyable continuation of their legacy, which should not disappoint any fan who truly enjoys the basic genre best described simply has heavy metal and the overall spectrum of Priest's work. Of course, on a highly ironic note, given how much of a repentance for past sins that this CD represents, had this CD included the same songs, and been sung with Ripper Owens, it would probably have been just a touch better. Whatever my lack of enthusiasm for the ‘Jugulator’ and ‘Demolition’ material, Tim’s technical abilities were not ever a problem, and given he truly had a talent to come close to Halford’s, and how Halford’s voice seems to have dropped off, at least since ‘Resurrection’ (given that what sounds like vocal weakness was one of the few down-sides to the mighty ‘Crucible’), it seems that Ripper could have technically done a better job on this CD. Of course, now I have a pavlovian connection with him and Marky Mark, so maybe we’re better off this way. (Of course, I can distance Rob more since he may have been bald, but never used a big-hair wig that he could later have pulled off when he was coming out.) Whether it's a lack of as many high, piercing notes as we might want, or the forays in that realm not sounding as clear and successful as they might, this proves 'Demolition' and 'Jugulator' had a problem with their composition, not their talent.
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