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Judas Priest – Firepower (Album Review)

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Every time I am sent a new album to review, it takes me one first, casual listen to figure out how I’ll be familiarized enough to be able to write about it. Sometimes it’s Ok to have further listens in public transport, other times while shopping for groceries (yes, we all have day to day chores to do!), and other times it’s worth listening while reading the lyrics sheet and absorbing the images in the booklet. Well folks, JUDAS PRIEST’s “Firepower” did not fit in any of those categories. Not that lyrics don’t matter here, but from the onset this seemed like an album worth experiencing with loud speakers. Unfortunately for me this wasn’t possible, because my three-year-old daughter started to complain that due to the noise she couldn’t watch Peppa Pig for the millionth time. Therefore, I had to think of an alternative, and then it dawned on me: why not go for a run and listen to it? Right decision, there and then. I highly recommend that you guys hit the tracks and hear this album in full blast.

News of a new Priest album started to circulate as early as April 2016, when Loudwire posted a photo showing Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner in the studio. Almost two years later, “Firepower” is here, and it arguably has everything a Priest fan can dream of: soaring vocals, twin guitar harmonies, crispy heaviness and choruses that a nomadic tribe could sing. The album cover almost feels like a modernized take on the eagle of “Screaming for Vengeance” (1982), courtesy of Chilean/Italian digital artist and photographer Claudio Bergamin. Producer Tom Allon, who hadn’t worked with the band since 1998’s “Ram it Down” shares the duties with Andy Sneap (of Sabbat fame, and a producer since 1994). Both were able to summon the best in the band, and made them sound renewed and relevant, successfully fixing the muddy and somewhat hollow production of the predecessor record “Redeemer of the Souls”.

“Firepower” Album Cover

The album kicks off with two tracks which have already been presented to the fans: the title track, which is one of the fastest songs in their entire discography, and “Lightning Strikes”. If everyone lauded Richie Faulkner performance on “Redeemer Of The Souls” and how well he filled K.K. Downing shoes, this time around the vigor and hammering stomp he has injected into the band’s signature sound is utterly tangible. He trades off crushing and melodic solos with Tipton throughout the entire record, adding the right amount of soaring harmonies when needed. Both initial tracks bear an unquestionable “Painkiller” vibe, the opening salvo serving up an almost forthright thrash approach with intense riffs and raging drumming , and “Lightning Strikes” sporting a crunchy triplet-based heavy tempo which will surely linger in your brainwaves for hours.

“Evil Never Dies” continues the grooving mood, revolving around a never-gets-old and powerful guitar chug bridging into the chorus, adding a surfacing menacing melody halfway through. “Never the Heroes” slows things down slightly, with a great chorus where Rob shines without exploring his high register. At sixty-six years old and having spent the past forty years screaming “Victim of Changes”, “Freewheel Burning”, and “Painkiller”, he knows what he can and cannot do.  His voice has aged smoothly and comfortably and while the memorable high-pitched screams and shrieks are no longer present, he can perfectly convey the emotion in the lyrics and command power with an impressive confidence, keeping most songs at the low tenor/high baritone level with a slight rasp, and wailing at reasonable levels in occasions. 

Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton – Photo by Mark Weiss

“Necromancer” speeds things up again and builds up upon a familiar riff, so infectious that I just had to increase my running pace while listening. “Children of the Sun” starts with a Hendrix-like melody, and has the catchiest section in the entire album. “Guardians” works as a melancholic intro to “Rising from Ruins”, one of the central pieces of the album, which leaves a lot of breathing space between the lyrics, only to explode into blistering solos and double bass drumming. The verses took me on a trip down memory lane, a flashback to the moment when I listened to “Rock Hard Ride Free” from “Defenders of the Faith” for the first time. “Flame Thrower” is another straight-ahead heavy metal song, with sweltering rhythm guitars and snappy harmonious leads, and sees Halford stretching his upper register like in the old times. “Spectre”, while definitely metal, is a lower burner somewhat reminiscent of the more radio-friendly era of Priest and “Traitors Gate” (how cool is that title?) is one of the heaviest songs in the entire album, an up-tempo composition with ominous choruses and melodies you can’t help but sing along to. “Lone Wolf” kicks off with a bluesy guitar, giving way to an spectacular towering guitar riff which permeates the whole song, with Ian Hill’s potent bass lines providing a solid backdrop to Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner’s six strings explorations.  “Sea of Red” is the closes the album in a bombastic way beginning with acoustic guitars and slowly building up to a marching, spiraling chorus: the kind of memorable heavy-metal ballad that resembles “Beyond The Realms Of Death”. Despite it clocks in almost six minutes – making it the longest track in “Firepower” – it feels much shorter and ends the listening experience leaving you wanting for more.

I think it’s fair to say that Judas Priest simply doesn’t owe us anything anymore. For over 40 years these daring guys have delivered heavy metal in untainted form, and still they’ve never been afraid to experiment and modify their proposal a bit from time to time. While for many “Firepower” would sound like a logical sequel to “Redeemer of Souls”, the album further succeeds in recreating that Priest unique musical character that got lost with the the ill-fated “Nostradamus”. A record that revisits almost every avenue Judas Priest ever crossed with a confident attitude, “Firepower” is heavy metal as the masters forged it decades ago, with no regrets and no room for mistakes: it’s the sound of a band treading familiar territory and paying homage to the past, while sounding relevant and forward-looking.

Released By: Epic Records
Release Date: March 9th, 2018
Genre: Heavy Metal

Band members:

  • Rob Halford / vocals
  • Richie Faulkner / guitars
  • Ian Hill / bass
  • Glenn Tipton / guitars
  • Scott Travis / drums

“Firepower” track-listing:

  1. Firepower
  2. Lightning Strike
  3. Evil Never Dies
  4. Never The Heroes
  5. Necromancer
  6. Children Of The Sun
  7. Guardians
  8. Rising From Ruins
  9. Flame Thrower
  10. Spectre
  11. Traitors Gate
  12. No Surrender
  13. Lone Wolf
  14. Sea Of Red
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