JUDAS PRIEST – Invincible Shield (Album Review)

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We’re still in March, and the list of “best albums of the year” keeps getting new entries at a jarring pace. One of such entries is the highly anticipated Judas Priest record, “Invincible Shield”. As a summary before we even lay out the details of some of the tracks, here, we can say it delivers what it promised, and then some.

After the somewhat unexpected hit of 2018’s “Firepower”, fans were curious to find out if that was a one-off late career high, or if they would maintain the same inspired trajectory. Since Rob Halford’s return to the band in 2003, they put out “Angel of Retribution” (2005), the controversial “Nostradamus” (2008), and hinted at retirement with the Epitaph tour in 2010-2011. Hailed as a return to form, 2014’s “Redeemer of Souls” continued to employ similar production values as the previous efforts. In reality, “Firepower” was a game changer for the group, and it’s no coincidence that it counted on one of the hottest metal producer in metal today, Andy Sneap.

Speculation about what a new Judas Priest effort would sound like came up as far back as 2019, when we interviewed with Ian Hill (check it out here). On October 7th, 2023 the name of the album and its cover were finally announced, with the intro of the first single being teased.

By now everyone has heard the album’s opening salvo, “Panic Attack”, and we are no longer surprised by the brief keyboard intro, but I must admit that it gave me a mini heart attack when I first heard it. Luckily it veers into more familiar territory, sounding like a not-so-distant cousin of “Firepower” and “Painkiller.” Lyrically, this is a critique of the state of society, focusing on themes of chaos, corruption, and the manipulation of power, including social media. Priest has always brought some cheese to their lyrics here and there (“I’m your turbo lover/ Tell me there’s no other” – remember that phase?). On this track, this is brought by the line “Cybertronic schemes/ Fibre optic, mass hypnotic/Wild neurotic memes”. Nonetheless, this is as great an opening tune for a Judas Priest album as it comes

“The Serpent and the King” is the latest single to be revealed, and much like Saxon’s Hell, Fire and Damnation”, it discusses power struggles and the fight between good and evil for mankind. It’s followed by the fast-paced, title song, which is beyond every fan’s dream for a group this late in their career, with a bridge that harkens back to the 80’s. “Devil in Disguise” slows the pace just a little, delivering a groove and feel that became famous on songs like “Metal Gods”, from their classical album “British Steel”. Scott Travis wisely holds back and delivers exactly what the song needs –more subtlety and funk, less double bass.

A guitar intro, courtesy of Richie Faulkner, brings in “Crown of Horns”, another composition that was already revealed, exploring the band’s more commercial side, and its infectious chorus will resonate in your head for days. Continuing on the commercial side and consolidating the band’s obsession with gates in the last few years (we had “Traitor’s Gate” on “Firepower”), we have “Gates of Hell”. Does the world still need another song named that way in 2024? Probably not. But this one sounds great, and expansive, and again finds its biggest strength in the chorus.

“As God is My Witness” brings things to a more familiar territory, with excellent riffage and Rob’s voice sounding as menacing as ever. “Trial By Fire”, depicting themes of injustice and betrayal, is a typical latter-day Priest, with a mid-tempo riff and a great scream from Rob towards the end.

“Invincible Shield” Artwork

Coming up next are the two back-to-back numbers penned by long-serving guitarist Glenn Tipton. The spacious “Escape from Reality” is a perfect vehicle for Ian Hill’s thunderous bass lines to be more prominent, and the guitar solos really complement each other. The syncopated chorus is the cherry on the cake of this ominous tune. On “Sons of Thunder” the band goes into biker gang territory, with echoes of 1981’s “Point of Entry” and lyrics such as “let’s ride/all night/sons of thunder”. Simple, direct, and heavy – what else could you ask for at this point?

The plodding “Giants in the Sky” comes next, with quite a curveball: a classic guitar interlude, providing some breathing space. The song resumes the heaviness and concludes with yet another great scream from Rob, with his voice naturally cracking at the end, providing even more evidence that they gave all they got on the making of the album. A fitting end to the standard edition of “Invincible Shield”, but we all know you won’t be content with only getting the standard issue. Luckily, the bonus tracks here are more than worth your money.

The additional material is quite varied here. The band gets closer to Guns N’ Roses territory on the funky hard rock of “Fight for Your Life”, and Rob’s delivery is even similar to Axl’s growls. “Vicious Circle” is typical Priest, and “The Lodger” is perhaps the album’s biggest surprise. Written by longtime collaborator Bob Halligan Jr., who has written other songs for the band, most notably “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll”, and also collaborated with Kiss and Blue Oyster Cult, the song is a dramatic, haunting number, not unlike “Touch of Evil”.

Overall, this album is yet another great addition to the band’s long catalog, and perhaps the most inspired they have sounded since “Painkiller”. I know, we all said that about “Firepower”, but this is a step above. “Invincible Shield” is better on all fronts: a little more efficient, streamlined, and varied than its predecessor, although just as long.

With this being the band’s 50th anniversary, intentionally or not, a lot of the tracks have the building blocks of each part of their career. Impressively, Priest have found a way to incorporate the elements of their classical sound into the new songs, avoiding to sound derivative or a parody of themselves. This is the best they could be sounding after more than 50 years of career, and it certainly maintains their status as a main driving force in traditional heavy metal.

Released By: Sony Music
Release Date: March 8th, 2024
Genre: Heavy Metal

Band Members:

  • Rob Halford / Vocals
  • Richie Faulkner / Guitars
  • Ian Hill / Bass
  • Glenn Tipton / Guitars
  • Scott Travis / Drums

“Invincible Shield” track listing:

  1. Panic Attack
  2. The Serpent and the King
  3. Invincible Shield
  4. Devil in Disguise
  5. Gates of Hell
  6. Crown of Horns
  7. As God Is My Witness
  8. Trial by Fire
  9. Escape from Reality
  10. Sons of Thunder
  11. Giants in the Sky

Deluxe edition / 7″ bonus tracks:

  1. Fight of Your Life
  2. Vicious Circle
  3. The Lodger

Pre-order “Invincible Shield” HERE.

9.5 Excellent

Incredible drum sound, fast, crispy, and menacing riffs, ear-piercing screams. Judas Priest are back, arguably better than ever. “Invincible Shield” is an album worthy of an old-school listen – stop everything and delight yourself with every detail of this sonic onslaught. File under “instant classic”!

  • Songwriting 10
  • Musicianship 10
  • Originality 8
  • Production 10
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