Judas Priest - Firepower

Judas Priest Firepower cover
Judas Priest
Columbia Records / Epic Records
This is it! Judas Priest are back and they are not kidding at all! Well, to tell you the truth the fans had been longing for such an album and the “Metal Gods” offered it generously! I won’t go on and say many things about the new album. Glenn Tipton is simply a “metal hero”, since he managed to write and record “Firepower” with all the health problems he faced which were getting worse in the last few years. Moreover, Rob’s performances are outstanding and it feels like he’s having a second youth!
“Firepower” is considered to be probably the best album Judas Priest have released since “Painkiller” and that’s almost 28 years ago! Yeah, it seems like a lifetime and it is indeed! If the album was shorter by 2-3 tracks (that feel a bit out of place for some reason), it could be more cohesive and complete on the whole. But that’s nothing to worry about.
Either way you see it, one thing is for sure – you’re gonna enjoy “Firepower” to the fullest… it’s a heavy metal album, which was made with the best metal ingredients, following the exceptional Judas Priest recipe… Metal Music to Your Ears!!!
by Thanos
Judas Priest are a metal institution and probably one of the oldest and most famous bands synonymous with the creation of Heavy Metal, along with Black Sabbath. They don’t call them the “metal gods” for nothing, after all.
“Firepower” is their eighteenth full studio album and is quite impressive that the band is still going on and able to even put out something as impressive as a number of its members are nearing their seventh decade on the planet, since it can sound pretty intense in places. The proponents that contribute to this are many.
I suppose, Rob Halford has always been one of the focal and (pun intended) vocal high points of the band that really set them apart from most of the other bands in the genre – influencing a lot of singers and definitely the “metal fashions” sense and choices. He’s also a pretty prolific songwriter writer even if some of his lyrics can be high on cheddar goodness! They can be cliché (true), but his vocal melodies are always pretty awesome and his passionate deliveries are always there no matter what the calendar says.
Relative “newkid” Richie Faulkner has been with the band for some seven or so years now and this is his second studio effort with the band. He seems to have slotted in, almost “replacing” KK Downing and certainly offering a very much needed jolt of fresh energy to the band that after the very impressive “reunion” album, seemed to really go a bit Spinal Tap, with their overblown “Nostradamus” epic. He’s providing ample support for an ailing Glenn Tipton, who suffers from Parkinson disease and has been forced to sit out, most of the band’s future touring activities. The riffing on the album is strong, with a number of fancy leads, which however “compatible” with the JP sound, don’t always sound “classic” or necessary “very vintage”, but seem to work anyways . Not necessarily a good or bad thing, just an observation. It’s still Priest, at times sticking with tried and true formulas, but also at times taking little byways here and there and slightly experimenting within the confines of the genre.

Compared with recent outings, this Tom Allom & Andy Sneap co-produced affair is probably ranks along with “Angel of Retribution” as one of the better and certainly one of the best produced Priest album in the past two decades, only losing out to the Grammy Nominated “Painkiller” album, which was produced by the late Chris Tsangarides, probably the “most metal sounding album” ever and undeniably the bands magnum opus.
The band wastes little time and jumps straight into the fray with the high gear eponymous track. “Firepower”, the opener, is probably an updated derivative of “Rapid Fire” driven by a similar riff and sulfurous atmosphere. It even borrows a bit from the “RF 98” “Ripper” edition, you know “Rapid Fire” – “Firepower”… whatever, almost interchangeable. Halford is on “fire” (pun intended) on this song, singing as intensely as he almost did on certain songs in “AoR”; it’s lead work, is fancy and refined and beautiful and it’s not only a worthy opener that tunes the listener right in but also a nice summation of the bands ethos, a nod to the past and a great way to set the ball rolling. Hill and Travis are as always as reliable as a metal rhythm section should be.
“Lightning Strikes” might be a cliché title, but it finds the band hitting right off with a “Painkiller” (album) sort of worthy riff. While a bit more mid-tempo, it sort of has the same epic “feel” and classic sound and was thus wisely chosen as the first “leak”/single that the band offered to sample the album. Original? No… good, almost great and easily winning a place in future best of compilations, “sure”!
“Evil Never Dies” sounds more like late 80s Priest, mixed with Halford (band) sort of “modest” modernisms that the band, did anyway explore in their brief foray into the 90s – while Rob was still a member. It slows down for a wicked, somewhat even bluesy but dark and fun middle and has an even somewhat rock n rollish chorus that goes balls to the wall metal before it ends, with Halford doing one of those banshee screechy screams that he’s so famous and loved for.

“Never the Heroes” is all about the “unknown” and sometimes even not involuntary “heroes” that soldiers make, fighting other people’s wars and conflicts. It’s mid-tempo, bluesy and powerful with a strong enough, midrange performance by Rob, who probably carries the song by himself. A little monotonous, and not saved by the lead, but it’s brief enough to not tire the listener.
“Necromancer” begins with some seriously awesome and imaginative verses, only to follow it with a letdown of a chorus. Seriously cheesy and weak. Something that you might expect from some “Swedish’ “troo” metal band that Priest has influenced and not by them. Think post reunion “misfire”/bad Halford (ie “IV”) chorus and you got it. A crying shame, since its verses build up beautifully and its “cheesy” almost “mocking” chorus really detracts from what it could have been.
“Children of the Sun” is interesting as it’s got a heavy riff and a rather 70s atmosphere going on and it’s an easy and accessible song, with some nice Halford “solo-wailing” in the middle, in the best tradition of “Before the Dawn”, “Beyond the Realms” etc… also its soloing is spot on. Easy to like. Easy does it.
“Guardians” is the descendant of “Battle Hymn”. It starts with some soft piano and an ascending guitar melody acting like and intro and segueing right into “Rising from Ruins” a more melodic and quite dramatic piece, about people’s ability to rise up and overcome the adversities they face. It’s got a neat guitar interplay that doesn’t sound entirely Priest, although the DNA is imprinted there, but seems to borrow a bit from both Oldfield and Knopfler weird as it may sound. All in all, it works, so nothing to complain about, I guess.
A title as “Flamethrower”, in all honesty, sounds ahem a) cheesy b) kinda downright stupid. It’s a rock n rollish 80s Priest standard that sort of works in places, but somewhat feels like a fail as soon as the chorus kicks in. The pre-chorus verse is neat, but the weird “chorus” is sort of “meh”. It kinda grows on you, it’s not all fail, but it’s at least a little cringe-inducing. It’s cool to hear Halford having fun with what he can do with the vocal melodies, but it’s dangerously “second rate”. Imagine if “Sinner” had a “fail” chorus. Pretty close.
“Specter” is an atmospheric & riffy little number that does give a nod to a variety of old Priest tunes (a bit “Nightcrawler” here, a bit the “Ripper” there, you get the picture) coming pretty close, but not getting the proverbial cigar, due to both being derivative and also, not as spontaneous as past offerings. I wasn’t too impressed at first, but it sort of crept up on me and “haunted me” a few spins later.
“Traitor’s Gate” is a little better, epic late 80s strong riffy, heavy, brought up-to-date, definitely giving a much needed energy kick to the album, at a point where it was surely much needed. It’s only minor issue, is Halford not being able to nail that final scream as he used back in the day and thus having to really “fake it” and phone in a semi-decent performance. Time...
“No Surrender” is another little modernized pastiche of all things that made Priest great during the “British Steel” to “Defenders...” era. It’s pleasant. Won’t make the hair at the back of your neck stand, but it might still get other parts of you stand up at attention! Oeeer missus!
Unfortunately, “Lone Wolf” easily can be given the dubious title of “dud” of the album. A generic, mid-paced, lazy track with nothing exciting about it. Filler and no-one would miss it, if it wasn’t there.
“Sea of Red” by its title alone, prepares you for something “special” and “epic”. Halford sings softly over acoustic for the best of two and a half minutes. It’s epic in the way, some “Demon” songs tend to be with its smart use of instrumentation. It screws up things a tiny bit towards the end trying to insert a solo and some orchestral hits along with pseudo choirs in the mix, but manages to just about fit it all in the remaining three or so minutes of its duration. A song that could have been pretty classic had it been given a little more attention and had it not tried to cram it all in just a few minutes.
A very decent – pretty good album – that might on one hand be somewhat derivative and reliant on the band’s own legacy, but on the other hand satisfies. It sort of lacks cohesion past the middle, but it’s still one of the better Priest albums in a while and a worthy addition to any fans collection. With a little more attention to detail, it could have been a classic, but it’s still quite an enjoyable experience. Solid! British Steel reforged once more. Who knew, eh?! The Priest is delivering the goods one more time…
by Rockavlon
There are countless reasons why Judas Priest and Rob Halford are held in such high esteem by the metal community, the latest being the long-running British masters’ eighteenth full-length, “Firepower”, released via Epic Records. Believe me, the ballyhoo surrounding this highly anticipated affair is duly warranted as its fourteen solid tracks totalling just under an hour prove without a doubt you can’t keep a good man (and band) down. Indeed, although he’s pushing 70, one of heavy metal’s greatest orators is back in top form, be it on lean and mean, uppercutting tracks such as “Necromancer”, “Flame Thrower” and “Traitor’s Gate” (damn, I really should get around to reviewing the similarly named NWOBHM stalwart) or downwind, lighter waving cruisers such as “Never the Heroes”, “Rising from Ruins” and a wispy yet appropriate closer in “Sea of Red”. In fact, there are no weak tracks on this release; it’s as if Halford and co. went straight back to their roots, in the process shedding the “bugbear” (i.e. dramatization and watered down song constructs), which plagued them over the past couple of decades or so.
The flared up and downright meaty opening title track kicks things off with a bang and readily proves founding ax man Glenn Tipton and his post K.K. Downing brother in arms, Richie Faulkner, still have it (in spades!), whilst fellow founder and bassist Ian Hill has tremendously stepped up his game as the battery, complimented by drummer Scott Travis, provides rock steady and mercurial support; effectively, the rhythm section no longer simply constitutes weak-kneed, grovelling support (as was the case on say, “British Steel” or “Turbo”), but is now unequivocally part of the big picture, namely, a stout, uncompromising and classic five-man line-up towards which generations to come will look up and continue to draw inspiration from.
It’s also as if the devil-horn throwing veterans have combined the best elements of past fan-favorite gems; one can easily discern the caustic, razor-sharp edge of “The Hellion/Electric Eye” and “A Touch of Evil” in “Firepower” proper and “Evil Never Dies”, a Southern bayou boggling, fire & brimstone sermon on the mount/messianic overture, which snugly fits within the album’s heat seeking, scorching themes, whilst the orchestral and pendulous “Lightning Strikes” mountainously sways like an L.A. skyscraper during an earthquake. While it’s actually one of the simpler, slower tempo’d tracks, its fist drawing verses and chorus make quite an impression:
“I’ll bring you the head of the demon
I’m peeling the skin from his face
The life that you lead is inhuman
Its cause and effects a disgrace
You’re sowing the seeds of a nightmare from hell
Your prayers and your demons are tolling the bell
Walking through fire, fate’s in my hands
Waiting for lightning to strike
Man on a wire, bearing the brand
Waiting for lightning to strike
Lightning to strike!”
I can just picture Halford in his leather vest and biker cap putting a foot up on the crowd barrier while passionately grabbing the mike with both hands as he resolutely delivers his poignant vocals. The leads are also quite commendable; although they’re not quite as off-the-charts and “freewheel burning” as on past ventures, are still combustive, emotional and effective, namely the squat, squelching solos on “Evil Never Dies” or soulful and rock-ish breaks to “Never the Heroes” and “Rising From Ruins”. Keyboard and atypical JP warp-drive sound fx are also conservatively albeit sagaciously employed throughout.
While the modern, straight-laced and rampant guitar riffs bring to mind present-day Accept and Lechery (yet another gripping genre purveyor who, in January, turned around and fiercely knocked one out of the park with its “We Are All Born Evil” third release), a couple tracks in particular sound lifted straight off the “Hero, Hero” 70s compilation, which mashes together the best cuts from “Sad Wings of Destiny” and “Rocka Rolla”. These would be the bluesy and swinging, as well as clean guitar progression infused, “Children of the Sun” and placidly mellow, minute-long and wistful, piano-driven instrumental, “Guardians”, which sweetly paves the way for the semi-crooning, semi-rocking “Rising from Ruins”, which feels taken from Accept’s “Blind Rage” (how do you like them apple jacks?!)…
As much as I dig “Firepower”’s first half, I’m pleasantly shocked at how tight the second is. “Flame Thrower” is no longer just a tasty (and spicy!) Dairy Queen burger, but a freaking-ly raw, hair-raising sonic experience thanks to its quirky yet pummelling palm-muted riff-age which roughly yanks the rug right under you once the crankily cranked up and side-winding chorus rounds the bend. This is classic Priest, classic Halford at his most sardonic albeit jovial. I absolutely love the way the deceptively happy, sing-along pre-chorus brusquely transitions into the grouchy brow-beater of a chorus:
“You’re on the run from the stun of the flame thrower
Sealing your fate, incinerate by the flame thrower!”
Now, excuse the overt track-by-track play-by-play here, but hot diggity! The following haphazard brooder of an “evil” track, “Specter”, is yet another sleazily slick humdinger sure to make one rush over to e-bay in order to purchase a commemorative “Firepower” T-shirt! Commencing with said killer cosmic electronics, the song possesses an undeniable avant-garde and hypnotic flair, which assuredly brings on fond recollections of “Stained Class”, from its poised, demonic mnemonics to Halford’s lazily rendered and spell-binding evocations, as well as rad as all-get out space-faring solo section. All I can say at this point is “Yippie!”, as it just may be my preferred track as far as nostalgia goes – although the uplifting, loud and proud, Dio-ish “No Surrender” and waltzing, Black Sabbath evoking “Lone Wolf” give it a good run for its money. However, it’s really hard to pick favorites as they’re all awesome!
March 9th was a heck of day; not only was it my sister and eldest nephew’s birthday (crazy coincidence, eh?!), but also marked the grandiose return of one of metal’s finest and timeless greats. As well as being a super well-rounded and solid effort, I’d even venture as far as ranking “Firepower” as one of JP’s strongest offerings alongside “Stained Class”, “Sin After Sin”, “Screaming for Vengeance”, “Defenders of the Faith” and “Painkiller”. Furthermore, seeing the legend play live sits high on my bucket list, so I can breathe easy now and revel in the fact it’s still a viable possibility considering Halford doesn’t appear ready to hang up his bootstraps anytime soon. For now, heed the call and home in on Firepower asap, as it’s a golden opportunity to re-kindle the flame!
“Chasing a dream as I go higher
Playing it mean, my heart’s on fire
Living my life, ain’t no pretender
Ready to fight with no surrender!”
by Eric