Judas Priest - Firepower - (9.5/10)
Published on March 23, 2018
Lightning Strikes 14 Times
I would first like to dispel the possible notion that Priest are trying to capitalize on nostalgia by having an opening that is identical in feel to Painkiller and album art that is a bastardization of Screaming For Vengeance. These could be seen as cringeworthy attempts to cash in on old successes (just as Sonata Arctica did when they started putting wolves back on their album covers but decided to start sucking) if the music wasn’t so goddamn good. Judas Priest have become the living definition of ‘talking the talk’ and ‘needing no introduction’, having influenced and pioneered basically the entire genre and all the imagery that comes with it. Since Halford returned to the fold with the brilliant Angel Of Retribution, their output has been solid, but never reached a point where all fans could honestly say they were satisfied. Even though I absolutely loved Nostradamus, it seemed experimentation might not be the way to go for the British legends. Good old-fashioned heavy metal with riffs, solos, catchy choruses and screams is the realm in which Priest belong, and Firepower has absolutely got you covered (then again, my favourite Priest album is Jugulator so what do I know?).
This album is brilliant. How refreshing to hear a heavy metal album here in 2018 that does away with excessive bells and whistles to focus on the core of the genre we love. Furthermore, how satisfying that it comes from the group frequently hailed as the ‘Metal Gods’. There’s something grossly vindicating about Judas Priest showing any newcomer who considers themselves within the NWOBHM perimeters exactly how it should be done. This new record kicks off with the one-two punch of the title-track and “Lightning Strike”, which may as well be “Painkiller” and “Hell Patrol” for the 21st century. The former is a rapid-fire (pun intended) monster which should instantly zip the mouths of naysayers; and the latter is a galloping anthem with one of the best riffs on the album (2:25 – simplicity is the key!). Instead of dropping the ball, Priest opted to keep the energy rolling by knocking out tune after tune of some of their most metal work since 2005. The steamroller riffage of the menacing “Evil Never Dies” is especially headbang-worthy.
The production quality is absolutely spot on. Scott Travis’ legendarily precise kit-work is a pillar of reliability; Ian Hill’s bass rumbles underneath satisfactorily – receiving a few shining moments here and there; Tipton and Faulkner brought a plentiful bag o’ riffs with them, all in that classic Priest, blues-scale vein – beefed up by the band’s meatiest tone since Jugulator. Naturally, Halford’s voice was predicted to be a huge talking point, after his waning performance on 2014’s Redeemer Of Souls. Within second, the icon proves his credentials as Metal God. In this humble reviewer’s opinion, this is the best he’s ever sounded. Bold statement, I know, but I’ve always been a fan of his lower range, and his increasing age just means he spends more time in a controlled area. The ear-piercing screams are still present, sprinkled effectively throughout Firepower – (especially the chorus line of “Spectre”). For god’s sake, the man is 66 years old! Hill is 67 and Tipton is a mighty 70! The sheer quality oozing out of these veterans is incredible and fills me with faith for the future.
Structurally, this album is so well crafted. Starting off are five dynamic gems (especially the truly evil-sounding “Necromancer” whose main riff sounds eerily like Iron Mask’s “Holy War”), then dipping the vibrancy down a tad for the hymnal “Children Of The Sun” and the beautiful interlude “Guardians”, just to end on a flourish with blazers like “Flamethrower” and “No Surrender”. It’s this latter half of the album that cynics have latched onto for their criticism. Sure, the lyrics aren’t stunning, but who actually gives a shit? Just shout some stuff about fire and steel that we can all shout along with, then get on with the hefty riffs and blazing solos. Tracks eight through fourteen have been accused of ‘fizzling out’…and I’m starting to think the naysayers have genuinely been listening to a different record. Perhaps it’s because the album ends with the epic, balladic “Sea Of Red”? But when you’ve got the hulking groove of “Lone Wolf” to precede it – with one of Priest’s greatest riffs ever – you have no valid point.
Right here, we have the perfect fusion of Painkiller and 2005’s Angel Of Retribution. The chugging riffage, Halford’s badass attitude and iconic vocal tone, the mid-tempo swaggers, the awesome album art… It’s all like a dream come true. I don’t see how even the die-hards who insist on listening to only ’70s Priest couldn’t find some tasty morsels on Firepower. They’ve done away with the experimental flabbiness, the overly-flowery melodies and cheesy ’80s synth, and provided us with nothing but pure, unadulterated, riff-centric heavy metal. If this doesn’t please the masses, then I don’t want to live on this planet anymore. A planet which, I might add, Judas Priest rule once more. Halford and co. are absolutely killing it in the studio – whether or not this will translate to a live environment remains to be seen – and all is right with the world. All hail the Metal Gods! Now, all together: “FI-YA-POW-WAH!! MAN’S DE-MIIIISE!”