A small part of me wants to label “Nostradamus” as genius, the scope of which JUDAS PRIEST has never reached (or attempted to reach) at any other point in their long career. The rest of me wants to cry “foul” at the band for undertaking and releasing something so incredibly pretentious. There’s no denying that “Nostradamus” was a hell of an undertaking, and also a hugely bold move for PRIEST. In a time of their career when the band could certainly simply rest on their laurels and play it safe – much as they did on “Angel Of Retribution” – they instead chose to take a risk and release a massive concept album.
Maybe “risk” isn’t really the word to use, as PRIEST’s legacy is set in stone – it would take much, much more than a single album to derail the Metal machine. The risk that the band took was more in the possibility of alienating fans, who are yearning for another “Painkiller”, not PRIEST’s best imitation of RHAPSODY OF FIRE or newer MANOWAR. Speaking of MANOWAR, “Nostradamus” holds much in common with that band’s last studio album, “God’s Of War”. Both are overblown concept albums focusing on a central figure, and both are overwhelmed with interludes and soft “emotional” sections, to the point that the good songs are nearly completely drowned out by fluff. And just like with “Gods Of War”, a CD burner is very handy in cutting “Nostradamus” from a longer than long affair, to a decent album of about 35-minutes.
I’ll admit, when I first heard that PRIEST were doing a concept album, complete with orchestration and the whole works, I was excited. I was even more excited when I heard the title track, which is one of the finest songs the band has ever recorded. Unfortunately, for the most part, orchestration and JUDAS PRIEST don’t mesh all that well, and there no other songs on “Nostradamus” that sound like the title track. Instead, we get nine interludes and 14 actual songs (more than a handful of which are ballads, or at least ballad-esque), so the real Metal is really only heard on about a forth to a third of the album. I don’t know about you, but when I buy a Metal album, I expect to hear Metal.
Of course, being that this is JUDAS PRIEST, there are certainly positive moments. As I’ve already mentioned, the title track simply rips, and there are a handful of other good songs to be found, including the epic “Prophecy”, the dark, DIO-esque “Death”, the catchy “Conquest” and the rocking “Visions”. Many of the other songs are enjoyable, but there’s not much that makes them standout.
Rob Halford is still in top form, with his voice as solid as ever, but the rest of band take a bit of a backseat to the orchestration. The riffs and solos of the legendary guitar duo of KK Downing and Glenn Tipton are possibly at the most subdued state that I’ve ever heard, and it’s as if someone told Scott Travis to calm down and play it cool behind the drum kit. Coming from musicians that we all know can rip it up, “Nostradamus” mostly comes off as tired.
Now, I don’t completely blame JUDAS PRIEST for “Nostradamus” basically being somewhat of a failure, as concept albums are definitely difficult to compose, and always walk a fine line between brilliance and boredom. It’s not easy to balance the art of songwriting with lyrics that tell a coherent story, which is where PRIEST struggled. The songs definitely suffer at the hands of the story, as it’s obvious the band focused on the storytelling aspects of the album and attempted to build songs around that. Many bands have succeeded in recording magnificent examples of the concept album done right (see QUEENSRYCHE, BLIND GUARDIAN, JAG PANZER, DREAM THEATER and the previously mentioned RHAPSODY OF FIRE), but even more have had failed attempts to some degree or another (see the vast majority of Italian Power Metal bands, and Progressive Metal bands in general). Unfortunately, and as much as it pains me as a long-time fan, JUDAS PRIEST’s “Nostradamus” must be added to “failed” list.
(Online August 4, 2008)