Judas Priest | ‘Firepower’
You don’t have to be Nostradamus to see that the omens for this weren’t good.
KK Downing gone. Recent albums of questionable staying power. Dark innuendo about exactly how much of this was being written by Andy Sneap.
And just the other week, the sad news that Glenn Tipton’s Parkinson’s condition is worsening.
You’d be forgiven for just wishing ‘Priest might have packed it in.
I’m not going to do the usual and say “well, stand by to be blown away… ” clap trap.
Because even one spin of this album is enough to make you remember that you’re dealing with the quintessential heavy metal band here, and that all of those factors and more cant stop them once they’ve an idea in their heads.
But by it also demands to be said that it is surprisingly excellent. Once you get past the first few tracks, though.
Wall To Wall
I was all set to tear into the opening title track as the working definition of what Lars Ulrich might call ‘stock’, right down to the lamentable Euro-metal arpeggios.
(When were licks like that EVER part of Priest’s ouevre? Keep them for Primal Fear and Helloween?)
‘Lightning Strike’ as well feels like a bit too dull to get on ‘Painkiller’ – taking the same bounce beat and even the same album position (#2) as ‘Hell Patrol’. It’s disposable.
After that though – well, blow me down. It’s basically wall to wall greatness until the end.
Every track has something to offer, and usually lots of it.
Halford is at his modern day high-rasping best in what might better be titled ‘Eeeeeeeee-vil Never Dies’, with that instant classic chorus. ‘Never The Heroes’ has a certain pathos that almost feels genuinely emotional.
The next three are straight out modern Priest classics, worth the price of the whole album themselves.
The pulsating ‘Neromancer’ (reminding of the ‘Jugulator’ era), which has Halford again completely rejuvinated.
My personal album highlight, ‘Children Of The Sun’, which has the same swing and effortless timelessness of tracks like ‘Sign Of The Southern Cross’. A beautiful, stunning riff and chorus that just hangs in the air waiting for you to grab it and enjoin its chanting brilliance.
It’s absolutely fantastic.
I mentioned earlier about a certain pathos in ‘Never The Heroes’. That creeps back into ‘Rising From The Ruins’. At a push I’d say there’s a certain militaristic charm about these – as though they were penned by or for squaddies coming back from somewhere like Iraq.
I don’t know why I think that. It’s just the image and mood they conjure. As a track though, it’s another absolute belter.
Like many of the best artists in the world, lyrics can be a frustrating quantity not to be analysed too closely, but even by Priest’s dubious standards, ‘Flame Thrower’ is an oddity.
I get it ‘Flame… Throwerrrrr’ – like, ‘Jaw Breakerrrr’ and all that. But as we’ve already seen on the forums there’s just something about this track that’s a bit Marmite. You’ll either love it or hate it really.
And still there is more greatness to come.
Like ‘Children Of The Sun’ before it, the majesty of the Big Riff swirls around the superb ‘Spectre’. I don’t know what you have to do to write music like that; it’s just perfect. Large, hulking, stomping and winsome at the same time, it drips with atmosphere.
‘No Surrender’ is but another quality riff, opening with a tone and mood reminiscent of ‘Defenders Of The Faith’ – era.
Which is something it’s fair to say this whole album is built on: the beats, moods and successes of albums long before it. Most notably ‘Painkiller’, it must be said.
You can place about half the songs here to time signatures and stylistic vamps that you’ve heard in all the favourites. They’re not copies, of course. But these boys and their team know what makes a hit.
But lets now say the unsayable.
Richie Faulkner is a fine guitarist, and, if he did write many of these tracks (I haven’t checked the credits), then he can only be praised from the rooftops as one of metal’s pre-eminent songwriters.
As with prior recent albums though, it all just underscores the strangeness – and it must be said wrongness – of not hearing KK and Tipton’s unique chemistry and styles on what’s supposed to be a Priest album.
There is no guitar duelling anywhere in here, for reasons that are now clear – KK’s gone and Tipton can’t.
But neither is there any true soloing creativity. It’s all 100% by the book stuff.
Faulkner’s solos, while impressive, could have been done by more or less anyone. There is none of the strange, spiky oddity that made Downing and Tipton’s so memorable.
So that’s a high hurdle to pass when listening to a new album from one of the favourite bands of most of our lives – who gave a solid 20 year innings of a more or less reliable dynamic.
The opening two tracks are probably the worst example of this kind of ordinary-ness.
At the same time, Halford, who on recent tours has just looked plain bored – static, hunched and slow – seems a man reborn. He’s absolutely gunning for it on this album, in his own way, using the slightly less expansive range he can now reach to maximum effect.
He is wonderful on this. So that’s a reason to be cheerful.
Bottom line is that this is so good it SHOULD be Priest’s last album. Because if they have the bravery and the bank balance to do that… then it’s a hell of a way to say goodbye.
A fantastic Album Of The Month for March 2018.
4.6 / 5 – Earl Grey ::: 15/03/18