JUDAS PRIEST – FIREPOWER (Sony Music Entertainment)

Review by Michael “MettleAngel” Francisco: Those hellbent for leather rebels have returned to rise from unconscious ruins with their 18th British stellar master.

Since these savage heroes have never reached and end, I am pleased to proclaim: The Beast That Is Priest – like lightning strike back – with no surrender.

Judas Priest are my second all-time favorite band next to Iron Maiden, Accept & Rush, so I made damn sure that my pre-ordered new CD arrived from Amazon by March 9th.

I enjoyed hearing what the Metal Gods had in store for us with the three early released singles and both videos for “Spectre” and “Lightning Strike”. With these searing slices of sentinel steel freely burning in my heart, my hopes for a true comeback were ignited; especially when I realized that Tom “Colonel” Allom was back to producing!

However, with all the recent Social Media drama about Glenn’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s and thus bowing out from touring, with Ken feeling jilted for not being asked back into the fold, and the ultimate decision to make Andy Sneap the appointed replacement; since he had in fact played guitar on Firepower, all this banter began to bother me.

This gossip grinder and food for fodder all reached its pinnacle with the tragic death of Dave Holland, and finally the Hoi Polloi Paparazzi arrest of Roy Z. Ramirez. Ruefully, this all began to leave me less ecstatic about what was promising to be a new beast unleashed for the feast.

Once I began to read all these favorable reviews while my CD remained still sealed, I truly began to grow increasingly skeptical. Honestly, ever since Rob’s return each subsequent release has held merit, but they will never match what Priest accomplished in their past. Rob Halford has not hit that high register for quite some time, since his solo daze, but he is still an incredible vocalist.

I actually enjoyed the ambitious Nostradameus and I bought the Deluxe Double Disc of Redeemer. I was surprised by the packaging for Firepower, and less than enticed by the simplistic cover artwork by Claudio Bergamin. Is this supposed to be The Hellion or The Metallian, or something else entirely ?

I did not feel the pleasure from playing the whole album until Monday March 19th. Prior to this, it was all pain. I have been working so many heavy duty hours, all the while suffering from a jarring back breaking injury and contending with every day stress.

Therefore, I opted to play and thoroughly relish the latest by Thaurorod, Trick Or Treat, Xandria, and Frozen Crown; not to mention with my Kreator & Destruction Remasters, I had plenty of quality music to keep me satiated until the unveiling.

Some heads are gonna roll when they read my critique. For all those who remark that this is a sequel to Painkiller, they have another thing coming! I may leave you screaming for vengeance, but honestly this is just the next logical step forward from what was accomplished on Redeemer Of Souls, essentially.

As usual Ritchie fogged her up with his modern guitar tone, and Andy, as talented as he is, has reverted back to riffs reminiscent of Hell and Sabbat. Listen carefully to “Necromancer” and you will hear the same recycled riffs from Mourning Has Broken. At least there are hints of “Exciter” ever present.

Since Andy has worked so diligently with Accept, even declining an offer to join their ranks. those trademark Wolf Hoffman hooks hang in the balance on “Never The Heroes” for which the band released a lyric video.

The first triune of loud bites from Firepower fire on all cylinders, with all guns blazing! The devilish chills of “Evil Never Dies” is a restless rager, running wild, even if the Primal Fear guitar style is a bit overkill.

Breaking the law of staid brass tactics, “Children Of The Sun” is where Priest start to emulate artists whom they influenced like Candlemass, Sinner, Sanctuary, and even Malice. By allowing for this dictum of changes, this song and “Rising From Ruins” almost sound like Halford solo material.  As I am oft’ inclined to remark, “Judas Priest without Ken & Glenn, is essentially just Halford!”

I hold no disrespect for original bassist Ian who shines through on songs like “Spectre” with its haunting Alice Cooper vibe, nor any detraction for the exceptional longtime drummer Scott Travis who adds a punishing pulse to the ambiguous riff driven “Traitors Gate” – whatever that is – besides a over rated NWOBHM band who released a highly praised EP.

The white heat and red hot fury of “Flame Thrower” does have a bit of Ram It Down and Jugulator potential, but like so many songs from the latter, the lyrics slightly suffer: “On the run from the stun…”  would it not rather be “sting” or “burn” of the flame thrower? At least the bridge is weighted by an homage to Heavy Load.

Speaking of Ram It Down, which many fans forget has two of the fastest Priest tracks ever written with “Ram It Down” and “Hard As Iron”, many critics are comparing the epic closer ‘Sea Of Red” to “Blood Red Skies”. This song is more like “Cathedral Spires”; better than “Lochness”, but certainly not another “Beyond The Realms Of Death”. In fact, the song is more in line with Saxon territory. Nonetheless, the lyrical imagery is provocative and the track makes for an excellent conclusion to the storied and various thematic impulses found on Firepower.

I barely recall any of the bonus disc songs from Redeemer, but they were average at best. The packaging on Firepower is very basic: CD, Digipak, Blu-spec, or Vinyl. However curious cuts like “No Surrender” while fun and fine in form seem extraneous and “Lonewolf”, Man this is just bad like many songs found on Jugulator.

I do not understand why so many Metal heads rebuke Turbo. I think that is an awesome release. Sure it is a bit commercial, but the songs are so well constructed. Also this was my first time ever seeing Priest. Dokken opened and I was filmed for “Heavy Metal Parking Lot”. Maybe this is why I hold this effort so near dear to my mettle heart. Although, I really dig Demolition too, and even if The Ripper was in the band at that time, Ken, Glenn, and Ian wrote some exceptional material, which is often overlooked.

Firepower is a strong release for the next generation of Priest advocates. It is just like “Star Wars The Last Jedi”. The elements of the original Trilogy are ever present, and the characters and storyline are consistent, but this film was made for future generations. I think that Judas Priest are establishing a new fan base, while desperately trying to hang on to their original vanguard. Hell, Rob has already expressed interest in working with Nergal from Behemoth in a new project.

There is no question that Priest are still delivering the goods and stand to rock, forever united to take on the world. With this new album, clearly elements and essentials of the over-praised Painkiller are prominent, as are parts of Ram It Down, and aspects of Angel Of Retribution and Redeemer Of Souls. Since the sincere sinners always play the electric bona fide Classics Live, here is hoping that the younger stained class of fan addicts who hear Firepower first, finally discover Defenders, Screaming, Sad Wings, and Point Of Entry soon! http://judaspriest.com/home/

My rating: 78/100 (Decent but best previewing)