“What have you achieved? Now you’re old. Did you fulfill ambition?”–“Run of the Mill”, 1974
“The Painkiller rises again”–“Demonizer”, 2005
The wait is over. After fifteen years, Judas Priest has given the fans what they want. Few albums this year will arouse as much anticipation, curiosity and debate as Angel of Retribution, the first Judas Priest album in fifteen years to feature Metal God Rob Halford. Although anticipation and curiosity have been high, expectations have varied, and for good reason. Let’s face it–Judas Priest released ten years of albums that are timeless classics etched into the bedrock of metal, but their output over the last twenty years has been spotty at best. Most of the optimism surrounding Angel of Retribution stems from the fact that it is the first album with Halford since 1990’s Painkiller, considered by many fans (although not this one) as one of the band’s finest hours. It would be hard to blame the band if they took the easy route by setting out to try to make the album they would’ve made in 1992, but thankfully they have not. Instead, the band has revisited several points along their lengthy musical path, and blended them with a contemporary take.
Judas Priest has “pulled an Iron Maiden”. Like Maiden, they lost their singer in 1992 and went on to make two weaker albums, while their departed vocalists were more productive and successful. Also like Iron Maiden, their “comeback album” easily eclipses not only the albums with the short-timer vocalists, but also bests the last few albums before the singers left. Angel of Retribution may not match Painkiller, but it destroys Ram it Down andTurbo, making it, save one, the best Judas Priest album in twenty years. Of course, opinions in the metal community will be all over the map. In truth, you will hear in Angel of Retribution whatever you want to hear. If you’re looking for the resurrection of a slumbering metal giant—you’ll hear that. If you’re looking for an album of mainstream metal and a band that is way past their expiration date, you’ll hear that as well. This is mostly due to the nature of cynicism and expectation when it comes to the long careers of legendary bands, but also because there is a hint of all those things onAngel of Retribution. Clearly, the band isn’t going to release another Stained Class. Sure, there are moments where metal takes a backseat to accessibility. But the album is unmistakably Judas Priest, and there are enough moments of the old magic (and some of the new) to make you forgive some, if not all of these transgressions. The band’s chemistry works well to recreate Priest’s unmistakable style, balancing power and melody. That style and chemistry also go a long way to make up for some of the album’s shortcomings, as after repeated listens even some of the weaker songs start to sound more appealing.
Angel of Retribution opens with the perfect musical and lyrical statement, “Judas Rising”. The track fades in with some soloing and a building, majestic, awe inducing scream that perfectly captures the concept of ascendancy of the band, song and the cover art, featuring the Angel of Retribution rising, arms outstretched and forming the Judas Priest logo. As the song rages out of the gate, it becomes undeniably clear that this band can still get it done. Sometimes context is everything, and the song’s impact is not just as a kickass piece of metal, but also its almost overpowering display of prowess many thought long lost. “Judas Rising”, along with “Demonizer”, and “Hellrider” are songs in the key of Painkiller–boiling torrents of riffing and double bass drums, with ear piercing screams tempered by perfect lower registered vocals, while Tipton and Downing fire off dive bombing, contortionist leads. The band infuses elements of their material throughout their career, and also makes frequent lyrical references to older songs and albums like Painkiller, Stained Class, “Tyrant”, “The Sentinel”, etc. “Deal With the Devil” is classic Priest, a straightforward headbanger that wouldn’t sound out of place on albums like Defenders of the Faith. The power ballad ‘Worth Fighting For” is a formulaic and weaker song that harkens the mid to late 80’s style. Like the other slower songs, Halford’s voice sometimes has an annoying pressured raspiness that may have more to do with Roy Z’s production than Halford’s performance. The first single, “Revolution”, is unfortunately one of the weakest songs on the album, with its simple verse and layered, moaning vocals in the chorus. Ironically, Jane’s Addiction’s “Mountain Song”, from which the main riff is “borrowed”, is at least twice as heavy as its metal spawn. At the very unPriestly length of thirteen minutes, “Lochness” doesn’t exactly feel epic, but doesn’t overstay its welcome either. “Eulogy” is perhaps the biggest surprise, a song that sounds like a modern day Sad Wings of Destiny era ballad, with an amazingly pensive Halford backed by understated guitar and keys, and a simple repeating, haunting ascending piano line.
A limited edition of the album will also include a DVD with a 40 minute documentary and footage of seven live tracks. Angel of Retribution may not be a classic, but it is a surprisingly solid album that should be well received by most.