Judas Priest are one of the earliest pioneers of Heavy Metal, particularly when it comes to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Judas Priest released some of the most iconic songs and albums of the genre, of the latter ‘British Steel’ and ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ being particular stand-outs. In many respects the band’s upcoming release ‘Firepower’ pays homage to ‘Screaming for Vengeance,’ not least in the album art that bears some resemblance to the 1982 classic. However, ‘Firepower’ also expands into modern Metal territory, and also calls upon echoes of other eras of the band’s history, including that of former vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens.
The opening title track, Firepower, immediately shows that the band won’t be limited by their classic Heavy Metal and Power Metal history, but are also willing to venture into sounds more befitting Thrash. On the other hand, no time is wasted in introducing vocalist Rob Halford’s signature wail, with no better signal that this is a Judas Priest album in the classic sense. The iconic Halford’s vocals sound as strong as ever, if not stronger, while the galloping guitar cadence is both classic Priest, but with an additional edge to it.
Interestingly, the following track Lightning Strike sounds more Iron Maiden than Judas Priest. The song is direct and powerful, much like its namesake, and eminently enjoyable. While the bridge and is nice and crunchy, Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner’s guitar solos very much capture the 80s Power Metal feel with only the slightest hint of a dark edge.
The album grows heavier and crunchier with Evil Never Dies, with a full-bodied bass rumble driving the track. This song sees Halford take on a slightly more threatening persona, while Scott Travis’ drums are notably fast and pounding. Overall the track feels similar attitude to Jag Panzer, though more accomplished in terms of presentation. A powerful guitar solo leads into a quiet, creepy moment reminiscent of Megadeth’s approach to moments in a similar vein, lending itself to a particular comic book – though not cartoonish – understanding of horror.
Never the Heroes is a bit of a pot-boiler, building tension slowly first through its interesting synth intro, then in some relatively minimalist verses driven by bass and not much guitar, instead offering a laser-like focus on Halford’s voice and narrative. Never the Heroes remains a slower track, but with plenty of soul.
The intensity ramps right back up with Necromancer, which is the track that owes the most to the Ripper era of the album. This track includes some marvellous call and response solos, as well as the most in-your-face lyrics so far.
If there were to be a sacrificial lamb on this album, the slow and limbering Children of the Sun ought to be it. Heavy as the track is, there’s just not much going on that’s of interest. Halford’s angst in this song is a little reminiscent of moments from ‘Nostradamus,’ and while the track picks up a bit with the solos, overall it doesn’t make as much of an impact.
Children of the Sun is followed up with Guardians, a beautiful and unexpected interlude of piano and subtle guitar, slowly building in intensity until it leads straight into Rising from Ruins. The dramatic Rising from Ruins picks up the beauty of Guardians and runs with it, with the instrumentation coming together for a perfectly restrained but wonderfully expressive song. The gorgeous bridge leads into soaring and evocative solos, with some of the most intricate and climactic work on the album.
Flame Thrower, by contrast, is direct, straight-up Metal. There are some nice changes of pace, and a melodic chorus combined with more aggressive verses. Halford’s approach featuring great vocal acrobatics and diversity is very clearly displayed here.
Spectre is a tense and heavy track. On the surface somewhat similar to Children of the Sun in vibe, it differs in that it has enough going on to retain the listener’s interest. Spectre introduces another horror segment that is perhaps reminiscent of Alice Cooper, as well as Thrash approaches to that feel. As such, the guitars retain the creepy atmosphere well without being overbearing.
Along with Guardians, Traitors Gate proves to be one of the strongest tracks on the album. Starting out slow and downbeat but leading into a heavy, powerful track with a strong pace, it takes the time to builds a truly epic feeling. There is a wonderful mix of atmosphere, beauty and technical prowess in Traitors Gate, making it a very impactful track.
No Surrender is perhaps the strongest homage to 80s Judas Priest on the album, though it captures that vibe alongside the density and voluptuousness of modern Metal. Lone Wolf on the other hand starts off with a slow, creeping vibe, again somewhat reminiscent of Megadeth. As the verses come in, the song almost picks up a Nu Metal vibe along the lines of Disturbed, though there are also Groove Metal elements that may remind the listener of Black Label Society.
Surprisingly enough after such an intense journey, the album ends with a ballad, Sea of Red. Halford delivers an inspiring performance on this track, and the guitars are equally powerful when they really kick in two and half minutes into the track, with solos making ample use of this last opportunity to impress.
With such a sheer quantity of diverse songs, there’s something for Judas Priest fans of all stripes on this album. From the ferocity of the Ripper era, to the classic sounds of the 80s, and a judicious embrace of modern sensibilities, this is an album that maintains a classic band’s identity while making a meaningful contribution to their discography, and to Metal in general. A solid contender.
JUDAS PRIEST’S ‘FIREPOWER’ IS AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER HERE!