Review by Greg Maki
Forty-nine years and 18 studio albums in, we all know what to expect from Judas Priest. Through nearly five decades, the band has never wavered, not even when the Metal God himself walked away in the 1990s. Priest’s commitment to metal is unparalleled—if anything, it’s only grown stronger over time. Sadly, time has begun to have its way with the band of late, starting with original guitarist K.K. Downing’s departure in 2011 (though his replacement, Richie Faulkner, has given Priest a tremendous shot of life) and continuing this year with longtime guitarist Glenn Tipton’s retirement from touring as he battles Parkinson’s disease. That makes “Firepower,” Priest’s best album since “Painkiller” (1990), even more of a triumph.
Produced by Tom Allom, the man at the controls for all of Priest’s albums from 1980 to 1988, and Andy Sneap, who will be filling in for Tipton on the “Firepower” tour, this record boasts a huge, stadium-filling sound, each song taking on an anthemic feel, primed for maximum fist-pumping and singalongs. The one-two punch of the title track and “Lightning Strike” opens the album and immediately sets the tone, mixing the grooves of “British Steel” (1980) with the heavier feel and a touch of the speed that marked “Painkiller.” The Priest formula is very much intact throughout “Firepower”—some mean riffs, harmonizing and alternating solos from Tipton and Faulkner; the relentless, driving rhythms of bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis; and, of course, the godlike vocals of Rob Halford, who can’t possibly be 66 years old.
The riffs are deliciously dark and foreboding on “Evil Never Dies” and especially “Necromancer.” “Flame Thrower” is an absolute scorcher that would make a great opener for the live show, while the pounding chug of “Spectre” makes it a mighty metal monster. Priest almost saves the best for last, slipping the Sabbathy, doom-laden “Lone Wolf” in as lucky track 13, before wrapping things up on a more reflective note with “Sea of Red.”
It’s astounding—maybe even miraculous—that a band could create a record this strong so deep into its career. But Judas Priest always has defied conventional thinking and cut its own path. The band has taken some hits in recent years, but “FIrepower” shows it still has plenty of ammunition.
(Epic Records, March 9, 2018)