(Epic Records/Sony, 2018)
Heavy. Metal. Music. When one thinks of this complex noun, the brain conjures a myriad of
associated images: pulverizing power, monolithic volume, supersonic speed, hell-bent leather,
and banshee shrieks birthed from the depths of Hades. The listener is newly energized by the
Exciter of Stained Class steel, riding upon the Sad Wings of Destiny to meet The Hellion that is
perpetually Screaming for Vengeance. Hereby enthralled on this infinite Hell Patrol, the listener
finally meets and embraces heavy metal's creator and savior. Its name is Judas Priest.
Yes, the almighty Priest is back – with a vengeance on Firepower. The iconic British metal
masters have emerged rejuvenated and seemingly reincarnated on this stunning 14-track platter.
Although not a comeback album in the strictest sense (2014's solid Redeemer of Souls received
mixed reviews), Firepower finds the Priest machine firing on all cylinders with its most inspired
work since at least Painkiller. It should come as no surprise to longtime fans that this is Judas
Priest’s highest-charting album ever in the U.S. – Firepower unleashes all the metallic passion,
power, drama, and emotional catharsis that metalheads so desperately crave. In an era of
retirements and the untimely passing of metal legends – as well as sheer market oversaturation in
the YouTube age – it is extremely fulfilling to hear the Priest sounding so hungry and inspired in
Of course, all bands that manage to survive the literal and proverbial passing of time become
“victims of changes,” to one degree or another. Naturally, after an almost 50-year career in the music
industry, Judas Priest has had to adapt as well; from the rejoining of Rob Halford in 2004, to the
retirement of iconic guitarist K.K. Downing and the addition of Ritchie Faulkner in 2011, to the recent
retirement from touring by guitar maestro Glenn Tipton (due to Parkinson's Disease), the Priest
has weathered the storm. Indeed, they sound reinvigorated on Firepower, thanks in no small
part to the muscular, yet warm and organic, work of producer/guitarist extraordinaire Andy Sneap.
This album is a juggernaut of relentless power and passion, anchored beneath the surface by
founding bassist Ian Hill and long-time drummer Scott Travis. The guitar tandem of Tipton and
Faulkner lend a sense of rhythmic precision and melodic flair to these songs, which ooze with
melodic hooks and lyrical purpose. Halford, meanwhile, despite being no longer able to hit the
stratospheric shrieks of his youth, hasn't sounded this good in nearly 20 years.
Those loyal fanatics who prefer Judas Priest at their most ferocious and eviscerating will
discover plenty to love on Firepower. This album is chock full of crunchy power chords,
consistently speedy riffs, and good-ol' straight-ahead, palm-muted chug. No one could accuse the
Priest of reinventing the heavy-metal wheel here, but there's no denying the satisfying fury of
first singles: the title track and “Lightning Strikes;” the latter tune features a harmonious guitar
interlude and an especially-catchy pre-chorus, as Halford warns: “You're sowing the seeds of a
nightmare from Hell/your prayers and demons are tolling the bell.” The band effectively shifts
between a deliberate groove and double-time urgency on “Evil Never Dies,” while the relaxed
crunch of “Never the Heroes” somewhat recalls “Balls to the Wall” by Accept. “Necromancer”
unleashes the unrelenting speed-metal glory of the Painkiller era, while the galloping main riff to
the infectious “Traitors Gate” will promptly have heads lolling from their necks.
Judas Priest have always been at their best when they incorporate dynamics into their metallic
palette, and Firepower is no exception. “Children of the Sun” may seem like a standard, doomy
mid-paced number, but those vocal melodies, particularly in the chorus, will invoke humming for
days. In the storied Priest canon, there is little that compares to the one-two punch of
“Guardians” and “Rising from Ruins.” Beginning with a contemplative piano-based intro,
“Guardians” builds layers of guitar harmonies before emerging into the majestic and dynamic
“Rising from Ruins.” This song showcases a slowly-galloping main riff, splendid lead melodies,
and one of the most irristible choruses this Atlantic side of the “desert plains.” “No Surrender,
another mid-tempo tune, succeeds on the strength of its anthemic chorus; album closer, “Sea of
Red,” by contrast, is one of the band's most plaintive and emotive power ballads.
Firepower isn't a perfect album, but it's damn-near close; perhaps they could have trimmed some
of the more middling fat from the second half of the album (“Flame Thrower,” “Spectre,” “Lone
Wolf”). Regardless, this is an absolute triumph of pure British steel – and perseverance.
“Chasing a dream as I go higher/playing it mean, my heart's on fire/living my life, ain't no
pretender/ready to fight with no surrender.” Bravo.
-- Review by Jonathan Kollnot
--Tracklisting: 1.) Firepower 2.) Lightning Strikes 3.) Evil Never Dies 4.) Never the Heroes 5.)
Necromancer 6.) Children of the Sun 7.) Guardians 8.) Rising from Ruins 9.) Flame Thrower
10.) Spectre 11.) Traitors Gate 12.) No Surrender 13.) Lone Wolf 14.) Sea of Red.