My standard operating procedure for writing reviews is this: I’ll try to give any album that I’m interested at least two, and preferably more, listens through before I write up a review. I’ve been burned too many times on albums that I thought were amazing, only to go back and listen to them again and realize that I was a little too quick on the trigger with my enthusiasm. I’m making an exception right now for Judas Priest’s newest record, FIREPOWER, because I think it’s important to capture the emotions that I’m experiencing at this very moment.
HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. I’m blown away by how good this record is. Legacy acts (and if we’re being totally honest, that’s the territory that Judas Priest is entering at this stage of their career) aren’t supposed to be able to put out music that is this fucking fantastic. And it’s not fantastic for a bunch of guys who are starting to push 70; it’s just fantastic, their years on this planet be damned. FIREPOWER is full of tracks that any given metal band would kill to write, and Judas Priest came up with an album full of them despite putting out, by my count, at least 17 albums already in their illustrious career. I truly don’t get how they did it; an infinitesimal number of bands actually reach 18 albums, let alone have it be one of their best.
Alternating between fun, dirty, ass-kicking rock and soaring, epic power metal, FIREPOWER doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way, it’s just a damn fine wheel. Nearing 50 years as a band, Judas Priest aren’t adding anything new to their bag of tricks. The sound on the album will be familiar to anyone with a set of ears whose stumbled across them before, but that doesn’t detract from the undeniable quality of nearly every track on this album (by my count, 12 out of the 14 tracks on the record range from “Great” to “My life meant nothing before hearing this track”. That’s a pretty good percentage).
Judas Priest have written many a fantastic song in their career, but rarely have I seen so many collected on a single record. The guitar work is phenomenal, substituting the technicality that is all the craze in metal today for sheer memorability. As I sit here typing after one solitary listen of the record, I can still recall most every guitar part on the album, a testament to just how infectious the rhythms are. Be it anthemic arena-rockers, power metal ballads, or even some songs that drift into a sound that borders modern death metal, the eclectic mix of guitar work on FIREPOWER will have this record stuck in your head for days.
As impressive as the guitars, or all of the other instrumentation, may be, what would Judas Priest be without the efforts of their frontman, Rob Halford? With the hourglass weighted rather heavily towards the bottom at 66 years-old, Halford sounds better than ever on FIREPOWER, his evil shrieks more powerful than any sexagenarian should be able to achieve. Most metal vocalists today would gladly give their left nut just to harness the power that Halford does on this record. In a vacuum, the vocals are hugely impressive. When you factor in the years that Halford has spent screaming his lungs out before this album? It’s unfathomable. Think of it like this:
James Hetfield: Lost the ability to scream right around Load & Re-Load (so we’ll give him about 15 years)
Dave Mustaine: Can’t scream anymore, sounds like a wounded Manatee (I’ll be generous and give him 20 years)
Rob Halford: Still shrieks like a nightmarish banshee nearly 45 years after joining Judas Priest
There’s a reason this man is an American treasure (even more impressive since he is British), and he showcases it in full on the bands most recent output (however, the band is getting dropped half a grade for the line “I’m just keeping it real…” on “No Surrender”. The only acceptable time to use that phrase is on a Chapelle’s Show skit).
FIREPOWER would’ve been an incredible album if it were released 30 years ago. The fact that Judas Priest still has enough creative juices left in the tank after nearly half a century to put of this great of a record is unbelievable. With the unfortunate possibility that the storied career of Judas Priest may be wrapping up (Halford is 66, lead guitarist Glenn Tipton was recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s and has stepped away from their live shows), FIREPOWER would be one hell of a way to put a bow on the band’s legacy.
“Firepower”, “Never the Heroes”, “Rising from the Ruins”