Judas Priest - Redeemer of Souls (Sony)

At least it's not as bad as Nostradamus...
Release Date: 
6 Jul 2014 - 11:30pm

Unlike their great peers Iron Maiden, who seem to treat the internet as simply another arm of their vast merchandising empire without ever actually seeking to connect with their audience at large, Judas Priest – at least in the runup to the release of this, their seventeenth studio album – have been keen to get amongst ‘the kids’, peppering their ears with advance tracks and snippets of chat from band members Glenn Tipton, Rob Halford and newkid Richie Faulkner (although of course never a sniff from what my dad used to refer to as ‘the sub members’, Ian Hill and Scott Travis), seeking to build a sense of anticipation for Redeemer of Souls.

I have to say it kind of did the opposite for me, as each track that surfaced did nothing but underline my sense of unease at what the album would sound like. This attitude of apprehensive apathy was stoked by Rob Halford’s well below-par performance on the Ronnie James Dio tribute album; phrases like ‘shitting on the legacy’ kept coming into my mind, if not directly out of my mouth, as I feared much of the good work done by this band in over forty years of heavy metal grandeur might be undone by one last, desperate shot at glory by a band not quite up to the task.

I needn’t have worried. The band may now be unquestionably in its dotage, but they are definitely still fit for purpose.  Taken as a whole, as opposed to singular, unsupported nuggets,  Redeemer of Souls fits together perfectly, and it’s easily the best of the three albums recorded by the band since Halford returned to the fold in 2003. Tracks such as Battle Cry easily hold their own against a back catalogue that features such stone metal classics as The Sentinel and Electric Eye, with Halford’s voice sounding frankly stunning after that Dio debacle. Sure, he doesn’t hold those high notes for as long as he used to, and some of the power he once had has cashed in its super and headed for the seaside, but overall, with a set of material written around his voice and catering to it, the man puts in an assured, solidly impressive performance. His performance on opener Dragonaut is pure, classic Halford if you need any convincing. Come to think of it, the whole track is pure, classic Priest. For a longterm fan such as myself who, without wishing to bog the band down in nostalgia-worshipping retro mania actually wants to hear the band playing stuff like this, it’s utter nirvana.

Elsewhere Faulkner fits in just as seamlessly as his Downing-lite visual appeal would have suggested, and, although he’ll never deliver the rhythmically destructive playing power of KK, as a foil to Glenn Tipton he plays his part perfectly; His fresher approach to songwriting has doubtlessly energized Halford and Tipton, and whilst there’s nothing too modern on show here – timewise this album could easily have appeared after 1984’s Defenders of the Faith stylistically if not exactly sonically – there is definitely an elusive something in the sound of Redeemer of Souls that hasn’t been present before.  The band explores areas they haven’t visited for a long time – Crossfire is a bluesy piece of hard rock that would have felt right at home on 1978’s Killing Machine – and overall attacks the job in hand with a confidence and hunger sadly absent on last release, the misfiring Nostradamus.

 

Indeed supplanting Nostradamus as the last recorded output of Judas Priest might come to be seen as Redeemer…’s greatest legacy to the world of metal, though to stop at that would be unfair to the actual album itself. Redeemer of Souls is a solid, at times spectacular piece of classic metal, and should be welcomed as such. Whether the band can pull off tracks like Battle Cry  or the thunderous Halls of Valhalla live is a another matter, but for now this is a work to be cherished and enjoyed for what it is. Which is surprisingly excellent, when all's said and done.