Heavy metal owes a hell of a lot to Judas Priest. If Black Sabbath invented metal, then Priest defined it, by moving it beyond its bluesy origins to tell us how it should look, feel, and sound. But what’s perhaps most impressive is that, despite making such a significant contribution to the scene in the ‘70s and beyond, Priest continue to fire on all cylinders. But, with Black Sabbath calling it a day last year, and many of Priest’s peers disbanding or fading into obscurity, one has to wonder how the Brummie pioneers continue to consistently amaze.
The band’s career is lined with killer metal hits and more than a few stellar albums. Their latest, Firepower, is another of these stellar albums, remarkably showing that despite approaching half a century as a band they’ve lost none of their, ahem, firepower. The vivacious, hard-hitting album is an amazing achievement, forged as guitarist Glenn Tipton, who has been a key cog in the group’s creative nucleus since 1974, struggled through Parkinson’s Disease to continue creating the music he loves.
Meaning no disrespect, most legendary bands who continue to release albums often emerge with good albums, maybe even great ones, but rarely getting more than a “surprisingly, this is good!” from the rock press (see Black Sabbath’s 13, Exodus’ Tempo Of The Damned or Iron Maiden’s Brave New World) – perhaps a result of the music world’s fondness for young artists, who often find themselves associated with terms such as “hungry” or “antagonistic” with “something to prove.” Priest have nothing to prove, and yet, across the board, Firepower has received staggeringly high marks, and it’s not out of a lingering desire to put Priest on a pedestal – the album fully deserves its accolades. Despite their lengthy history, they sound newly invigorated, as if driven by a need to unleash something truly astounding upon the world.
This isn’t hyperbole driven by surprise at its quality – Priest have actually proven their retained potential since Halford rejoined in 2003. Angel Of Retribution was a triumphant return, and the bloated ambition of Nostradamus still intermittently saw them at their best before 2014’s Redeemer Of Souls proved that even losing founding member KK Downing couldn’t put them down. Firepower, however, blows these albums out of the water, falling somewhere just behind 1990’s Painkiller in the album hierarchy. As Priest have often shown, leaving experimentation to one side serves them well, with them instead preferring to focus on honing their songs into flawless examples of metal at its most accessible and most exciting. However, though the songs remain classic Priest, driven by the raw fury of Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton’s twin leads, they don’t revel in the past, boasting a crisp production that sounds almost futuristic in comparison to past efforts.
Despite a metal scene consistently branching off into various eclectic subgenres, Priest are still able to enthral the scene with traditional, old-school heavy metal. Few genres have proved as enduring as heavy metal, and whilst it’s certainly progressed and diversified since its origins, Priest remain at the forefront, continuously proving their relevance. From the pedal-to-the-metal ragers like ‘Evil Never Dies’ and ‘Necromancer’ to the anthemic offerings of ‘Never The Heroes’ and ‘Rising From Ruins’ – even the evocative ballad closer ‘Sea Of Red’ – Firepower is a tour-de-force of heavy fucking metal, and a perfect encapsulation of their career to date. If it turns out to be the last album they manage to create (which, with their ambition and dedication, seems doubtful), it would be a marvellous swansong. Few from their era can say the same of their eighteenth album.
Firepower is out now via Columbia Records.
Words: George Parr