There are so many reasons why this new Judas Priest album shouldn’t work. Guitarist KK Downing retired, not willing to await how much longer the band’s farewell tours were going to take. The band members’ age is starting to take its toll, especially on Rob Halford, whose voice has been deteriorating rapidly over the last few years. The last few albums have shown a band desperately trying to be itself and and mutilating itself with pointless bombast. And yet, ‘Redeemer Of Souls’ works. It is in fact their most spontaneous and traditional sounding album the band has done in a long, long time.
Stylistically, ‘Redeemer Of Souls’ harkens back to how the band sounded around 1980. The era ‘Killing Machine’ to ‘Point Of Entry’, meaning very riff-driven, mainly midtempo material. Those of you who exclusively are fans of the ‘Painkiller’ sound will probably disappointed, but with more than half of Europe’s Power Metal bands trying to sound like that, it’s kind of refreshing that Priest itself reconnects with its even earlier tradition. And while the album could have been trimmed a little somewhere in the middle, most of the songs are really good and the album as a whole is a hell of a lot more consistent than anything that came after ‘Painkiller’.
Familiarity is always lurking throughout the album. However, with a band with a carreer as lengthy – and an audience as conservative – as Judas Priest, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The triplet riffing in the extremely enjoyable title track is strongly reminiscent of the awesome ‘Hell Patrol’, the structure of ‘Hell & Back’ brings to mind ‘Blood Red Skies’ and ‘March Of The Damned’ has a hint of ‘United’ in it, despite being a vastly superior song. In fact, the only song that has anything vaguely fresh in it is ‘Crossfire’, which in its dark Bluesy approach seems to tributize Black Sabbath’s very earliest work.
Highlighting the album is the amazing ‘Down In Flames’. Priest has done these brooding, midtempo stompers before, but hardly ever have they sounded as powerful as this one. The way the song is structured lends a very exciting atmosphere to the song that would fit perfectly in a movie scene where the hero prepares for his final battle. Other highlights include the bombastic epic Doom Metal of ‘Secrets Of The Dead’, the old school Heavy Metal romp ‘Halls Of Valhalla’, which shares its delightfully epic feel with ‘Battle Cry’. The unmistakingly eighties Hard Rock of ‘Cold Blooded’ raised my eyebrows upon first listen, but quickly became one of my favorites as well.
What is most surprising about the album though, is that Rob Halford seems to be aware of his strengths and weaknesses much better than before. ‘Redeemer Of Souls’ focuses on the stronger part of his current voice (his lower bariton) almost exclusively. His raw, growling edge does the rest of the trick. Also, Richie Faulkner deserves nothing but praise for his performance on the album. Replacing someone who was in the band for over four decades may not have been easy, but his past with Deeds has proven his proficiency with both the guitar and traditional Heavy Metal and he definitely gives the performance of a lifetime here.
Is there nothing to complain about then? Well, of course there is. As said before: the album is much too long. Especially when you also have the limited edition with bonus disc. While fans should undoubtedly buy that version, because it contains a few good songs – the melodic Power Metal of ‘Tears Of Blood’ especially – the wonder remains why they didn’t cut some of the weaker songs and replaced them with the better ones on the bonus disc. Another major complaint is the guitar sound. It’s absolutely horrible. It’s over-processed, ultimately making the guitars sound thin and tinny. Also, I don’t get why they wouldn’t put one of the greatest drummers in the world – to which Scott Travis absolutely belongs – more on the foreground.
Altogether, ‘Redeemer Of Souls’ is much better than I expected Judas Priest to deliver in this stage of their carreer. Generally, fans of the band are bound to enjoy this. Only the Speed Metal freaks and those expecting another ‘Sad Wings Of Destiny’ or ‘Stained Class’ may want to take a listen before they buy the album first. I for one can think of many Priest albums considered “classics” that I prefer this one to. ‘British Steel’ for one. If that’s the Priest you liked, you cannot go wrong here.
Recommended tracks: ‘Down In Flames’, ‘Redeemer Of Souls’, ‘Cold Blooded’, ‘Tears Of Blood’