Judas Priest: Angel of Retribution
By Alun Thomas
Almost as if the last fifteen years never happened and the 'Ripper' Owens era was pure fiction, Judas Priest's reuniting with vocalist Rob Halford has finally taken the final step with the release of 'Angel Of Retribution', Halford's first album with Priest since 1990's 'Painkiller', which judging by the overall sound of 'Angel', may as well have been last week. The speculation as to what direction the new album would take reached fever pitch sometime ago and the release of lead single 'Revolution' a month back suggested Priest weren't afraid to take particles of their late seventies sound and incorporate them with a modern sound. Pundits have been guessing ever since as to what Priest would reappear. The classic late 70's and 80's metal version, or the heavier and more aggressive tone adopted by Priest during 'Painkiller' and continued with (and failed by) 'Ripper' Owens?
The answer is both. With Owens Priest were in a position to experiment and with guitarist Glenn Tipton at the songwriting helm the results, especially on 2001's 'Demolition', were disastrous. The songs meandered between tepid ballads and bludgeoning metal with industrial leanings on occasion. That album bombed deservedly but it's clear Priest haven't dispensed entirely with the softer ballad style as heard with 'Worth Fighting For' a new track, remarkably laid back and mid paced with the emphasis on introspection rather than ten part guitar solos. It works with varying shades of success, as the abundance of vintage Priest heavy metal heroics are offered on a grand scale to make up for it. Opener 'Judas Rising' forces this point home with ferocity, a slice of heavy metal so traditional, so blatantly classic Priest, that it screams 1982 in your face. Having said that much of the 'Painkiller' sound still survives, recalling anthems like 'One Shot At Glory' or 'Between The Hammer And The Anvil'. Simply put it's metal at its purest, lyric wise and in the guitar attack.
'Deal With The Devil' continues the initial assault, faster, with typical lyrics about the all conquering power of heavy metal. It could have been taken from Halford's 'Resurrection' album from 2000, except in Priest's hands it's more powerful. The bridge at the two minute point leaves me in disbelief that in 2005 metal of this nature is still being produced by a band who have been around since the early seventies, such is the musical passges timeless melody. Mind you Priest could do this sleepwalking.. Single 'Revolution' didn't cut it apparently for internet metal frauds, but this is an anthem in the vein of 'United' or 'Taking On The World', those hoary old chestnuts from the 1978 to 1980 period. I never expected Priest to toy with that era ever again, although Halford's screams verge on Robert Plant territory. The now obligatory metal character track soon follows, this years version being 'Demonizer', following the footsteps of 'Exciter', 'The Hellion', 'Jawbreaker', 'Cyberface' etc...Sadly its metal by numbers all the way here. Someone will say it's classic just because the likes haven't been heard in a while, but it's a retread of old imagery and musical themes and somehow less convincing.
'Wheels Of Fire' isn't a Manowar cover, instead a rather basic rocker with little true inspiration except for some handy riffing from Tipton and K.K. Downing, somewhat dispiriting overall. 'Angel' opens with an acoustic lead which tries to recreate 70's Priest atmospherics and does to a degree, seemingly more acceptable than much of what preceeded it. Very stark and nearly a suicide track for troubled youth, a 'Beyond The Realms Of Death' for a new generation. 'Hellrider' is a true 'Painkiller' leftover/regurgitation with the same double bass drum sound and riffing employed, to the point that you're left wondering if you have the right CD in. A certain portion of this track is Maiden like, with the use of synthesized orchestration.
'Eulogy' clocks in at barely three minutes, another ominous acoustic based piece, with dominant piano use, the album becoming predictable in its structure, e.g. heavy track followed by more mellow cut. 'Lochness' at thirteen minutes takes epic to new levels, but never scales any heights in that timeframe, the chorus and the humourous lyrics a minor highlight. The excessive running time allows for an abundance of drawn out guitar solos, but what is sorely needed is something blindingly fast, some raw thrash type metal Priest excel at. There's none to be found however and 'Lochness' qualifies as a derivative cartoon metal party piece.
In many ways this has the feel of a latter day Megadeth album, where the band instead of opting for one cohesive sound throughout tries to appease fans of every Priest era by including songs that fit certain albums. And when you think about it Priest have never done that before despite retaining their trademark sound.. It's disconcerting to hear a 'Painkiller' track followed by a 'Stained Class' sounding song, which suggests Priest were trying too hard to please everyone. Worse still is that after a week of listening to this I have no desire to play it again. Like Saxon's 2004 'Lionheart' it sounded excellent on first listens but dropped off rapidly afterwards, the replay value almost zero. Priest have done it before and better. On the heaviness scale this fails also, 'Jugulator' souding more like Cannibal Corpse musically by comparison.
It may seem like a ludicrous statement to some, but it really is all over. Not just for Priest but nearly any classic metal band. The excitement I expected from 'Angel' never materialised, save for a few choice cuts, and you're better off with an old copy of 'Killing Machine' than this. And I didn't want to say that either. But this mish mash of ideas and often heard riffs lacks the charm of yesteryear. Maiden's 'Dance Of Death' leaves this for dead. Priest might as well become solely a 'greatest hits' live act. That doesn't mean I'd rather hear 'Breaking The Law' than 'Hellrider' live, but in reality I don't care if I ever hear both of them again. And 'Angel Of Retribution' is an album that if you decide to pass it by means you haven't missed anything at all.