When you engage in an activity of reviewing a new album of the band which lies in the undisputed and unbeatable top of your favorites, basically from the moment you’ve first officially declared yourself to be a metal fan, at that point you are in danger of having your personal affection and subjectivity towards them take over the objectivity and realistic view required here. However, this danger does not exist in this case for a very simple reason – there is no need for subjectivity, nor for alleviating and “cleaning” of an average “done deal” because the new album of extraordinary titans and so-called godfathers of heavy metal, Judas Priest, “Firepower” may be everything but an average product of the artist coming to an end of their career – on the contrary, they have seriously decided to prove to us all that the end is not even close.
The extent to which this is commendable is evidenced by the fact that these are performers who have been active for nearly five decades, performers who were once one of the absolute rulers of this music scene and the ideology for which they set standards and today, these same performers, as if they were again at the very beginning of the newly born glory, have barely managed to pack a great abundance of unimaginable energy on one CD or vinyl and continued to broadcast it widely and after that – the pure essence of true, primal heavy metal power, consistency, perseverance and, above all, love.
The line-up playing for the last seven years – Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill, Scott Travis and Richie Faulkner, has recorded the album which clearly, loudly and extremely directly in its own style says to all “metal maniacs”: “Priest is back!”. Although the former album, “Reedemer Of Souls”, was quite well received by the audience and contained enough quality tracks, it has to be said that “something” was simply missing – but exactly this “something”, like a liberated and raging fury, has been engraved in Firepower and made not only an album for itself, but also the entire stage in which the band is currently in, a kind of revival from which new / old metal conquests begin to happen one after another – both of the world arenas and halls and rigid old-school fans and young, fresh blood, and we will not forget a very important item in the form of ratings on the world’s famous top-lists, which turn out to be the most positive and above expectations.
However, just before the start of the world tour, sad news resounded as a thunderbolt – due to the advancing Parkinson’s disease, the guitarist Glenn Tipton had to retire for an indefinite time and leave his role in live performances to a producer of the band who is also now the man in charge in the studio, Andy Sneap. Up to now, Glenn has had a short guest appearance on one of the concerts in the United States, thus it remains that he will appear occasionally in this way, as per his possibilities. So, all fans now can only hope that Mr. Tipton will be on stage at the concert they are attending, but if that does not happen, one should look at the brighter side of the story – Andy gives all he’s got so as to keep Priest’s flame strong – to jump into such shoes i.e. Converse All Star sneakers, to be precise, is not an easy task at all, but as long as the final result is colored by the audience’s smiles around the globe, we can only bow to them and say: “Thank you!”
Before the official release of the album, the song “Lightning Strike” was released and shortly afterwards the video was made for it. You will admit, the name itself indicates a new metal anthem of the band in their rich repertoire, however, this is not just a connotation, but it is truly a new anthem – yes, the one which “cuts” you lengthwise and crosswise from the first to the last tone, causes physical and mentally both pleasant and painful shiver and rapidly creates the need to press repeat indefinitely. At the same time, you turn up the speakers volume to the limit when the floor is shaking underneath you and the heart is pounding in the rhythm of Scott’s attack on drums, alternating and almost perverted guitar playing and Rob’s apparently indestructible vocal which rapturously awaits the lightning strike – there is nothing to wait for, if the lightning is his voice, it strikes without mercy and we all eagerly await for it to do it again. This “again” happened already following the release of the next one, the title track “Firepower”, which left many stunned, asking whether this is by any means a lost pearl from Ram It Down or Painkiller. Still, it is not, the year of production is 2018 and this fiery power which incorporates the decades-long experience of masters of their “craft” and the youthful empowerment which only rock’n’roll can bring, matchlessly slays everything in front of it. Just when you hear the introductory riff, the overdose-’80s-alike melodic solo in the middle, as well as the main one, you will again be cut down by shivers like the sharpest metal knife – no, pleonasm is not accidental. Before the rest of the album saw the light of the day, or more preferably the dark of the night, another video was released on YouTube, shot for the song “The Spectre”. In a different manner than the previous two, with slower and seductive rhythms followed by the same kind of riff, it shows us a side of the band which additionally makes it so big as it is, the side which implies that the good heavy product does not always have to be super fast and thunderous in order to be heavy – with smart arrangement, a song like this will sound “hard and heavy” more than satisfactory and at the same time, it will bring a refreshment on the track list which would threaten to become monotonous if only one flow was followed.
The song which by creation mirrors the story of the previously mentioned, is also the one which was almost expressly included in favorite ones as soon as the contact was made with the rest of the material, and this refers to “Never The Heroes”, which in review presents the entire musical maturity and apparently inexhaustible inspiration that Judas possess for creating the quality. It is wisely placed exactly between two “fireworks”, “Evil Never Dies” and “Necromancer”, which continue to madly induce the primordial in metal fans – going to the concert, putting the leather and studs on oneself as much as possible and headbanging followed by “playing” air guitar and air drums until the last atom of strength is spent and often afterwards as well. The reception cannot be different when we meet here again with the legendary shift of snarling, burning solos rearranging brain cells every time Floyd Rose or Kahler “screams” in Richie’s or Glenn’s hand respectively, with Ian’s subtle bass guitar and Halford’s characteristically high vocal registers which at times sound as if they were announcing a cataclysm, while Travis’s drums, with their destructiveness, further confirm this – the reaction described here is, therefore, seen as a natural trail of things and this “burning” sequence is naturally followed by the next “spark”, “Children Of The Sun “, through which moments of the band’s creativity from the period of the seventies even more noticeably prevail, more than successfully incorporated with the present and new-old attire which they have put on four decades or so later.
It can be freely said that this is followed by a dramatic, epic transition with a song that may identically be characterized as such – “Rising From Ruins”. With the piano-guitar intro which creates its “basis”, “Guardians”, and which magnetically attracts and wins you over immediately and one of the reasons for this is the presence of the piano as the exotic spice, gradually coming to one of the most powerful choruses and almost mythical, unreal solo parts which “seal” this, without exaggeration, a five and a half minute work of art and a kind of ornament on the track list. “Flame Thrower” is a typical product of this machinery, uncompromising and direct, however insufficiently interesting (compared to the other tracks) to keep us focused longer, which is not the case with “Traitors Gate”, a six minute long, impressive song, which also sounds a bit like a lost jewel, not from the last century, but from a return album in the last classical line-up (the early ’90s), Angel Of Retribution from 2005, which at that time made the band come back in a big way – which is definitely justified, because AOR is undoubtedly one of the masterful, purebred heavy achievements of the new epoch of Judas, just as Firepower, therefore, this similarity may not be just a coincidence.
“No Surrender” is the shortest track (if you do not take the intro “Guardians” into account), but in no way does it prevent it from being one of the most striking or even the focus, because as soon as we hear the verses “Chasing a dream as I go higher, Playing it mean, my heart’s on fire, Living my life, ain’t no pretender, Ready to fight with no surrender!“, it is as if, in a moment, the whole essence and ideology of both Firepower and the band itself, set under the skin and filled every pore – no, they are not kidding, the metal struggle is going on until the last breath and surrender is not an option at all – a very inspiring standpoint for those who have just taken instruments in their hands and whose time is yet to come. Moving along this fiery path and being hit with countless sparks along the way, we arrived at its end, where “Lone Wolf” and “Sea Of Red” waited for us. For the second time, we encounter a song, Lone Wolf, which does not leave us under a significant impression and which, apart from some infiltrated influences of more modern sound, has not much to offer, thus it was not necessary, because its omission would have helped to quickly reach something very expected and desirable for adequately cementing this path – a ballad. With acoustic melodies and light rhythms, Sea Of Red introduces us to a culmination both of itself and of the whole album, the culmination which merged already existing and present elements into one and led them to a sophisticated level which symbolized the highest, top point of the album – and that is precisely the point where the band stops and the listeners continue.
We are in the middle of 2018. Over the past twenty years, the music industry has suffered changes in unprecedented proportions and, according to time period and the way of life which have formed, the music itself has become something which is “instant” and not much time and effort are invested into its creation, and songs have been reduced to mass production and are expressly replaced by a new, hit product as soon as the current one expires. Certain performers are able to resist such an approach and treat music according to what it is – art, and in parallel with that process, there is mostly sidelined, marginalized genre, in which there has almost never been a different approach to music, but with respect – this genre is heavy metal and one of its key manifest shapes is precisely – Judas Priest. Firepower symbolizes a new, dangerous weapon in their already rich arsenal, with which they continue their struggle courageously and with heads up high, like truly loyal and tireless metal warriors driven by motto put into a few essential verses a long time ago by their colleagues: “They can’t stop us, Let ’em try, For Heavy Metal we will die!“ It sounds too radical and extreme, it is just music? No, it is a whole life philosophy and style, the fuel we inject into our bodies to function, the boundless and infinite love which is eternally requited to us – and which “purrs” in the warmest way precisely when an album like this is given to it, a personification of heavy metal itself.
Translation from Serbian done by Ivana Ognjanović
- “Firepower” 3:27
- “Lightning Strike” 3:29
- “Evil Never Dies” 4:23
- “Never the Heroes” 4:23
- “Necromancer” 3:33
- “Children of the Sun” 4:00
- “Guardians” (Instrumental) 1:06
- “Rising from Ruins” 5:23
- “Flame Thrower” 4:34
- “Spectre” 4:24
- “Traitors Gate” 5:43
- “No Surrender” 2:54
- “Lone Wolf” 5:09
- “Sea of Red” 5:51