What I’m about to say comes after a long and devoted love affair with Judas Priest: they should have broken up after Painkiller. Don’t agree? Well, let’s review. The Ripper era was reheated rhino shit and as our reward for steadfast loyalty we got the lukewarm Angel of Retribution only to be punished with the double length dumpster fire that was Nostradamus. Still not convinced? Maybe Redeemer of Souls will be the straw that breaks the law. Now, Redeemer isn’t as bad as those other misshapen platters of drek and it has some good moments and a few memorable tunes, but it sure isn’t a return to the salad days where the name Judas Priest commanded near universal respect in the metal lands. Instead this is a tired sounding, pedestrian album with only occasional moments that remind you this is one of the original and most influential metal acts of all time. There’s a lot of mediocre, retread metal here and more than a little lightweight piffle. And let me be clear, I went in with low expectations and it didn’t help. Not. One. Bit.
In the interest of putting the band’s best leather boot forward, things open on a pretty solid note with “Dragonaut,” which isn’t quite vintage Priest, but it’s a decent approximation of the basic Painkiller sound. The song has vim and vigor and Rob Halford sounds good. Things remain enjoyable on the title track, which is a bit like “One Shot at Glory” and has all the basic elements we love in a Priest song. “Halls of Valhalla” is a righteously metal song with some punch and a catchy chorus and I’m sure it will kill live, though it reminds me a lot of Black Sabbath‘s “Valhalla” from their Tony Martin era. Still, Rob sound fiery and stretches his once legendary vocal range a bit, and that’s always great to hear.
“Down in Flames” and “Battle Cry” are both Painkiller-esque songs that work pretty well and have a bit of their old fire and brimstone and “Cold Blooded” has some of the best writing and emotion on the whole album, but it’s a bit too long. After that though, things take a noticeable turn downward.
“March of the Damned” is poppy and annoying like their Turbo / Ram it Down era and it plods along painfully. “Metalizer” is a cartoonish “Nightcrawler” wannabe that tanks totally on cheese factor alone and “Crossfire” is a bluesy rock number that doesn’t really work as a Priest song. “Hell & Back” and “Secrets of the Dead” are languid, lumbering quasi-ballads and “Beginning of the End” is an even more laidback full on ballad, and while Rob provides some emotional and sincere vocals, it’s pretty dull for an album closer and actually reminds me Erasure at times (wipe beverage off monitor now).
Redeemer also suffers from being way too damn long at over an hour, and feels about three or four songs past expiration date. I keep hammering at this point, but if bands would trim the least of their material in favor of shorter, more quality albums, everyone would win. It seems my memo has been relegated to the suggestion bin (read as: trash can).
This is the first Priest album without K.K. Downing on guitar, and that’s a lot like KISS without Gene Simmons and/or Paul Stanley. While Richie Faulkner does a good job filling in, it’s just not the same and feels like something is missing (though in fairness, K.K.’s presence on the past few albums didn’t help a ton). That said, this is one of the most guitar-heavy albums in their catalogue with all sorts of noodling and heroic solo-work scattered about. That’s enjoyable, but about half the songs aren’t up to the standards of the playing therein. Rob’s vocals are the focal point as always, and he sounds solid throughout, though he rarely ventures out of a safe mid-range roar these days. When he does take things a few notes higher, it sounds good, but strained. But who can complain about that after he’s given a lifetime of vocal chord abuse in the service of metal?
Along with Sabbath, Judas Priest shaped what we now know as heavy metal, and given their progenitor status, their legacy deserves better than the run they’ve had since 1997. All good things must come to an end, and it’s time for the mighty Priest to fold up shop, rest upon their steely laurels and do reunion tours sans new material. Anything else is a disservice to their past and their loyal, recently suffering fans. I’ll always love you guys, but it’s time to let the night come down.