“Sabbath are heavy, but Priest are metal.” – K.K. Downing
Like Iron Maiden before them, Judas Priest pulled off a successful reunion tour before venturing into the studio to record a new album. When the new music finally came, a deluxe package was made available featuring live videos from the reunion tour. In this deluxe-sized review, we’ll take a close look at both the CD and DVD content.
Pure anticipation preceded the arrival of the Angel of Retribution. Two underwhelming albums with Tim “Ripper” Owens on lead vocals caused Judas Priest’s star to diminish in the 90s and 2000s. The return of the Metal God, Rob Halford, meant a reunion of the successful 1990-1991 Painkiller lineup. The new album cover even featured the return of the Painkiller character, now the Angel of Retribution. But a long time had passed. Could Priest hope to live up to the hype, and their legacy?
The answer is mixed. While Angel of Retribution contains enough classic Judas Priest metal to consider it a success, it also has some truly legendary filler, of sub-Ram It Down quality. Instead of running through the album track by track, let’s break it down in terms of song integrity.
Priest wrote a natural sounding album, with elements from virtually all eras of Priest past. They say it came about organically, and it does sound that way. Some of the best material are the songs that sound like variations of classic Priest.
The opening song “Judas Rising” brings it back to 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny with that fade-in opener inspired by “Victim of Changes”. Then it transforms right into the Painkiller era, with something that sounds like a far more intense “Hell Patrol”. Solid 5/5.
The slightly psychedelic first single “Revolution” ranks among the better songs, although perhaps it’s actually most similar to “Little Crazy” by Rob Halford’s Fight. It has flavours of Rocka Rolla and Killing Machine, and is far from what anyone expected Priest to put out for a first single. Dig that slide guitar bit in the solo! Solid 5/5.
“Worth Fighting For” isn’t a ballad; it’s a little harder edged than that. It’s the one song that is unique in the Priest catalogue, and remarkably strong. The riff has a nice chug to it, while Rob ably carries the melody to a higher place. A special song, and a 5/5.
“Demonizer” is Jugulator meets Painkiller, faster than a hellriding devil dog (whatever that is), but “the Painkiller rises again!” So testifies Halford. It’s so ridiculously over the top that it can only be worth a solid 5/5. Likewise the similar “Hellrider” on side two. Both feature double bass so fast that it’s almost a parody of itself, but both rock so hard you’ll break your neck keeping up. “Hellrider” is also notable as the song where Rob Halford inexplicably name drops “Megatron”. Similar songs, both solid 5/5’s.
The ballad “Angel” is a little soft, unexpectedly so on an album with so much heavy metal. Yet, Priest can do anything. The acoustic “Angel” could be the quietest ballad since the early days. “Put sad wings around me now,” sings Rob to the angel, an appropriate callback. As his voice aged it acquired more depth. That helps make “Angel” a respectable 4/5.
“Deal With the Devil” and “Wheels of Fire” fall in a netherworld of pedestrian Priest. These both feel like filler from Point of Entry or Ram it Down. Less explosive, less memorable. The autobiographical “Deal With the Devil” is amusing for its many lyrical callbacks: “Under blood red skies”, “Took on all the world”, references to razor blades. Likewise the short one, “Eulogy“, which is really an intro for another song that we’ll get to. “They remain still as stained class”, “Guarded by the Sentinel”, and so on. 3/5 each.
The worst of all songs is “Loch Ness“, a mess so atrocious that we had to devote an entire entry just to that one song. Combined with its intro “Eulogy”, it’s over 15 minutes of mire that has no reason to exist. Many people simply stop the album after “Hellrider” and leave this foul turd to rot unheard. “Loch Ness” could very well be the worst Judas Priest song of all time. A flaming turd to extinguish all flaming turds. The worst of all putrid, rancid filler songs ever foisted upon the faithful. 0/5.
It’s worth getting a copy of this album with the bonus DVD. For one, there’s a documentary from the Priest Reunited tour. Secondly, there are seven uncut live songs here for you to enjoy, and it’s the only official video release from the Reunited tour. The live footage is something to see, especially if you own the robotic Rising in the East DVD. In that concert, Rob Halford was a stiff mannequin instead of a frontman. Here, he comfortably in charge and engaged. The entire lineup is energized. “Breaking the Law” sees them powered up and working hard.
But how did the seemingly unlikely reunion begin? According to the documentary, the band and Halford met to discuss the forthcoming Metalogy box set. Glenn Tipton states that they decided to reunite later the same day. It was like they’d never been apart. Terribly British, says Rob. “Have a cup of tea, see you later.” Rob does express regret for his actions (reportedly he gave Judas Priest his notice in 1992 by fax), but it seems all was forgiven over time.
Beware which version you buy. This CD/DVD combo set contains the documentary plus the full live songs: “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Hell Bent for Leather”, “Eletric Eye:”, “Diamonds & Rust”, and “Living After Midnight”. The DualDisc version does not; it only includes edited fragments of those tracks. Which is a shame, because the band sounded fantastic and Rob was in full-lunged form. This is probably the best live version of “A Touch of Evil” available, for example. Not everyone likes the acoustic version of “Diamonds & Rust”, but it’s certainly different. The only bonus to DualDisc is that you also get the album in “enhanced stereo”. Avoid that; get this.
Although Angel of Retribution is overall a very strong Judas Priest album, “Loch Ness” is impossible to ignore. It does serious damage to an album that was otherwise an impressive listen. In the included DVD, K.K. Downing says they had to pick and choose from an overabundance of songs. Can you imagine how bad the leftovers are if “Loch Ness” made the album?