Richie Faulkner

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Firepower (2018)

JUDAS PRIEST – Firepower (2018 Sony)

It’s 2018 and the Priest is back.  The excitement for the mighty metal band’s return has been restrained by the knowledge that Glenn Tipton is too ill to tour.  Parkinson’s disease — what a bastard that is.  Co-producer Andy Sneap has stepped up to take over Glenn’s guitar parts on tour.

Meanwhile on album, Glenn’s contributions to Firepower can be heard.  Sneap and classic Priest producer Tom Allom recorded one of the most biting Priest albums to date.  More impressive than the sound they captured are the performances.  Rob Halford in particular is more expressive than he has been in years.

At 14 tracks and almost an hour, Firepower suffers only from too many tracks.  There are a couple that clearly could have been cut and left for B-sides or bonus tracks.  “Flame Thrower” (similar to “Hot For Love” from Turbo), though a cool title, would have been great on a B-side.  On album, I’d rather race ahead to some of the more exciting tracks.

Firepower throws it back to sounds of the past.  Sometimes it’s Painkiller, and sometimes Angel of Retribution.  Rock writer Heavy Metal Overload noticed sonic similarities to Halford’s Resurrection CD.   At other times it’s brand new, because guitarist Richie Faulkner brings new things to the table, such as slide.

There are many highlights among the 14 tracks.  “Evil Never Dies” and “Never the Heroes” both immediately jump out for their melodic mastery.  Rob is sounding better than he has on the last couple, with a few tasty screams to enjoy.  As time goes on, new favourites will replace old.  Perhaps it’ll be “Spectre”, “No Surrender”,  “Children of the Sun”, “Rising From the Ruins” or even “Flame Thrower”!  Another highlight:  mellow album closer “Sea of Red” which bears lyrical similarities to “Blood Red Skies” from 1988’s Ram It Down.  In general, Firepower is about fighting back.

The cover art by Claudio Bergamin is Priest’s new mascot, “Titanicus”.  Silly name aside, this one Priest’s best album cover in decades.  (Mark Wilkinson continues to contribute to the packaging art as well.)  Notice how Bergamin’s lines match up with the style of past Priest albums like Screaming for Vengeance.

It’s hard to imagine a better album this late in their career.  Priest have done it again.  Firepower lives up to its name.

4.5/5 stars

 

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REVIEW: Judas Priest – Battle Cry (2016)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160407JUDAS PRIEST – Battle Cry (2016 Sony)

Woah-ho!  Here comes the Priest with yet another live album!  How many does this make it?  Officially that’s six, not including live discs within deluxe editions, or live DVDs!  Battle Cry is the newest, recorded last year at Wacken (August 1 2015).

Some fans like to moan and complain every time an older band like Priest or Maiden release a live album.  You can see their point, but at the same time, how much longer will Priest be touring?  Don’t you want a live album with all their newest songs?  Priest’s last album, 2014’s Redeemer of Souls, was a triumphant return for the band, who had suffered a major lineup change.  KK Downing was out, and new kid Richie Faulkner was surprisingly able to take his place on the stage, and in the songwriting.  Rather than suffer from this blow, Priest simply kept going full speed ahead.  A live album is compulsory after this much activity.  Three of the new songs are included on the disc, in among a smattering of classics, but nothing from Nostradamus (2008) or Angel of Retribution (2005).  Fear not; you can get some of those songs on the live CD A Touch of Evil.

Here is a handy-dandy chart to show you where these songs originated, not counting intros “Battle Cry” and “The Hellion”.

priest chart

You’ll notice a huge 23 year gap in the music presented.  This isn’t uncommon for rock bands of Priest’s age.  There are so many classics, not to mention new songs to play, but not enough time.  As such, albums from later periods, or “cult” songs, are often overlooked.  The unfortunate effect of this is an unspoken implication that maybe the music between 1990 and 2014 wasn’t very good.  Now granted, Priest did have a lineup change during that period.  From 1997-2004, they were with singer Ripper Owens, and Priest have yet to revisit any of that material.

Proving that nothing has been lost with the departure of Downing, “Dragonaut” opens the show on a fast heavy note.  Faulkner is a perfect fit, acting in unison with Glenn Tipton to produce the same kind of Priest guitarmonies that you’re used to hearing.  “Halls of Valhalla”, another new track, rocks just as hard, but with the complexity of the Priest of yesteryear.  The musical chops of this band often go overlooked, but just listen to them play.  As for Halford?  He ain’t no spring chicken, but his singing style has changed to suit.  Within that framework, the man is a demon.  He can still do things with his voice that few can.  The final new song is “Redeemer of Souls”, a little stiff by comparison but certainly up to snuff.

A few lesser-played songs really spice up the set.   “Devil’s Child” from Screaming For Vengeance is a treat, and “Jawbreaker” from Defenders of the Faith is a nice switch up from “Freewheel Burning”.   Wacken probably would have rioted if songs like “Breaking the Law” and “Metal Gods” were not played, so of course you can count on the hits being represented.  A long guitar solo and instrumental section during “Another Thing Coming” is another surprise.  Halford used to do a long singalong at this point of the show, but that’s been shortened in favour of a pretty damn cool Richie Faulkner guitar solo.   Way to give the spotlight to the new kid — that is really classy.

Because there’s not enough time on a single disc, “Living After Midnight”, the final encore of the show, was axed.  Instead, “Painkiller” ends this CD, certainly an interesting choice for a closer.  This is the only song during which Rob’s voice can’t keep up.  The song is just insane; it always has been, and you can’t fault the guy for not quite getting there.

Battle Cry is yet another in a long string of great live Judas Priest albums.  Shoulda woulda coulda been a double CD.  The only two songs missing from this show are “Turbo Lover” and “Living After Midnight”, but wouldn’t you prefer having them?

3.75/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition – Disc 2)

NEW RELEASE

Part 2 of 2: Yesterday I reviewed disc 1 of Redeemer of Souls.  Today, the bonus disc!

JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition)

Sometimes a bonus CD is made up of obvious castaways.  Other times, such as with the most recent Black Sabbath album, the bonus disc contains some serious gems.  I don’t know why everybody wouldn’t just go and buy the “deluxe” editions to get the bonus CDs, relatively cheap as they are.   For whatever reason, deluxe editions with bonus CDs flood the stores today.  Thankfully, Judas Priest put just as much effort and passion into these five songs as they did the 13 on disc 1 of Redeemer of Souls.

JPROS_0002“Snakebite” inhabits an 80’s-like Priest vibe.  Dare I say it?  This would have sounded at home on Ram It Down, but it’s better than that.  “Tears of Blood” on the other hand reminds me of “The Sentinel”.  This is one of my favourite songs on the whole Redeemer of Souls set.   There’s no reason a song like this shouldn’t be a single.  I don’t know how songs like this are selected for a bonus CD on a deluxe edition.  Granted, disc 1 of Redeemer is topped to the brim in quality.

Still in an 80’s Priest mold, “Creatures” boasts a catchy chorus within a heavy song.  (The title “Creatures” is short for “Creatures of the Night”, so I’m pretty sure they shortened it to avert lawsuits by G. Simmons.)  What is it that has injected this youthful rediscovery of classic Priest melodies and riffs?  Has Richie Faulkner re-ignitied the passion for writing those kinds of songs?

“Bring It On” is quite different from the other songs on Redeemer, but it certainly shares classic metal traits with them.  I could imagine a song like this going over quite well live.  Once again I ask, how does a strong contender like this get sent to the bonus CD?  “Bring It On” is a fist-pumper, pure and simple.  It’s uncomplicated by flourishes or production.

Finally, as if “Beginning of the End” wasn’t a proper album closer, comes “Never Forget”.  This quiet ballad is lyrically a poignant open letter of thanks to the fans:

We’ll play on to the end,
It’s not over, not over my friends,
We are together tonight,
Reunited for all our lives,
And we thank you all for it,
We will never forget.

Truthfully, this song gives me chills.  I think Priest get their point across.

JPROS_0003Before making closing arguments, I just want to briefly talk about the packaging and production.  I’m on record as being a fan of Mark Wilkinson, and his work here is primo.  Drawing on past characters as the Angel, Painkiller, and even Marillion’s Torch, here comes the Redeemer of Souls.  The art looks great on the embossed, metallic-looking outer cover.

Glenn Tipton and Mike Exeter produced Redeemer of Souls, and by and large I think they did a fantastic job of capturing all that is good about Judas Priest.  I find the mix to sound muddy.  Maybe the CD was mixed too loudly, or perhaps I’m just not playing it loud enough.  All I know is that I have a hard time hearing subtleties.

If Redeemer of Souls goes down as the final Judas Priest studio album, let it be known that it is a dignified statement.  The band clearly worked hard on it (not that they didn’t for Nostradamus).  Early feedback from fans is that they are by and large very happy with it.  This was in spite of some uninspiring early song previews.  When you listen to Redeemer of Souls, you will understand that it is not about individual songs so much as about the entire body of songs.  All 13 (or 18) tracks are part of a whole that is best enjoyed whole.

4.75/5 stars

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition – Disc 1)

NEW RELEASE

Part 1 of 2:  Today, the album, tomorrow the bonus CD!

JUDAS PRIEST – Redeemer of Souls (2014 deluxe edition)

Whenever a classic metal band loses a key original member this late in the game, fans would be forgiven for being skeptical.  When KK Downing quit in 2011, the shockwaves could be felt on every metal message board in the world.  KK said, “There were at least 21 reasons why I decided to quit,” and you have to respect the man’s wishes.  It was hard to be optimistic about the future of Judas Priest (if there was to be any), but the band responded by hiring young Richie Faulkner (ex-Lauren Harris) who proceeded to inject a fresh bolt of electricity.

Filling a role on stage is one thing, and Faulkner did that ably (as proven on the band’s live Epitaph blu-ray).  He also brought his own sound to the table.  Creating new music is much harder to do.  Faulkner has a writing credit (with Rob Halford and Glenn Tipton) on every track of Judas Priest’s new album Redeemer of Souls, and the result is possibly Priest’s strongest since Painkiller in 1990.  Those who felt indifferent to 2008’s double Nostradamus CD should find plenty to like here.

JPROS_0007“Dragonaut” opens the album with a track almost reminiscent of  Rob’s solo band Halford.  For me the most important thing about this song is the classic sounding Priest guitar solos.  It’s almost like they said, “Do you doubt us?  Check out the new kid.”  The solo break has a harmony section similar to “Freewheel Burning”, but both shredders (Tipton and Faulkner) have plenty of time to burn.  “Dragonaut” is a good track, but compared with others on the album, it’s just one of many.

The title track is not that dissimilar to Nostradamus, sounding pretty much as latter-day Priest are expected to sound.  Perhaps that’s why it didn’t blow me away when it was first previewed a while ago.  Now that it has had time to grow on me, I consider it a favourite.  It has a chorus, a riff, and a beat you can bang your head to.  What more do you want?  More solos?  OK, no problem.  Sounds like Glenn has that under control!

If you missed the classic sound of Priest of old, then “Halls of Valhalla” may please you, as it sounds as if it could have been written for Painkiller (think “Hell Patrol”).  Faulkner nails the classic Priest vibe, but it’s the riffs here that truly feel classic.  Regardless of past experiments in sound and direction, there are certain guitar parts that simply sound Priest-ish, and Redeemer of Souls is loaded with them.  Halford throws in a couple screams, while Scott Travis and Ian Hill create the patented Judas Priest back beat.  “Halls of Valhalla” is the strongest song thus far.

“Sword of Damocles” is rhythmically different; the band slow it down a bit to let the song stomp.  The chorus here is top-notch, and the track has a lot of light and shade to it.  Even though it’s only five minutes in length, I’m inclined to use the word “epic” to describe it.  Meanwhile “March of the Damned” has a bit of a groove to it, something not always associated with Judas Priest.  The riff has some “Metal Gods” in its DNA, but melodically I’m thinking of Ozzy.  Regardless, it’s a great mid-tempo groover that would be an obvious single.  Then a really nice guitar harmony introduces “Down in Flames”, which is nothing like its intro.  Judas Priest can do heavy music of every type, and “Down in Flames” is Priest doing hard rock.  It’s the heavy side of hard rock, but the catchy chorus leaves no doubt.  Richie and Glenn trade off solos just like KK used to do, and I’m glad Priest have discovered some new chemistry guitar-wise.

At the midway point of the album comes “Hell and Back”.  A ballady intro is merely a fake-out, soon one of those grinding British Steel riffs takes over.  This one doesn’t boast one of the best choruses, but luckily the riffs and groove are entertaining enough.  It definitely sounds like classic Judas Priest in style.  It also has a killer outro.

JPROS_0005“Cold Blooded” might be considered the “power ballad”.  This one took the longest to grow on me, due to a similarity to some of the slower material on the Demolition CD.  I like it more now; the verses and choruses are really strong.  I think there will be a lot of people who pick this song as a favourite.  The solos absolutely smoke.

Priest usually like to lay down one or two breakneck speed metal workouts.  “Metalizer” is one of those fast tracks, like “Painkiller” or “Demonizer”.  This requires a couple Halford screams, and Rob delivers, insomuch as his voice will allow.   Think Rob sucks now?  Let’s hear you scream at age 62!  Then, “Crossfire” also has a classic Priest vibe, but I’ll be damned if the “quiet” guitar lick in the song isn’t eerily similar to “I” by Black Sabbath.  Who sang for Black Sabbath on the last two dates of their Dehumanizer tour?  Rob Halford.

Regal riffing opens “Secrets of the Dead” which is yet another outstanding track.  This one reminds me of “Laid to Rest”, off the first album by Rob Halford’s Fight.  It doesn’t sound like Fight; it sounds like Judas Priest, but there is a clear similarity to the earlier song.  I also hear a little bit of “Night Comes Down”, from Defenders of the Faith.  Then, what better to follow a slow track than something fast and metallic?  “Battle Cry” is pure, classic metal.   There is nothing that sucks about “Battle Cry”; it lays waste to the landscape and features one of Rob’s best vocals on the album.

The land has been scorched.  Nothing remains but the fires and ashes of the past — so “Beginning of the End” is a perfect end to this CD.  It is a slow and mellow epic with texture.  I firmly believe that an album should feel like a journey with a beginning, middle and end.  A song like this feels like an album closer by destiny.

After 13 tracks of timeless heavy metal, it is understandable if you’re exhausted by the sheer power of it all.  It’s over an hour of pretty much non-stop quality metal, so it is hard to believe that there’s yet more!  On the deluxe edition, that is.  Five more to be exact and we’ll be taking a close look at them tomorrow.

As for the basic version of Redeemer of Souls?

4.75/5 stars