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.
“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.
“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?