Judas Priest: Redeemer of Souls review

You can count on one hand the bands that have not only set the standard, but given birth to and defined the genre of heavy metal as we know it. Featured front and center on that short and sacred list would be the metal gods themselves, Judas Priest. If it wasn’t for bands like them and Black Sabbath, modern metal as we know it would not exist.

The band was founded in Birmingham, UK in 1969 and went through a series of line-up changes before settling on the classic line-up of Rob Halford on vocals, Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing on guitar and Ian Hill on bass in 1973. 2014 marks the 40th Anniversary of their debut album Rocka Rolla in 1974.

It also sees these metal legends releasing their 17th studio album entitled Redeemer Of Souls for longtime label Columbia Records and embarking on yet another tour to support it this summer. It is the band’s first album since their 2008 opus Nostradamus and the very first album not to feature founding guitarist K.K. Downing, who was replaced by Richie Faulkner in 2011.

The band have had their share of ups and downs and have even survived being accused of putting subliminal messages in their music, causing the death of two young men in 1990. That same year a big part of their evolution in sound into a heavier version of themselves began when drummer Scott Travis joined the band. Travis’ turbulent assault of brutal double kick drumming made Painkiller a much heavier album than its classic predecessors.

Fans were shocked when, at the conclusion of the Painkiller tour in 1991, Rob Halford announced that he would be stepping down as lead singer for the band that he had helped bring to metal prominence. Tim “Ripper” Owens stepped in for Halford for over 10 years and did one hell of a job, sparking a firestorm of controversy among diehard fans that would only end when Halford rejoined the band in 2003. This led to the band’s 2005 masterpiece Angel Of Retribution.

When it was first announced in early 2011 that the band would be entering the studio to start working on what would become Redeemer Of Souls, it set off a media frenzy. Ever since then Rob Halford has been hounded by the press for any insight into the new album or details as to when it might be released.

On the subject Halford would only say, “I’m of the opinion and attitude that it will be ready when it’s ready.” Jokingly adding, “If I said anymore, I’d be hung, drawn and quartered.”

For all you starving media whores and rabid fans around the world, who just couldn’t take the anticipation a moment longer, the wait is finally over and the time has come for you to…Redeem Your Soul!

The album comes out strong with a brash display of controlled aggression that picks up musically where Angel Of Retribution left off, known as “Dragonaut.” Meanwhile, title track and lead single “Redeemer Of Souls” is supplemented with flourishes of intoxicating melodic grooves and continues the ferocious forward momentum.

The ear piercing falsetto screams in “Halls Of Valhalla” and “Metalizer” let the listener know that Halford’s powerhouse vocals have aged in time like a fine wine and are actually better now than when he first began while the bare-knuckled rhythms, bellicose riffs and incandescent vocals in tracks like “Sword Of Damocles” and “Secrets Of The Dead” reminisces the epic Nostradamus album.

Elsewhere, “March Of The Damned” is an infectious mid tempo rocker that grows stronger with each listen, elevating the whole affair to another level of greatness and “Down In Flames” is a modern take on the classic Judas Priest blueprint made famous on albums like Hell Bent For Leather and British Steel.

From the rumbling bass line, ruthlessly honed riffs, smoldering dual leads, pummeling double kick and emotionally charged vocals that punctuate “Hell & Back” and “Battle Cry,” that recall the Painkiller album, to the opening notes of  “Cold Blooded,” that will instantly transport you back in time to the band’s glory days of Screaming For Vengeance and Defenders Of The Faith, there is something for every Judas Priest fan to enjoy on Redeemer Of Souls.

At the same time, “Crossfire” is a blues based hard rocker, built around Tony Iommi-sized riffs and Black Sabbath grooves. Whereas the simple yet effective acoustic elegance of closer “Beginning Of The End” flashes back to the brilliance of “Victim Of Changes” from the Sad Wings Of Destiny album.

Here’s the bottom line- If you don’t want your heavy metal soul to burn in the fiery pits of hell…Redeem it before it’s too late. Redeemer of Souls is absolutely essential listening and a very solid 9 out of 10.

-Eric Hunker