Written by Alex Stojanovic
Evil Never Dies
Never The Heroes
Children Of The Sun
Rising From Ruins
Sea Of Red
Release Date: March 9, 2018 Label: Epic Records
Rob Halford - Vocals Glenn Tipton - Guitars Richie Faulkner - Guitars Ian Hill - Bass Scott Travis - Drums
Instead of getting a thunderclap to start off the album, like it did on Redeemer Of Souls, no time is wasted and nothing is held back this time around, as the opening title track "Firepower" showcases Priest at what is probably their fastest. The track sees the band taking a straightforward thrash approach with searing riffs and blazing drums. Vocally, Rob Halford is sounding simply astonishing. His ability to belt out those signature high notes remains in tact. He's called the "Metal God" for a reason. At the same time, Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner unleash both crushing and melodic riffs, as well as some mesmerizing solos. "Lightning Strike" resembles "Redeemer Of Souls" in a way, mainly because the main riffs in both tracks mirror each other somewhat. They're both triplet-based riffs, and the cadence is pretty similar. This isn't a criticism, it's merely an observation, but "Lightning Strike" is one of the many highlights of the record. I think that "Firepower" and "Lightning Strike" is a better one-two punch to kick off an album than "Dragonaut" and "Redeemer Of Souls" in my opinion, with all due respect to the latter.
Following "Lightning Strike", we head into back-to-back rounds of potent textbook heavy metal with "Evil Never Dies" and "Never The Heroes", with the latter being one of my favourites. The old-school mid-paced chug in "Evil Never Dies" is a riff we've all heard a million times, but it's one of those riffs that has stood the test of time, where it creates a huge hook that consumes the listener and gets heads bobbing and feet tapping in an instant, so it never gets old. The same can be said about the chord-based riffs in "Never The Heroes". The textbook approach is also heard on "No Surrender" with simple, yet potent riffs, coupled with snappy melodic leads, making it one of the catchiest cuts on the record. Ian Hill's bass playing, while simple, helps drive the songs. He and Scott Travis make one of metal's best rhythm sections. The heaviness continues as the tempo ramps up a bit in "Necromancer". This track showcases one of the reasons why Scott Travis is a master when it comes to groove. The transitions the drums make throughout the track from half-time to double-time grooves make the track that much heavier.
As we reach the halfway point of the album with the instrumental "Guardians", we're greeted by some piano, something that hasn't been heard by Priest in quite a while. This little interlude that's slightly over a minute long, creates a visual you would see at the end of a movie where the hero is standing on a cliff, looking out at the sunset on the horizon while the waves crash upon the shore in the ocean below. It builds a sense of melancholy and hope simultaneously. The piece is not entirely piano, as the guitar joins in near the end, creating a soaring harmony that will give any listener goosebumps. With that said, it would've been more fitting if this track was placed at the very end of the album, closing it out. A really short, but beautiful piece indeed. The build-up by the drums at the tail end of "Guardians" leads right into "Rising From Ruins" and we're right back to brass tacks with heavy riffs and melodic vocals in the verses and the chorus. Even the tracks that are slightly slower in tempo like "Children Of The Sun", "Spectre" and "Lone Wolf" contain riffs that are just as heavy as the riffs heard on the more up-tempo tracks like "Flame Thrower" and "Traitors Gate", courtesy of Tipton and Faulkner.
"Sea Of Red" closes out the album as it heads into more ballad territory, beginning with acoustic guitars and slowly building up to a soaring chorus where you can envision the crowd waving their arms as this track is played live. What's amazing is that this is the longest song on the record, clocking in at just under six minutes, but it felt like three and a half. That's when you know the song is a really enjoyable listen. I would certainly put this track up with "Beyond The Realms Of Death" as one of the best Judas Priest ballads. There are 14 songs on this album and it clocks in at just under an hour. Usually, albums with more than 11 songs tend to lose their way in the second half and the listener's interest starts to diminish. However, there isn't a clunker to be found on here, except for a small amount of riffs in select tracks that didn't quite fit, and because of that, the album manages to hold your interest all the way through. Not a lot of albums with 14 songs or more can do that.
All things considered, Firepower is another astounding effort from one of the architects of metal that pays homage to the past, but remains modern at the same time. It always brings me joy to see the legacy bands like Judas Priest still going strong and releasing stellar new music that can sit alongside the classics in their discographies. In terms of quality, this album proudly ranks alongside Sad Wings Of Destiny, British Steel, Screaming For Vengeance, Defenders Of The Faith and Painkiller. Firepower shows that Judas Priest are still defending the faith after over 40 years of blessing the world with metal. The album is an early, but very strong candidate for my pick for album of the year. As a huge fan, I can't wait to get my copy of this album and catch them live.
Highs: Fantastic vocals from Halford, hot production and incredible guitar work from Tipton and Faulkner.
Lows: There's only a small handful of riffs in certain songs that didn't seem to fit.
Final Rating: 9.5/10
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