I think for most Judas Priest fans, 2005’s Angel of Retribution was the band’s long-awaited return to form, and sonically speaking it’s hard to argue. But how much of that was just pure relief and joy that Rob Halford was back and Mark Wahlberg was finally gone? It also seems, for most Judas Priest fans, some of that joy and relief faded with 2008’s 17-hour concept abortion Nostradamus. However, it’s possible that album was beneficial in clearing out all the cobwebs, because with Redeemer of Souls, the group has truly tapped into the power and the glory of their late-’70s to mid-’80s dominance in a way I’d have never thought possible. Few bands make it to album #17, let alone discover the fountain of youth on it. Even without founding guitarist K.K. Downing, Redeemer sizzles with nostalgic passion and that ultra-memorable, arena-ready, anthemic songwriting capable of hooking even the most hardened of Metalhead hearts. It all starts with the production. This album is intentionally old-sounding, and while I’m sure a few people will bitch about that, keep in mind those same fucks would also be whining if the band had gone all super-slick Pro-Tools deluxe on us instead. I love the production. I think it only adds to the LP’s irresistible time-capsule appeal. Of course, a vintage sound would only be wasted without vintage riffs, vintage solos, vintage hooks, and vintage choruses by vintage Halford, and Redeemer has all that in spades. “Dragonaught” rings the bell with a riff that’d fit right in on British Steel, while the title track screams for vengeance, “Down in Flames” defends the faith, and “Hell & Back” shows a lot of stained class. Songs like “Halls of Valhalla,” “Sword of Damocles,” “Secrets of the Dead,” and “Battle Cry” do lean more toward modern Priest, but just about all of them have a solid chorus, and I believe the term “modern Priest” still has to encompass Painkiller somewhat. But “March of the Damed” is easily my favorite. Just an instant classic that feels like every era of Priest rolled into one sleazy Metallic stomp. Then there’s a song like “Crossfire” which echoes Priest’s pre-Metal Rocka Rolla days, when the young outfit’s shade was much closer to Purple than Black. Then you have the ballad, “Cold Blooded,” which could hold its own with any JP ballad from the old days. Seriously, all that’s missing is the Fleetwood Mac and Joan Baez covers. My only beef comes in lyrical form on the emotive (standard edition) closer “Beginning of the End” — “And so we’ll rise / By the grace of God / His words are carved in stone.” Forget about “Better by You, Better Than Me,” it’s these lyrics that make me want to blow my brains out. Maybe it’s a typo and Halford meant “Bi,” and maybe “God” is some kind of new slang for “hard cock.” All I know is I’ve got no problem with dudes fucking dudes, but Christianity is totally gay. What’s worse is that aside from this obscene and unnatural verse, the song is actually quite touching. Can’t we leave something in the closet for decency’s sake?
In summary, I’m no Judas Priest expert. Truth is, I didn’t even give them a chance until my mid-20s. But I know good music when I hear it, and when Priest songs are good they’re incredibly good. The songs on Redeemer of Souls are incredibly good, too. An impulse grocery store purchase that turned out far more rewarding than expected. I’ll even go out on a limb and say this will be the best Metal album of the year to feature a homosexual Christian vocalist.
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