British heavy metal band Judas Priest has been banging it out for 48 years and now have released their 18th album Firepower to their innovative and creative body of work. Here at Guitars Exchange we would like to explore this new effort and point out the pros and cons of these old pros who codified heavy metal so long ago.
The band has had numerous personnel changes over the years, but the current line-up is led by the same frontman and voice which is Rob Halford, Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton guitars, drummer Scott Travis, and bassman Ian Hill. Their style grows out of their roots in heavy metal, even heavy blues/rock such as on their first record Rocka Rolla in ‘74, and on to what was considered progressive metal which had more sophisticated guitar work and stylish lyrics. (Sad Wings of Destiny, ‘76, and Stained Glass, ‘78). Soon after they started developing signature ‘heavy’ sounds such as the double bass drum, or ‘double kick’ coupled with quick 16th bass and guitar rhythms, ultimately forging the genre, as did Black Sabbath, Venom and Motörhead.
So this release, produced by the masterful duo who had worked on previous wonders, Tom Allom and Mike Exeter, have certainly provided the ‘firepower’ to this sharp, hard-hitting production. The creative hunt is still in the band on this album, without losing their crafted licks and riffs, a tight rhythm section, and Halford’s voice, (although in a lower gear), make this record, and legendary “Metal Gods” Judas Priest still part of the modern metal horizon.
The record blasts open, true to its title, with quick riffs on Faulkner’s Epiphone Flying V, over Travis’ double-kick on drums and a galloping beat that could be construed as a cops and robbers police chase scene in a film. A hell-of-a-ride mind you, where the cops “Aim for the target, with lasers and lights, releasing the trigger puts victory in sight”, seems to imply they got their man. On tracks such as Lightning Strikes and Traitors Gate, the hard-pounding rhythm behind the choppy, powerful guitar riffs get what they want, a hook to reel you into their devilish lyrics, “You're sowing the seeds of a nightmare from hell, Your prayers and your demons are tolling the bell”. The record has a thick bass and drum foundation, in keeping with the modern metal ideas, as in Evil Never Dies, where the earth moving opening is as thick as mud, yet clean, crisp and pure (as) metal. And for a singer such as Halford, who could ‘crack glass’ and ‘set off fire alarms’ in the early days, even when dropped a couple of bars lower, still manages to move mountains.
The album houses 14 tracks, which is heavy in itself, so some tracks need no introduction, but we will introduce them anyway because that’s just the way we roll: Children of the Sun and Necromancer offer well-worn formulas that may have been pretty in the past but seem out of date here. Some other generic fillers are Lone Wolf and Flamethrower, but got top dollar in sound production. Nonetheless, the commitment they put into each spiralling solo, thundering beat and rhythm is testimony to true icons of the metal and music world that they were. Firepower shows they can still hit hard, “forged by evil to compel”, and appeal to modern metal fans, even though the band’s obsession with the occult is somewhat dated, yet the album is not a self-parody, they lean into this like they’re on to something, and the fact is, they are, and always have been.
Recently, they were saddened by the news that Glenn Tipton was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and most likely will end his touring days, but the band is optimistic he will play again, he surely wants to join the boys again with his Hamer Phantom GT, one of his several Gibson models or his ESP GT-600 Signature. His last performance on stage was in New Jersey last month to play Metal Gods, Breaking the Law, and Living After Midnight. Recruited for the tour was whizkid Andy Sneap, who wields an impressive axe and produces as well.
Firepower is another solid example of Judas Priest’s metal pedigree as pioneers, innovators and testimony to ‘Metal Gods’ staying power.