It’s looking more and more like “Firepower” will be Judas Priest’s final release, with the recent news that guitarist and songwriter Glenn Tipton suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. Rock ‘n Roll may never die, but rock ‘n rollers surely get old. In that light, “Firepower” comes with what might be unrealistic expectations: to bring closure to a brilliant recording career spanning 44 years, one that helped define many of the stylistic elements of heavy metal we take for granted.
The first two tracks, “Firepower” and “Lightning Strike” certainly live up to those expectations: it’s classic Priest with a modern twist, and singer Rob Halford is in fine form, although he’s not going for the ear-piercing high notes anymore. The album never reaches the same level again, but the material is still for the most part excellent. The songs, written by Halford, Tipton and Richie Faulkner, bring in stylistic callbacks to various moments of their career. “Evil Never Dies” and “Never the Heroes” borrow from 80’s hard rock a bit, to good effect, and it’s great to hear the band move away a bit from the “Painkiller” recipe at times, no matter how good that recipe is.
The lyrics are firmly in that vein though, conjuring images of evil doers and metal titans battling for eternity. At times, Judas Priest tries too hard to be “metal”, especially since they don’t need to force it. “Flamethrower”, for example, piles on the cheese to a cringe worthy level (“You’re on the run from the stun of the flamethrower”) and one wonders if maybe they’re running out of contraptions to turn into weapons of heavy metal destruction. But coming from a band who once wrote a song about a meat grinder, maybe it’s not that bad after all.
The twin guitar riffing is as good as you’d expect, and solos by Faulkner and Tipton feature that classic dual guitar dialog that many bands have copied, but few have done as well as Judas Priest. The return of producer Tom Allom, who produced their classic albums “British Steel”, “Screaming For Vengeance”, “Defenders of the Faith” and “Turbo” certainly helped the band recapture some of the magic of yesteryear. Co-Producer Andy Sneap brings in a modern metal touch, and his contributions to the band will continue on the road, as he’s been pegged to replace Tipton on their upcoming tour.
“Firepower” stands as the Judas Priest’s best record in a long time, and can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best moments in their discography. If this is the last bow for them, they can retire as the heavy metal giants they are. Crank it up loud and bang your head.
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