Judas Priest – Redeemer Of Souls
Reviewed by Kevin Hathaway
If I may be allowed to get sentimental for a paragraph, I remember a friend in sophomore or junior year of high school telling me all about heavy metal. He gave me some burned CDs from Iron Maiden and the like, but he always talked about Judas Priest, holding them in high regard and referring to them as the “epitome of metal”. I had to figure out what all the hubbub was about, so when it came time for me to start my own music collection, I went to the Discount Records down the way from my house and picked up three CD’s – Metallica’s self-titled (which did not get a lot of play) and Judas Priest’s Sin After Sin and Unleashed In The East, which I played the mother-loving crap out of. I eventually got most of the rest of the band’s CDs, and also played the mother-loving crap out of them. Judas Priest paved the way to my finding a lot of bands influenced by them: like Primal Fear and Gamma Ray, and the cycle continued to get me to where I am today. I still consider Priest to be one of my favorite bands, not only for sentimental reasons, but because they wrote kickass music. The band’s style has changed a bit over the years from bluesy hard rock to traditional metal to glam to speed metal to…whatever the hell Demolition was. But no matter the style (bar Demolition), Judas Priest always did what they did best: rocking hard and taking names, churning out all-time metal classics such as “Freewheel Burning”, “Victim Of Changes”, “Metal Meltdown”, “Invader”, “Cathedral Spires”, “Blood Red Skies”, the ridiculously underrated “Let Us Prey/Call For The Priest”, and countless others across its impressive four decade career. Six years after the group’s last studio outing, the concept album Nostradamus, and without longtime guitarist K.K Downing (taking his place is young buck Richie Faulkner, who previously helped arrange Christopher Lee’s The Omens Of Death), the metal gods are back with what they promise to be a classic Priest album in Redeemer Of Souls.
Just looking at the track list, it seems pretty clear that Priest is trying to go for a “back-to-the-roots”, bare-bones heavy metal album. Unfortunately, more than a few titles have already been used by other bands. “Crossfire?” Axel Rudi Pell. “Halls Of Valhalla?” Crystal Eyes. “Metalizer” AND “Hell & Back?” Both Sabaton. Look, I know forty years down the line, it’s hard to come up with something that hasn’t been used before, but this almost comes off like the “back-to-the-roots” thing is an excuse to not evolve musically, and to pander to what people want and expect from Priest. Nostradamus, while far from my favorite Priest album, at least still had a bit of artistic integrity and saw the band moving in a different direction with more symphonic elements wrapped around the story of a man who could see the future. It was still pretty metal, without having to rely on tired genre clichés.
But even taking this as a pure throwback Judas Priest album, this is just boring. Stylistically, Redeemer Of Souls is most similar to Ram It Down in that it goes out of its way to show how metal it is, but fails to deliver good metal. It has the musical elements of Priest classics past, but none of their heart, creativity, or passion. Opener “Dragonaut” seems like it was written in the same amount of time as its running length, sporting a lazy and simplistic chorus that doesn’t inspire or excite me at all. “Halls Of Valhalla” is even worse, downright lifting the “Valhalla!” chant from Grave Digger’s song of the same name in its chorus. It also goes on a minute or two longer than it feels like it should, thanks to a weird section two-thirds of the way through the song where Rob Halford just grumbles the word “Valhalla” over and over until he forces and effectively wastes a high note. “March Of The Damned” was one of the first songs previewed online alongside the title track, and I don’t know in what universe those two songs were supposed to get anyone excited for the album, because both were and still are plodding, mid-paced bores.
I guess I should give credit where credit is due, though. Richie Faulkner does an impeccable job at filling in K.K. Downing’s shoes as second lead guitarist. If I hadn’t known someone else took his place on the album, I would have believed Downing was still in the band – because Faulkner’s playing style meshes with Glenn Tipton’s so well. The guitar solos are as good as they’ve ever been, and remain a true highlight of the album. Rob Halford’s vocals may be showing signs of age, but they still remain better than you would expect of a man who is just a few years shy of being able to get the senior citizen discount at the movie theater. However, the songwriting does nothing to complement these two “redeeming” features (hur hur). “Cold Blooded” is another humdrum track with terribly uninspired lyrics (“There is no way/ I have no voice/ I have no say/ I have no choice.” Blegh), as is much of the back half of the album, and even the first half for that matter. Did I mention that there are thirteen tracks of this crap? “Battle Cry” is probably the best track on here, sounding like one of the many USPM bands that Judas Priest have inspired (maybe Omen with a dash of Cirith Ungol – Wait just one cotton-picking minute, Omen has a song called “Battle Cry,” too!), but it’s the second-to-last song on the album! At that point, a good (or at least decent) song on a taxingly boring album like this one is too little, too late. The drumming is also surprisingly lame and simple. Did they bring Dave Holland back for this album or something? This can’t be the work of Scott Travis, the man behind the kit on PAINKILLER, one of the best speed metal albums of all time!
In a year of massive disappointments from the major players of metal, Judas Priest is unfortunately another name to add to the ever-increasing list. This is an album that tries to be a heavy metal throwback, but ends up being something I’d rather throw back into a heavy, metal dumpster. Too many filler songs overshadow the brief flashes of glory contained within Redeemer Of Souls. Hardcore Priest fans will find nothing on this album that they would rather hear than anything on Screaming For Vengeance or Sad Wings Of Destiny, or even Demoli— Well maybe not Demolition, but you get my point. If you absolutely must hear some new Priest, may I direct you to Primal Fear’s Delivering The Black or the new Cage album coming out this summer?
2.25 // 5