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Album Review: Judas Priest – Firepower

With all the debacle surrounding Judas Priest and the recent reveal of Glenn Tipton’s struggles with Parkinson’s disease, it’s worth noting that Firepower is the most confident album they’ve released in a long time. It’s not a greatest hits album masquerading as new material like Redeemer of Souls or even Angel of Retribution, nor is it as overcompensating as Nostradamus or the Ripper-era albums were. There’s obviously still pressure for the band to make a good album, but it’s clear that this is the album that they wanted to make.

As evidenced by the Screaming for Vengeance-style artwork and Tom Allom’s joint producer credit, Firepower has more in common with Judas Priest’s 80s era than its immediate predecessors. Shades of Painkiller and Rob Halford’s solo works can be felt in Scott Travis’s precise drum work, but the more upbeat material has more in common with albums like British Steel or Defenders of the Faith. “Rising from Ruins” goes even further by channeling a tensely somber undercurrent reminiscent of Ram It Down’s “Blood Red Skies.”

A more centralized style focus also allows the band members to stay in top shape. Richie Faulkner feels more thoroughly integrated in the band, working well with Tipton’s established sound and offering a more natural style than Redeemer’s overly processed tone. Halford’s delivery also comes off more balanced as his mid-range bears much of the weight with screams coming in as sparse support. The band may be playing it safe, but it’s a case where it’s best to see them in a more comfortable position rather than trying to do the undoable.

The songwriting is also consistent, despite having a slew of fourteen tracks to choose from. Tracks like “Traitor’s Gate” and the closing “Sea of Red” offer plenty of power metal flavor, and “No Surrender” makes for the album’s best burst of energy. “Never the Heroes” is also noteworthy; the mid-tempo pace has potential for dullness, but the epic flair gives it character while the chorus goes deeper than the other singles. “Lone Wolf” is the closest you’ll get to a clunker with its grungy main riff and its verses’ slowed down “Sad but True” vocal lines, but it’s more out of place than outright bad.

Angel of Retribution remains the best of Judas Priest’s reunion era, but Firepower’s consistent style and grounded musicianship is enough to put it miles ahead of the two albums in between. The lack of exploratory elements does keep it from reaching the heights of the band’s best works, but avoiding the kitchen sink album process also keeps them from repeating past blunders. I hope this is the last we see of Priest considering Tipton’s retirement from touring, but fan satisfaction is pretty much guaranteed here.

Highlights:
“Never the Heroes”
“Rising from Ruins”
“Traitor’s Gate”
“No Surrender”
“Sea of Red”

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