Release Date: Jul 8, 2014
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Heavy Metal
When Judas Priest announced the Epitaph Tour in 2011, it was billed as a farewell, a final chance for the band and the fans to don the leather and raise their fists together. It proved to be a goodbye of sorts, but only to guitarist K.K. Downing. After 42 years with the band, he retired before the tour began.
From the very opening of "Dragonaut," it's hard to hear Redeemer of Souls as anything less than a triumphant celebration. It can be stated without hyperbole that Judas Priest occupy a peerless position of influence and reverence in the metal genre, with a rock-solid and immediately identifiable aesthetic that has now thrived for 17 studio albums and 40 years. However, only a few years ago, it seemed that the deeply beloved band might be teetering at the edge of its own twilight; after the release of Nostradamus in 2008 and the subsequent departure and retirement of founding guitar player K.
Whether Judas Priest were consciously aware their next album might be their last and wanted to go out with the power of a firework display, or whether they were trying to redeem themselves in the eyes of the many fans dismayed by their 2008 double-disc rock opera 'Nostradamus' is unclear. What’s apparent is that 'Redeemer of Souls' is a bolt from the blue, a chugging, crunchy album filled with anthems, stormers, and radio rockers that conjures various elements from the band’s vast catalog into retrospective songs that buzz with urgency. .
The reformed Black Sabbath have soldiered on through cancer, line-up changes, flirtations with narcotic old ways and Ozzy Osbourne being Ozzy Osbourne. Iron Maiden's simian motormouth of a frontman Bruce Dickinson is determined to stir up controversy, even having a go at the subject of this review most recently. But the third reason why England is the greatest country ever for heavy metal – Judas Priest – have, in recent years at least, carried themselves with more of a quiet, reserved dignity.
"Welcome to my world of steel" sneers Rob Halford on the punchy, surprisingly spartan "Dragonaut," the opening salvo of the venerable New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends' 17th studio long-player, and their first outing without founding guitarist K.K. Downing, who left the group in 2011. The antithesis to 2008's overblown Nostradamus, Redeemer of Souls feels quaint in comparison, eschewing the largely fantasy-driven conceptual style of the ambitious, yet undeniably cumbersome, two-disc set in favor of a more refined, classic rock approach that edges closer to the group's late-'70s offerings like Sin After Sin and Stained Class.
Judas Priest have been looking for redemption since their 2008 concept album, Nostradamus, fell flat with fans. Their follow-up goes back to guitar-bludgeoning basics on songs that explore vengeance, virility and Valhalla – classic metal themes that might feel tired if it wasn't for the fact that Priest are one of the bands that helped pioneer the pummeling genre in the first place. Frontman Rob Halford's operatic howls soar on "Battle Cry," and the group's guitarists bring drama to the galloping title track and the relentless "Metalizer." Above all, Redeemer is proof that Priest can still call themselves metal's defenders of the faith.
Guardians of the British metal spirit for four decades, Judas Priest have behaved a little erratically in recent times. After 2008's great but goofy concept album, Nostradamus, a farewell tour that was anything but, their appearance on American Idol and, most shockingly, losing original guitarist KK Downing, the band that once most truly defined heavy metal seemed to be losing the plot. Mercifully, Redeemer of Souls is a return to thunderous and unrelenting anthems delivered with all the subtlety of an axe to the skull.