Angel of Retribution
ngel of Retribution is the first Judas Priest album to feature their original line-up in nearly 15 years, and accordingly, shouldn't be any good. I mean, Priest is an aging metal band, whose members are damned near all over 50. Bands like this never seem to give a damn, let alone be worth a damn, right? Which makes Judas Priest the exception that proves the rule.
Fortunately, it sounds as if the members of Priest have completely ignored the past 15 years of metal: there's no black metal, nor nu-metal, to be found here. This is the sound of Priest as a well-oiled Harley, all gleaming chrome and an engine that can outrace anything you've got. Around the time of 1986's Turbo, it sounded as if this band would never again ascend to the heights of classics such as Stained Class and British Steel. Unbelievably, they've done so, a full two decades later. Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing can still shred with the best of 'em (check out "Deal With the Devil" for a prime example of what metal guitar solos should sound like), and the rhythm section of Ian Hill and Scott Travis remains one of rock's, not just metal's, finest. Of course, Priest wouldn't be Priest—and haven't been, since 1990—without the inimitable, unmistakable vocals of Rob Halford. Simply put, Halford's voice is metal, and the years have, if anything, enriched his instrument; there's even more character and resonance in his voice than there was back in the '80s, at Priest's peak.
That serves the band well on tracks such as the closing "Lochness," a 10-minute-plus epic that superbly harkens back to their '70s prog-ish roots (cf. "The Green Mandalishi"). Angel of Retribution, in fact, works in essence as a survey of Judas Priest's career, representing them from screeching-tires balls-out metal ("Demonizer") to their hidden strength, quieter balladry (the mostly acoustic "Angel") to epics such as "Lochness." But this is not the sound of a band ready for the mothballs; if the footage of Priest performing on their 2004 reunion tour (on the b-side of the Dualdisc, or on the accompanying DVD, depending on which format you prefer) doesn't convince you, opener "Judas Rising" should do so. From the moment you hear Halford come in with his opening line, "White bolts of lightning," you know that Priest is back, and as good as they've ever been.
Lyrically, this isn't the coming-out party some might have hoped for. Yes, it's the first Judas Priest album with Halford back in the fold since he revealed his homosexuality in the late 1990s, but if this were a heavily gay-themed album, lyrically, it simply wouldn't be a Priest album, but a Halford solo effort. And this is most definitely a Priest album—just look at the song titles: "Demonizer," "Wheels of Fire," "Hellrider," and even the album's title, Angel of Retribution, should tell you all you need to know in that regard. "Revolution" and "Wheels of Fire" are highlights, but there's honestly not a weak track to be found here. This is called showing the kids how it's done—and doing it. The metal gods are back, hallelujah.