Angel Of Retribution
Epic Records, 2005
REVIEW BY: Roland Fratzl
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/31/2005
A quick recap: the legendary Rob Halford fronted Judas Priest from the band's debut album in 1974 until about 1991 or 1992, at which point he left for reasons that are not clear to me at this point. For the rest of the '90s and into the early 21st century he fronted three different projects (Fight, Two, and Halford), while the rest of Judas Priest spent several years in limbo before finding a replacement singer and releasing two studio albums between 1997 and 2001. In 2003 Halford collaborated with his old bandmates on selecting the tracks and writing the liner notes for an extensive Judas Priest box set, which inevitably sparked a reunion of the classic lineup, which was publicly confirmed in 2004, at which point they embarked on a hugely successful appearance on Ozzfest and began writing their first new album together since 1990's seminal Painkiller.
The fruit of their labour is Angel Of Retribution, released in March 2005. Before you even hear a note of the music, you are greeted with darkly gorgeous cover art in the classic Judas Priest style of old, as well as the reassuring return of the band logo that adorned the albums of their peak years. The presentation alone indicates the band has every intention of reclaiming the throne of metal that they possessed for so long in the 1970s and '80s, and believe me, the music backs it up strongly.
Ace axe-men Glen Tipton and K.K. Downing whip out their pointy guitars and come blasting out of the gate on "Judas Rising" with the return of the thunderous roar that fans have been salivating to hear once more for the excruciatingly long gap of the last decade and a half, accompanied by the unmistakable stratospheric vocals of Rob Halford. His presence underscores just how much he was missed on the last two albums, and he sounds right at home.
This album is not about trying to modernize their style by catering to fleeting trends of the present -- it is a celebration and embrace of the classic Judas Priest sound that made them metal superstars in the days before Metallica even released their first album.
That being said, it's important to mention that fans expecting a direct continuation of the relentlessly intense and brutal attack of Painkiller might be disappointed. Make no mistake, Angel Of Retribution has plenty of superbly aggressive songs such as the evil sounding "Demonizer," complete with Scott Travis' double bass drum blasts, Slayer-type riffs, and Rob Halford's amazingly still intact glass-shattering dentist-drill vocals, but the album is one of the most diverse ones they've ever released from a songwriting standpoint.
I suspect that before the recording sessions began, the band members all sat down and meticulously dug through their lengthy back catalogue of albums in order to distill the essence of classic Judas Priest, hence the fact that Angel Of Retribution has a historical, introspective feel to it due to the inclusion of songs that echo various points of their career.
As mentioned before, "Demonizer," along with "Judas Rising" and "Hellrider," are obvious nods to the metalfest of Painkiller. The awesome "Deal With The Devil," which I believe to be one of their best songs ever, is a fist-pumping, headbanging, barnstormer in the catchier vein of British Steel-era Priest. Rife with catchy riffs, great vocals, and extremely melodic and memorable solos, this is Judas Priest in their element, and at their finest. "Wheels Of Fire" is another infectious number perfect for the road, and serves as an appropriate companion piece to their 1984 classic "Freewheel Burning. There's even a sad acoustic ballad with exquisite guitar playing called "Angel," though it's basically a rehash of a song they did in the '80s whose name escapes me at the moment.
The first single, "Revolution," is a valiant attempt at a stadium anthem, but while the song isn't bad, the chorus seems to fall a bit flat. I think it was a very poor choice to be the leadoff song for radio and video play, as it just doesn't really capture the energy of the band and is not an accurate indicator of the overall sound of the album. It sounds like a bit of a compromise to try to lure in a modern audience, on an album that is otherwise very traditional metal.
A curious left turn is to be found in "Worth Fighting For," an excellent mid-tempo song that reminds me a bit of Collective Soul. I know some of you are cringing at the thought of that, but the mighty Priest pull it off with ease, showcasing their ability to write music that's a bit more mature and sophisticated than what we're used to seeing. And how about those beautiful dual guitar harmonies?! I'm a real sucker for that stuff.
The album closer is sure to generate a lot of controversy. "Lochness" sees the band plunge head first into Spinal Tap territory with a 13-minute epic about the infamous monster. Now I'm certainly not going to dispute the fact that we're faced with a mountain of cheese on this track, but I find the music quite interesting. The first minute is an eerie intro that reminds me of Tool, and the rest of the song sounds basically like what you'd get if you tossed Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Giuseppe Verdi into a blender. No doubt a lot of people will point to "Lochness" as the absolute low point for Judas Priest, but I think there are enough things to like about it. At the worst, it could be described as an ambitious failure that's nonetheless something different. They could have replaced it with maybe two or three regular songs, but what would be the point of that?
Angel Of Retribution may not be an instant classic like British Steel, but it comes very close. I would probably place it among the top five Judas Priest albums of all time however, and I think that's an impressive achievement for a band that was away for such a long time. It's great to have the Priest back in such fine form, and I'm sure we'll receive many more quality releases such as Angel Of Retribution from them.