Judas Priest – Firepower
2018, Epic Records
- Lightning Strike
- Evil Never Dies
- Never the Heroes
- Children of the Sun
- Rising from Ruins
- Flame Thrower
- Traitors Gate
- No Surrender
- Lone Wolf
- Sea of Red
Rob Halford – Vocals
Glenn Tipton – Guitar
Richie Faulkner – Guitar
Ian Hill – Bass
Scott Travis – Drums
Producer: Tom Allom & Andy Sneap
Just as Redeemer of Souls ushered in a new era for Judas Priest (out with founding member K.K. Downing/in with then-31 year old Richie Faulkner), Firepower features a few major changes as well. The other half of Judas Priest’s classic twin-guitar attack, Glenn Tipton, has retired from touring due to his battle with Parkinson’s disease. He still plays guitar on this album, and will reportedly continue to perform in studio on any future Priest releases (though how many more of those can there be), but he is done as a full-fledged touring member of the band.
In Tipton’s place on stage, at least for the Firepower tour, is guitarist/producer Andy Sneap. Sneap was previously in the bands Sabbat and Hell, but his work as a producer is quite impressive. He’s produced for a lot of modern metal bands but Andy has also produced albums for Megadeth, Slayer, Overkill, Accept, Testament, Saxon, Annihilator, Kreator, Onslaught, Exodus, and Napalm Death. So it’s not like the guy has come out of nowhere. The metal credentials are there. He even co-produced Firepower, and the rumor online is he did some playing on the album as well.
Firepower has some of the same problems that Redeemer of Souls had — it occasionally drifts into generic power metal territory. Even so, this release seems a bit more focused and slightly heavier than Redeemer of Souls. It definitely doesn’t feature as many filler tracks, but the album runs long at 58 minutes and 14 tracks. “Traitors Gate”, “Children of the Sun”, “Rising from Ruins” and “Lightning Strike” are all mediocre songs. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think most bands need to limit themselves to 10-12 max tracks when releasing albums. Any leftovers should be thrown away, end up as bonus tracks for completists or be given away as free downloads.
Tracks like “Firepower” and “Evil Never Dies” have some pretty heavy moments that may remind me of Painkiller, but neither song fully embodies the punishing sound of that 1990 album. Still, it’s nice to hear bits & pieces that remind me of what is not only Priest’s heaviest album but the one that is my favorite from their catalog.
“Flame Thrower” takes it back even further and seems to be inspired by Hell Bent for Leather / Stained Class era. Obviously the production is beefier and more modern, but when Halford sings “You’re on the run from the stun of the flame throwerrrrrr….”, that’s classic ’70s Priest. “Spectre” is reminiscent to me of something from Angel of Retribution.
Closing the album is “Sea of Red”, which starts off as an acoustic guitar-based ballad but then morphs into having a methodical metal crunch halfway through. I like the idea of the album closing with a slower, more thoughtful moment. The band did the same with “Beginning of the End” on Redeemer of the Souls and “Never Forget”, which closed out that album’s deluxe edition 5 Souls bonus vinyl/CD. It gives you time to pause and consider the entire album and adds dramatic weight to the experience.
The cover art is amazing, but Judas Priest usually has really good cover art. This one especially seems to hearken back to the band’s ’80s heyday and reminds me of Screaming for Vengeance.
The album was the band’s highest charting effort on Billboard, coming in at #5 with 49,000 physical copies sold in its first week. A cool feather in the cap for for Priest, but really serves to highlight just how little you have to sell to score a high ranking on the Billboard charts. People just don’t buy albums like they used to.
Overall, Firepower is a solid addition to the band’s catalog, just as all of their albums have been since Halford rejoined the group 15 years back (well, maybe not Nostradamus). I have to wonder how long the band can and will continue doing this though. Ian Hill is 67 years old, Glenn Tipton is 70 years old with Parkinson’s disease and he has been relegated to being a member of the band in the studio only, K.K. Downing (66 years old) left in 2011, and then Rob Halford is 66 years old.
Highlights: “Evil Never Dies”, “Never the Heroes”, “No Surrender”, “Flame Thrower”, “Spectre”, “Sea of Red”