To steal a line from the ‘Metal God’ himself, “it’s Friday night in Belfast and the Priest is back!” Well, back on CD at least, and at the volume we were playing it at, Belfast’s ears were stinging from the power of the purist metal sounds imaginable. That’s right, after a few misfires (Redeemer Of Souls was merely OK, Nostradamus was a bloated mess), it’s a pleasure to announce that with Firepower, Judas Priest are back and firmly screaming for vengeance once again!
Kicking off with its full throttle title track, “Firepower” is an instant winner as it becomes quickly apparent that this veteran group of pioneering headbangers are not about to ride off quietly into the sunset. Like the bastard son of “Painkiller”, guitars slash and scythe while bursts of double bass hit you hard in the gut, leaving you feeling like you’ve just been jumped by Mike Tyson on a PCP binge. Next up is “Lightning Strike” and if you were worried that Priest’s infamous arena-friendly choruses had been jettisoned, you can rest easy. These lads can deliver this kind of massive song in their sleep but there’s something more powerful about their delivery this time round, recalling the heady days of British Steel. It will no doubt go down a storm when played live.
Of course, not every song is a winner. The likes of “Spectre” and “Flame Thrower” could be trimmed from the running order and you wouldn’t necessarily miss them but, on the whole, this is the most stripped-back, concise Priest album in decades.
In fact, it’s safe to say that Firepower is the most satisfying Judas Priest album since Angel Of Retribution and quite possibly, since 1990’s Painkiller. From the expected glorious dual guitar harmonies to rousing anthems such as “Rising From The Ruins”, and on to to the more sombre likes of “Traitors Gate”, Judas Priest sound refreshed, revitalised and committed to delivering thrilling heavy metal for as long as people want to hear it.
Above all else, the performances on Firepower are exemplary. Rob Halford delivers his lines with absolute gusto and screams like no 66 year has a right to do so; the man is living legend. Special mention should also go to relative ‘new boy’ Ritchie Faulkner. It’s no lie to say that KK Downing is not missed in the slightest, such is the strength of Faulkner’s partnership with Glenn Tipton. It’s a shame that recent news of Glenn Tipton’s fight with Parkinson’s Disease will not allow this scintillating partnership to flourish live on stage, but we get the sense that Firepower will not be the last Judas Priest album led by Tipton’s endlessly inventive riffs. 8/10