Judas Priest – Redeemer of Souls
More than any other Judas Priest album, Redeemer of Souls feels like it was made for fans that were raised by the band. When it was released a couple of months ago, I found myself shocked at just how much I loved it. After all, there’s so much to criticize about Priest’s latest effort—the bloated track-length, an incredibly flawed mix, the disastrously silly cover-art, and some truly awful soloing from Glenn Tipton—and yet I found myself listening to this record nearly every day on my way home from work, wearing a goofy, dumb smile on my face the entire way.
Around the same time, a movie called Boyhood came out. A chronicle of a young man’s life across the span of 12 years, the film has its fair share of flaws much like Redeemer of Souls. Despite its overboard three-hour running time, one-dimensional characters, and stock melodrama, Boyhood enthralled me. In the end, Boyhood won me over because of the little elements that reminded me of my own childhood. Coming home to watch Dragon Ball Z on TV as a little kid, learning how to ride the utterly ridiculous Waveboard in middle school, and riffing on existential bullshit with my floormates in college: these were all memories that Boyhood subtly sprinkled throughout its reels.
I’ve been a Priest nut for something like eight years now, which comes out to be just a bit under half my lifespan. They are a band that I grew up listening to. British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance were the first CDs I bought with my own money, which I earned from packing boxes for my friend’s dad. Painkiller was there for me during my thrash-or-die phase in high school, and the first months of college saw me taking a Greyhound from Skid Row to Bakersfield to see their Epitaph tour. The anecdotes and memories that I associate with Judas Priest are great and many throughout my young life, and somehow Redeemer of Souls managed to condense those emotions and feelings into an hour-and-change of metal music.
The infectious hard rock of “Down in Flames” transports me to the first time I sang along with “(Take These) Chains,” feeling embarrassed that I could possibly enjoy a metal song so blatantly commercial. In turn, the fiery NWOBHM spirit emanating from “Battle Cry,” “Halls of Valhalla,” and “Tears of Blood” bring me back to my days listening to “Rapid Fire” on repeat. Chugging open strings, Rob Halford’s commanding bark, and razor-sharp dueling guitar solos were enough to blow my young mind as I was dipping my toes into the crazy world of heavy metal music. These full-circle moments remind me why and how I fell in love with Judas Priest in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, Redeemer of Souls isn’t a mere nostalgia trip: “Secrets of the Dead” and “Sword of Damocles” find the band moving in both new and long-thought-abandoned directions -- the former carrying a haunting and eerie menace that they have never before attempted (or at least succeeded at attempting) and the latter letting loose monstrous and devastating blows from Tipton and his young(er) foil, Richie Faulkner. Holy shit, I didn’t think Judas Priest were capable of sounding like this. Similar thoughts crossed my mind the first time I heard Unleashed in the East, my initial exposure to that hallowed, holy era of metal music: ‘70s Priest. Not all the memories are happy and wondrous, though -- the confusion and disappointment of buying Nostradamus returns with the clunky, trying-too-hard speed metal of “Metalizer” and the old-man-pat-on-the-back that is “Hell & Back.”
Still, Redeemer of Souls charges along with genuine energy and aplomb. It’s familiar and fresh at the same time, a reinvigorated yet utterly calculated slab of material that rings true to the Priest canon. Over 30 years ago, a contemporary review for Screaming for Vengeance may have read similarly. In 2014, Redeemer of Souls is an affirmation rather than the reclamation of glory that was Screaming for Vengeance. It owns up to the highs and lows of the Priest catalog, and duly rewards their most diehard fans with some outstanding material.
That's why, more than any other Judas Priest album, Redeemer of Souls feels like it was made for me.