If Black Sabbath are the grandfathers of heavy metal, then Judas Priest is the father that outdid them in almost every way. If you ask me to show someone what heavy metal is, I won’t hand them a copy of Paranoid or Master of Reality. I’ll instead hand them a copy of Screaming For Vengeance, British Steel, or Painkiller. That’s what Judas Priest means to the heavy metal community. Without them we wouldn’t have a classic look for heavy metal with studs and leather.
Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash might have been the first to use the twin-guitar attack, but Judas Priest was the one that solidified it in the heavy metal sphere. K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton were and still are probably the best twin guitarists for any band. It was set to be the 50th anniversary celebration for Judas Priest this year. To make up for those shows being postponed, it’s high time for Judas Priest-A-Thon. The brother to the album by album reviews, Iron Maiden-A-Thon and the cousin to our series of Rush album reviews. You’re going to be getting a Judas Priest album review, every business day, until we’re all through.
Judas Priest saw what was happening in the sphere of heavy metal. The Ripper Owens era of the band was necessary, but it’s time had ran out. Fans wanted Rob Halford back. Iron Maiden similarly reunited with their long-time singer, Bruce Dickinson a couple years before. That reunion was met with massive crowds, album sales, and fans coming back to the band. The last Judas Priest album Demolition was not met well. Let’s find out how their first reunion album did, with Angel of Retribution.
Background on Angel of Retribution
Rob Halford was back in the band in July 2003. They wasted no time getting back into the swing of things with a European tour and a Co-headlining slot on Ozzfest 2004. These tours were all-nostalgia based, but they had some substance also. The band was given rave reviews for these shows. The Priest was back, and now people wanted a new album. The band returned to their roots in the UK to record the newest Judas Priest album. Recorded in Old Smithy, Worcestershire, England and mixed in Sound City, California, from October to December of 2004, the band laid down tracks for Angel Of Retribution.
Initially set to be released in late 2004, the band delayed the release until 2005. It paid off in sales, and the album was released worldwide on March 1st, 2005. Immediately the album reinvigorated the Judas Priest fanbase. The album was a smash success, selling millions of copies, going to Number 13 in the US charts, and charting well in other parts of the world. Famed guitarist and producer Roy Z was the head of production on this one. He even co-wrote the track “Deal With The Devil”.
Rob Halford and the rest of the band were energized by this release. He had this to say about it.
That decade that we were out of each other’s company just seems to have vanished in smoke. When we got together to begin writing the new material for ‘Angel of Retribution’, it was really a continuation of where we would have been had we made the next record after ‘Painkiller’. All the pieces were already in place.Rob Halford
More Background On Angel of Retribution
Angel Of Retribution has been well represented on concert setlists for the band. They’ve played six of the ten songs in live concerts. With songs like “Judas Rising” and “Angel” making it to setlists as late as 2019. Many of the tracks reference previous moments in the Judas Priest calendar. If you’re looking for a nostalgia trip with a new coat of paint, Angel Of Retribution is for you. Let’s find out what the music is like.
1. Judas Rising
Following up on Demolition, Judas Priest needed to knock the opening track out of the park. “Judas Rising” might be the most metaphoric and on the nose song in their catalog. It’s Judas Priest rising from the ashes, like the Angel on the cover. A hellion scream from Rob Halford leads into the main riff of the song, and you’re back with the band you love so much.
The band is back and they’re not taking any prisoners. That’s the message of this track. “Judas Rising” has lived on in a couple of their setlists after, and it’s a perfect song to start off their comeback voyage.
2. Deal With The Devil
Another track about the band’s rise to fame and the rise of heavy metal. Comparing the popularity of heavy metal to a deal with the devil himself, the track has a couple of nods to Judas Priest songs of old. It mentions “blood red skies”,”took on the whole world”, and “for a time we leave the world behind to be with our own kind”; those being tracks off Ram It Down, Hell Bent For Leather/Killing Machine, and Stained Class. It’s a self-reflective song that brings the fan closer together with the band. They know who brought them that success, and it wasn’t the devil, it’s all the heavy metal maniacs in the world that love Judas Priest.
Judas Priest went WAY BACK for “Revolution”. Despite sounding like a song from 2005 in it’s production, this song could have been on any of the Priest’s 70’s albums. The chorus and the opening guitar riff all scream 70’s style Priest to me. In the perfect blend of old and new, you get a new Judas Priest song that caters back all the way to those old tracks of your youth. But it’s not just in a nostalgia filled way, it’s seamlessly blending the two eras. It really is a revolution and shining moment for the band to have Rob Halford back as the lead singer. For fans that were disappointed by the sound of previous albums, this is a breath of fresh air.
4. Worth Fighting For
If you had “Judas Priest writes a sequel/prequel to ‘Desert Plains’ on their 2005 album” on your bingo card, you win. “Worth Fighting For” is about the desert, the American southwest, and finding that long lost love somewhere out there. Judas Priest writing a sort of country-ballad-rock song wasn’t on my radar, but it’s fantastic. From the imagery of the song, to the driving pace, it’s very much a classically inspired Priest song. This could have fit on any of those 80’s albums perfectly.
Another callback to the Painkiller album, “Demonizer” tells the aftermath of the story of the Angel of Retribution. Another reference comes to the Hellion from the Screaming For Vengeance album cover. Very much like a Marvel movie or something, the Judas Priest extended universe is getting a workout here. “Demonizer” is pretty similar to what I feel like Rob Halford would have sounded like on the two Ripper Owens albums. A lighter tone, and more descriptive lyrics help this one rise above those albums. Rob Halford reminds us all of the power of his voice at the end of this track as well.
6. Wheels Of Fire
“Wheels Of Fire” keeps up the tempo and callbacks with a track similar to “Hell Bent For Leather”. In addition to that, it sounds like a nod to Saxon’s classic song, “Wheels Of Steel”. It’s about going fast, keeping that speed, and not giving a crap what anyone else says about it. It’s like an older more grizzled biker looking back on their time. They still love the speed, and they still love the open road. No one’s gonna change that. Great song.
Now for what could be the best ballad that Judas Preist has ever written, and it’s a goddamn doozy. “Angel” runs the gamut of religion, friendship, loss, grief, sin, and anything else you can think of. When you lose everything and all hope, there’s always that Angel to look to. Judas Priest could be seen as that Angel for some fans. They were gone or apart while Rob Halford was gone, and now they’re whole again. You can interpret it in any way you want. It calls back all the way to Sad Wings Of Destiny and the angel on that cover. It’s a calming and soothing song that is sure to embolden and empower anyone.
My pick for best song on the album. “Hellrider” could fit right on Painkiller, and I wouldn’t know the difference. It’s a song about another fictional destroyer, or depending on who you ask, Transformers. Yes, it mentions the word “Megatron”, and the “gods of steel”. Now I wouldn’t put it past them to just slip in some mentions like that, I’m going to say it’s about another badass character for the Priest pantheon. As a sequel to the overall story of the Painkiller, it also works. The song tells about the return of that character and how they begrudgingly save humanity from evil again.
It’s about as metal of a subject matter as you can get. Judas Priest knocks this one out of the park, and I just wish it would make some of their setlists now. It was only played on the Retribution Tour and didn’t make it out of that. That’s too bad, because this song is fantastic.
Another song that borrows from that 70’s Priest sound, this could fit right in on Sin After Sin, Sad Wings of Destiny, or Stained Class. It’s the first time since those albums that Glenn Tipton has played the piano on a track. “Eulogy” feels like a goodbye from the band, and it could have closed the album, in my opinion. Telling the story of Judas Priest as a whole, it’s a haunting and beautiful look at the band and their history. Sure, it keeps up the callbacks to previous material with it’s lyrics, but musically, it’s a standout track. Even if it’s not one that will make you raise your fist or headbang along.
I sure wasn’t expecting Judas Priest to drop their longest track in it’s history on this album. I also wasn’t really expecting a thirteen minute long epic about the Lochness Monster. Are we sure this isn’t Iron Maiden? “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” and this song could be best buddies. At the time of release, this track was maligned by a lot of people. They said that it was too long, too plodding, and ruined the whole album.
First off, get your ears checked. Second, if one song, (or for those people who aren’t fans of Turbo, Jugulator, Demolition, or Ram It Down, one album) ruins something for you, you shouldn’t enjoy any of it. This song is epic (the most overused word in human existence, but a thirteen minute song about the Lochness Monster fits the definition).
The song takes some twists and turns, but musically, it will captivate you. I didn’t give this a track a chance until a couple years ago, but I was extraordinarily happy that I did. It changes the dynamic of the album for me. “Lochness” is one of the finest songs in the Judas Priest catalog, and for good reason. It’s not an experience you get from any other Priest song.
Analysis Of Angel Of Retribution
Angel of Retribution could have been a hastily thrown together nostalgia reunion album. It very much is based in nostalgia, but the music is amazing. The songs callback to various times in the history of Judas Priest, all the while updating those classic references and sounds for a new generation of Judas Priest fans. It’s an album that should satisfy the old and new fan of Judas Priest. If you’re one of the blowhards that hated Turbo and felt like they betrayed your trust, this album is for you. If you’re someone who (stupidly) only thinks 70’s Priest is the best Priest, this album is for you. Anyone else that loves Judas Priest, this album is for you.
I can’t say a bad word about this album, and it’s impact. I highly doubt that Judas Priest would have had as much success in the 21st century without this album. Bands like KISS, and others reunited, and didn’t make much of it. Judas Priest took a page out of the Iron Maiden book and made a comeback album that was much more about the music of now, and the themes of old. If there’s one thing you can find wrong with the album it’s that it draws too much from the themes of old, and listening to it now, almost every song has a classic Priest reference.
So yes, I can see how that would grate on certain people, for me, it didn’t get on my nerves at all. Judas Priest went out and made the best album they could, and they made an album that Judas Priest fans needed at the time. Coming off two disappointments critically and commercially, Angel of Retribution was a blinding light in the dark.
Score And Aftermath Of Angel of Retribution
The album gets a perfect 10/10 from me. If you don’t like it, kiss my ass. The album was a return to form. It proved that Judas Priest had way more in the tank than anyone could have hoped. Angel Of Retribution was given a myriad of awards and accolades from the press during it’s time in the sun. Judas Priest was in the first class of the VH1 Rock Honors. A sort of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for actual rock artists, Judas Priest was included in a class with KISS, Queen, and Def Leppard. Their performance that night was a classic look for the mainstream audience to see the band in action.
That performance catapulted the band into the national spotlight and showed that the Priest was back, and was here to stay. Judas Priest wasn’t done experimenting with themes and songs like “Lochness” show this. The band wasn’t just a one trick three to four minute pony. Their next album would stretch their musical chops to the limit. Judas Priest had never done a concept album before, so the topic of their 2008 album would be none other than the philosopher and clairvoyant, Nostradamus. You’ll have to check back tomorrow for more on Nostradamus, but it’s one of the most interesting albums in the Judas Priest catalog.
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All images and audio are courtesy of Judas Priest.