Judas Priest-A-Thon: Nostradamus Review

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Nostradamus

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.

Angel Of Retribution was a return to form, for the goddamn ages. It reaffirmed that Judas Priest were still at the top of their game. It wasn’t just a thrown together, slap-dash, comeback album. The album had substance, fury, and it flat-out kicked ass. On the ass-kickery scale of Wes Anderson movie to John McClane, it was definitely a John McClane. Their next album would begin to take shape in 2005. Priest were dropping hints about it possibly being about the famed seer, Nostradamus. Well it was, and Nostradamus was born.

Background On Nostradamus

Nostradamus started off as an idea from the band’s manager, Bill Curbishley. Now he’s also not just some chump in the music world. He’s managed Judas Priest, The Who, Jimmy Page, and Robert Plant. That was when the band was on tour in 2005, so the idea kicked around a bit. Judas Priest ran with the idea about a concept album based upon the life and times of the controversial seer. Up to this point, Judas Priest had never done a concept album. You can say that Painkiller sort of tells a story, or that Angel of Retribution tells stories that continue previous Priest songs. But really, the band has never done an album with a coherent story based around one theme. So to do it, this late in their career, was a bit of a surprise.

To not only do it this late in their career, but to do it about Nostradamus, was even more of a surprise. Iron Maiden has Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, which is based around a myth, so I guess Judas Priest wanted to get in on that action. The album was recorded and mixed from 2006-2007 at The Old Smithy Studio in Kempsey, Worcester, UK. Musically, the album features elements that hadn’t been on any Judas Priest album before or since it’s release. Elements like symphonic orchestrations, keyboards, or choirs.

It’s very much it’s own brand of Judas Priest. The band went on the Metal Masters Tour in the United States in support of the album. They also underwent the Nostradamus World Tour in support of the album. Despite being a World Tour to support the album, only two songs were played from the record on this tour, and they weren’t even played at all the dates.

Grand Plans For Nostradamus

The band originally had grand plans for a tour, and other theatrical elements for the album. Those plans would never meet fruition. The album sold well in it’s initial release, debuting at Number 11 on the US charts. The highest place for the band at that time. It was met with lukewarm reception from fans at the time. Rob Halford had this to say about the album before it’s release.

Nostradamus is all about metal, isn’t he? He was an alchemist as well as a seer – a person of extraordinary talent. He had an amazing life that was full of trial and tribulation and joy and sorrow. He’s a very human character and a world-famous individual. You can take his name and translate it into any language and everybody knows about him, and that’s important because we’re dealing with a worldwide audience.

From Blabbermouth

Halford continued with this about the album.

It’s going to have a lot of depth. There’ll be a lot of symphonic elements. We might orchestrate it, without it being overblown. There may be a massive choir at parts and keyboards will be featured more prominently, whereas they’ve always been in the background before.

From Blabbermouth

Does the album meet that grand description by The Metal God? Let’s find out.

1. Dawn of Creation/Prophecy

This was one of the only tracks to make it into live setlists when Judas Priest supported the album. It’s also the only track to make it past that first world tour. “Dawn of Creation” is a good instrumental opening for the album that sets the tone for the rest of what you’re going to get. This was the first Judas Priest song I ever heard live. I didn’t know what I was in for. I knew about “Breaking The Law” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin”. Seeing Rob Halford come out draped in a cloak singing the opening notes of this song was a moment that I will never forget.

As for the song “Prophecy”, it’s probably the best and most accessible song on this album. Judas Priest fans old and young will probably agree that this song is the one that they’d most like to hear from it. Nowadays, you don’t get the “Dawn Of Creation” start to it, it’s just the electronic beginning, into that savage guitar riff. To me, this goes along with any of the other classic Priest songs. The whole thing makes you want to bang your head up until the blasting finale.

2. Awakening/Revelations

“Prophecy” blends into the acoustic, softer sounds of “Awakening”. Our narrator, Nostradamus, doesn’t know what comes next, I guess his visions of the future come later. Or he doesn’t know how to deal with the visions from “Prophecy”. I’m going to count these short sections before the more meaty songs along, so the numbered tracklist might look a little different. This one blends in with “Revelations”.

“Revelations” isn’t about the same subject as the classic Iron Maiden song. This one tells about how Nostradamus became obsessed with his visions. He wanted the whole world to know what he was seeing in the future. Overall, it’s another solid song that continues the story set forth. It has some great riffs and blistering solos. Having not listened to this album in a long time, this one was a pleasant surprise for me.

3. The Four Horsemen/War

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse form the next section of the album. With some killer choir vocals and stringed instruments plucking along, this is one of the more epic and broad sounding songs on the record. Our narrator is seeing the different forms of the horsemen coming to torment and destroy humanity. First off is War. With pounding drums, and Rob Halford’s voice overlayed, this is one that will stick with you. This isn’t something I would expect from Judas Priest though. If you go from British Steel to this, you’re going to be quite confused. Overall, it’s a song that is probably too long, but it’s worth a listen.

4. Sands Of Time

The “Sands Of Time” are running low for humanity. Nostradamus is seeing the end of humanity in his visions. Winds are blowing that are going to change everything, but he can’t properly get his voice out there. It’s a short but sweet song that continues the story.

5. Pestilence And Plague

“Pestilence And Plague” follow two of the other Horsemen. This one contains some Italian, which is a first for the band. It has a driving riff and an excellent chorus. The chorus is where the Italian comes in, and where Halford shows just how well he could probably do Opera, if he wanted to. It just tells about the oncoming storm and sickness that Nostradamus is seeing for the future of mankind. It’s a powerful song that stands out from the rest of the record.

6. Death

Time for what I would call the “main event” of Nostradamus. “Death” is one of the heaviest songs in the Judas Priest catalog. It was also the only other song besides “Prophecy” to be played live. It’s a very doom metal sounding song that harkens back to some classic Black Sabbath tracks. I can imagine this song being even more brutal live. You can hear it live on the album, A Touch of Evil (Live). The guitar breakdown near the end of the song is my favorite part leading into the magnificent solo. This is one of the better tracks on the record, and well worth listening to.

7. Peace

A softer song, showing off what could become of humanity. If they learn to love and forgive, they’ll be able to avoid the catastrophe coming in his visions. It espouses the view that God or faith or whatever else will be the ticket to keeping all of us alive. It’s a beautiful track on this one, that shows the lighter side of Judas Priest, combined with some views that they don’t normally sing about.

8. Conquest

I swear that Judas Priest must have been listening to some Black Sabbath before writing this album. “Conquest” sounds exactly like a Tony Martin era song. That’s not a bad thing, because Tony Martin’s era of Black Sabbath is awesome and completely underrated. “Conquest” tells about sticking to your beliefs in times of bloodshed and battle. At least that’s what I can draw from the lyrics. In between being an awesome Judas Priest song, it’s got a complex set of lyrics. It combines a lot of different elements into one that doesn’t sound a lot like any other song in their catalog. I really dig this one.

9. Lost Love

A Judas Priest ballad about how Nostradamus lost his wife and children to the plague. The same plague that he was seeing visions of before. It must be a heartbreaking feeling to see something coming like that, and not be able to stop it. Outside of the theme of this album, this could work on any other Judas Priest album as a ballad. It’s a little softer than most of their ballads, but sometimes you just have to do that. It’s another underrated track so far.

10. Persecution

Another song with a light start and some of the keyboards that we haven’t heard much on other Judas Priest releases. It transitions into a hard and heavy rocker about the persecution of Nostradamus by the church. If you thought that Judas Priest was going to start praising God and the Church with this record, one listen of this song, and you’re wrong. The Church went after Nostradamus during his time, accusing him of heresy. They won’t silence him and his views will live on.

11. Solitude/Exiled

“Solitude” is an instrumental that has some nice sounding piano on the track. If there’s one thing that Judas Priest has almost always done perfectly, it’s the piano playing on their records. This one leads directly, but not very smoothly, into “Exiled”. The track does give off the vibes of solitude and the emotions that go in to that.

“Exiled” is about the exile of Nostradamus due to the Church. They viewed him as a heretic and a false-prophet. He was forced to leave his home and go out into the world away from his life. It was either this choice or death. It’s another emotional song with layered musical instruments, and Rob Halford’s wailing of the chorus. At this point in the record, I think they could have trimmed some of this down, or merged it with other tracks. “Exiled” isn’t one that I really go back to a lot. It’s a powerful sounding song, but it doesn’t fully get there for me.

12. Alone

This might be the most powerful and deep song on the record. You’ve got the Nostradamus concept level meaning to it, which stands out enough already. It’s Nostradamus crying out that he just wants to be left alone in his path. So that’s one interpretation. This song could be taken off Nostradamus and placed on another album, and it would fit perfectly. My interpretation of this one, personally, is that people want to just enjoy things and be left alone. It’s something that everyone can learn a little from. Especially Judas Priest fans or music fans in general. I like the album Turbo. Other people like Rap music. Some people like Lady Gaga. Just because I don’t like those things, doesn’t mean that you have to bring someone else down that does.

“Alone” yells this message loud and clear. If you don’t want to like what I like and you want to give me crap for it, I don’t need that. Life is already hard enough for people, it doesn’t help getting dragged down. Musically, it’s a multi-layered track with tons of twists and turns. It’s a real highlight from this album, that I feel like is lost because it’s stuck down here in the tracklist.

13. Shadows In The Flame/Visions

Our narrator is remembering the loved ones that they’ve lost. They know that they won’t be able to see them again, but they can still feel their presence. It fades into “Visions”.

The visions that our narrator are getting aren’t always easy to interpret. They’re haunted by these visions all night long until the sun rises. They want to be able to interpret the visions but it’s a difficult task. This one is a pretty standard rocker that has a decent riff. It’s not anything super special, the guitar solo has some nice harmony to it. It’s not a skippable song, but not anything mindblowing.

14. Hope

Now we get to the point in our story where Nostradamus can live his live again. He’s found peace and hope in his visions. He’s no longer persecuted by the Church that he sought to escape. It’s a very angelic sounding song, almost like you’ve reached the paradise that everyone wants to go to. It’s almost too cheery in it’s sound and message. Foreshadowing what’s to happen to our narrator and the story overall.

15. New Beginnings

A love song in the middle of this epic heavy metal tale, “New Beginnings” could also be another track that would have made it on the super poppy Judas Priest version of the tracks that didn’t make the cut on Ram It Down. Our narrator has found a new love, and it’s reinvigorated his life. It’s pretty standard ballad affair, and I could do without it, but it’s worth a listen if you’re particularly into the softer side of Judas Priest.

16. Calm Before The Storm

Anything happy for our narrator has to turn badly. “Calm Before The Storm” will remind any 70’s fan of those classic albums. It’s a song that I wish could have been longer. Because the overall vibe and music of it, is fantastic. The vigor and beliefs of Nostradamus never wavered, even through the horrible punishment he received through his life. He was kicked out of his home, his loved ones died, but he still believed through all of it.

17. Nostradamus

Here’s your storm. In the power ranking of blood curdling, ear-drum rupturing, metal madness screams, it’s either “Number of the Beast” or “Victim of Changes”. “Nostradamus” is a close third to those two. You have to wait through the entire album to get to this point, but it’s well worth the wait. “Nostradamus” is the best and most Judas Priest classic sounding track on the album. It’s one of the big disappointments for me that they couldn’t figure out a way to play this song live. “Nostradamus” like the rest of the album, celebrates the majesty and glory of the seer. It’s a vindication for the man that was persecuted for his visions and his beliefs.

18. Future Of Mankind

This was thought for awhile to be the last Judas Priest track ever. “Future Of Mankind” is Nostradamus’s message to mankind after his death. He might die, but his views, his visions, and his life’s work will live on after his death. He might not have been appreciated in his life, but after death, he’s found a true purpose. The visions for mankind live on forever with people believing in his prophecies.

“Future Of Mankind” is a complex and lengthy track on this album. It winds and twists to a conclusion that is fitting for this album. Ending with “Nostradamus” might have been a more powerful message, and it’s definitely a more heavy conclusion. Fittingly though, it ends with the same piano as “Dawn Of Creation”. I love when albums, especially concept albums, start and finish in the same place. It just adds to the overall story, and that time will go on, and repeat itself.

Analysis Of Nostradamus

Nostradamus

It was a weird choice for Judas Priest to do a concept album in the middle of their reunion run like this. Nostradamus, as a Judas Priest album, is hit or miss. It has some fantastic tracks, but it also falls into the same repetitive structure. The album does allow for Judas Priest to make some interesting decisions musically. The addition of orchestral and choir sounds adds to the overall feel and scale of the album. If you look at this outside of the scope of Judas Priest, however, you’re getting a much better piece of music.

It’s a story over 100 minutes. Much like a movie, or a mini-series, or even an opera. It’s really at the core of things, a Metal Opera about Nostradamus. To me, the changing of the Judas Priest logo for this record signifies that it’s something outside of the traditional Judas Priest sphere. While I wouldn’t say it’s not a Judas Priest album, I would say that it shouldn’t be measure by the traditional album critiques. The story it tells is one of heartbreak, anguish, power, fury, redemption, and vindication. Nostradamus outlived all his critics with his visions and lessons living on after his death.

If you’re going to listen to a couple tracks off this one and then critique it, that’s fine. But the album gets much better when you sit down, crank it up, and go for the 100+ minute ride with the band.

Score And Aftermath Of Nostradamus

Because of the reasons listed above, Nostradamus has some problems as a Judas Priest album. It is repetitive, some of the tracks are filler, it’s a marathon to listen to. It also tells a fantastic, epic story, fitting of Judas Priest. In the grand scheme of things, this is a review series of Judas Priest albums though, so I’m going to have to give Nostradamus a 7.5/10. Like some of the other hit or miss Priest albums from before, it has fantastic tracks that show the musical chops of Judas Priest. While it also has some songs that could have very easily been on the chopping block. Songs like “Prophecy”, “Nostradamus”, “Alone”, “Death”, and “Revelations” are true highlights.

The band underwent the Nostradamus World Tour, but that ended up turning into a British Steel 30th Anniversary Tour. Nostradamus gave Judas Priest big plans, but fan reaction to the album had to dash those. In addition to this Judas Priest announced their Epitaph World Tour. It was designed as a final world tour for the band. The band was going to call it quits and give the world one last huge tour for the Priest.

KK Downing Shocks The World

An impending farewell World Tour wouldn’t be the only good/bad news for the band. Founding member and long-time guitarist KK Downing announced that he was retiring from Judas Priest in April 2011. Downing cited differences with the band and it’s management as the reason for his departure. Judas Priest had to scramble for a replacement for the upcoming world tour.

You’ll have to come back tomorrow to hear about that new guitarist, and the subsequent album, Redeemer Of Souls.

For more on Judas Priest, heavy metal, or any other general pop culture, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.

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