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.
In between the release of Nostradamus and Redeemer of Souls, Judas Priest underwent a massive amount of turmoil and change. Nostradamus wasn’t the massive multimedia hit that Judas Priest was hoping for. The album sold well and charted well, but fans weren’t excited about it. This was so much so, that the band only played two songs from it live. Redeemer Of Souls is more of a return to the classic form of Priest and their music, but is it a great album?
Background on Redeemer Of Souls
The biggest change for Judas Priest before the release of Redeemer Of Souls was not even the fact that they announced a farewell tour, called the Epitaph World Tour. KK Downing left the band before the tour. After being a founding member, Judas Priest was without a guitarist. The band was scrambling to find a replacement, luckily they had one that, in my opinion, would be the best person for the long-term health of the band. Richie Faulkner, guitarist for Lauren Harris (Steve Harris’s daughter), was tapped to replace the metal titan. He filled in on the Epitaph Tour and not much else was clear about Judas Priest’s future after that. Would they continue with this new guitarist? Or would they go quietly into the night?
The answer was given on a fateful April day in 2014. Judas Priest released the single for “Redeemer Of Souls” online. This was the first new release that I had heard since I became a fan of the Priest in 2008. Along with this new single, the album Redeemer Of Souls was announced for a July date. I wasn’t up on following the news of Judas Priest, as I was sort of down on the band retiring. This meant, that the Priest was back, and they were back for good.
Now, I’m going to be quite frank about my opinion of KK Downing in the Firepower review, but Richie Faulkner was the perfect person for Judas Priest to bring in. He’s got infinite energy on stage, I’m pretty sure he knows how to play every Judas Priest song ever, and he reinvigorated the band.
More On Richie Faulkner
Richie Faulkner started off making YouTube videos of him playing different famous songs, he was in bar bands, he cut his teeth like Judas Priest had to do in the 70’s. His time in Lauren Harris’s band only did him more favors. Richie had this to say about Steve:
Yeah, you never know! I worked with Steve and Lauren [Harris], and he was one of the first ones that I told when I got the Priest gig. I said I’ve been approached by another band, and he was over the moon when I told him it was Priest. He’s one of these guys who’s really supportive, and [Harris] said; ‘I would have had you in my band. If anything would have happened to any of my guys, you were the guy that was going to do it.’Loudwire Interview With Richie Faulkner
If Steve Harris gives you a seal of approval, I don’t know what else you need. I saw the band on the Epitaph World Tour and Richie Faulkner was definitely a revelation. His playing is impeccable and he just gets what it means to be the guitarist for Judas Priest. He’s clearly a huge fan of the band, and of the history that the band brings. Richie is a fantastic steward of metal, and of Judas Priest in general.
More Background On Redeemer Of Souls
Redeemer Of Souls was recorded from 2013 to 2014 in England. The band announced the title of the album, the tracklist, and released the single “Redeemer Of Souls” on April 28th, 2014. Two more singles were released from the album, “March Of The Damned” and “Dragonaut”. In addition to the thirteen songs on the main record, there were five bonus tracks. These tracks were originally included on the special edition of the CD, and later a Record Store Day 2014 release called 5 Souls. These songs weren’t included on the record for pacing reasons. I’ll be including these tracks in a later review, but they won’t count toward the overall score or runtime.
Rob Halford had this to say about the album and Richie Faulkner’s contributions to the album:
Really, really strong. Exciting. He’s riffing and saying, ‘Robby, I’m thinking of this and this and this.’ It’s really exciting to have that kind of energy, because you feed off of it. It’ll be great after having this two-month break from not seeing each other to reconvene in the studio in England and just sit in a room and go, ‘OK, what’ve you got?’ I know Richie’s got a lot to share with us.
He went through the ritual on this tour, did great work on stage, the fans embraced him, so it’s now time to see what we’re capable of, the writing trio of Glenn and Richie and myself. We’ve already got a lot of stuff in the flash drives, stuff that basically Glenn and myself put together while K. K. was mulling over whether he was going to stay or go. So before we launched the tour with Richie, we had a lot of material, and the bulk of it is very, very strong.Guitar World Interview
Even More On Redeemer Of Souls
Redeemer Of Souls was the highest charting Judas Priest album at the time. It reached Number 6 on the US Top 200. It was the Number One in the US Rock charts, and Number One overall in a bunch of other countries. The band toured heavily in support of the record, going on a multiple leg tour spanning 129 shows over more than a year. It was a triumphant return for the band, but would the album match the excitement of the band coming back?
This is what Judas Priest chose to open all their shows on the Redeemer Of Souls Tour with. It’s a breath of fresh air for some, and it’s a continuation of the magic and power that Judas Priest has. “Dragonaut” is about a mythical beast similar to the others that Judas Priest describe or play about like “The Hellion” or “Painkiller”. This time, the beast isn’t a savior or a metal titan, it’s a dragon that burns everything. It’s not a mercyful beast, it just destroys everything in sight.
I love this song, and I can remember as clear as day, the first time I heard it. Judas Priest obviously took a long time in between Nostradamus and Redeemer Of Souls, but this song is as classic as Judas Priest gets.
2. Redeemer Of Souls
If I got an emotional reaction from hearing “Dragonaut”, “Redeemer Of Souls” is one that’ll bring a tear to my eye. From the opening note to the line “Vengeance comes at high noon”, “Redeemer Of Souls” has everything I want in a Judas Priest song. It’s a classic old west, shootout tale, told in a modern or futuristic style. This was always a highlight for them to play. It’s just such a high energy song that brings me up every time I hear it.
I won’t be scared to admit that I cried when I first heard this song. It was the first new Judas Priest I had ever heard in my life. I saw them in 2008, after Nostradamus was released. The wait was long, but it was well worth it, and “Redeemer Of Souls” is one of my favorite Priest tracks ever.
3. Halls Of Valhalla
If you’re counting at home, that’s going to be 3/3 on absolute home-run, classic, knockout Judas Priest songs for this record. “Halls Of Valhalla” sounds like it belongs on Painkiller. From the insane screams that Rob Halford busts out, to the riff that drives the whole song along, it’s fantastic through and through. Combining Judas Priest and Norse/Viking imagery is a match made in heaven.
This is one of the tracks that has lived on from this album, and it’s even more brutal and heavy live. They played it on the Firepower World Tour for the third leg. It was a delight to hear it there. It’s an absolute classic track. Just listen to the scream at the 4:30 mark that leads into the solo.
4. Sword Of Damocles
“Sword Of Damocles” calls back to the ancient tale of King Dionysius and Damocles. Damocles makes an arrangement with Dionysius to take over the throne for a day to prove how great and easy it is to be King. Dionysius places a sword above the throne held up with only a single horse hair. Damocles lives it up as King but eventually breaks, not wanting to deal with the threat of the sword.
This ancient tale is the backbone of the song at hand, and while it’s not a rip-roaring classic like the previous three tracks, it does a solid job. It has nice melodies and a solid chorus.
5. March Of The Damned
If you’ve ever pictured a heavy metal crowd, this song accurately describes them. As Glenn Tipton says in the beginning of the video above, it’s not about zombies or the walking dead, it’s about the fans that go to metal concerts and scream along with the band. Complete with one of the best riffs of the 21st century, “March Of The Damned” is a celebration of metal and it’s fans. Even if you absolutely despise this era of Judas Priest, this song should bring a smile to your face, and make you headbang along.
6. Down In Flames
If you’ve lived a full life, and you have no regrets, a song like “Down In Flames” is for you. It’s about not giving in, and living your life to the fullest. You’d rather go out in a bang than with a whimper. It’s a perfect song for Judas Priest, because they’ve never been about going down without a fight. Whether it was Painkiller, Angel Of Retribution, or whenever their last album will be, the Priest doesn’t go down quietly. It’s a hugely inspirational track, that might have the issue of repeating the chorus a bit too much at the end of the song, but that’s never a complaint for me, more Judas Priest is always good.
7. Hell & Back
Starting off like one of the only ballads on the album “Hell & Back” is another song that follows the theme of redemption, life, death, and experience on this album. It quickly transitions into a pretty heavy riff and a song that espouses these themes in droves. Judas Priest has been to hell and back, especially during this time of their history. It’s another triumphant return for the band, and it proves that they won’t die.
8. Cold Blooded
“Cold Blooded” is sadly not a cover of the Rick James classic. Even though that would be awesome, “Cold Blooded” is a solid track that doesn’t reinvent the Judas Priest wheel too much. It’s probably the weakest song on the album, but like I’ve said many times before, the weakest song on a badass Judas Priest album like Redeemer Of Souls is still good. This one is pretty morbid, literally being about a dead body that is just realizing that it’s gone to the afterlife.
“Metalizer” is another track that sounds like it’s straight off Painkiller. It’s about another mythical metal being, this time called the Metalizer. The song is a solid one, but once again, after those four absolute smash-classic songs above, you have some generic ones down in the tracklist. It’s not bad, but I don’t find it to be all that memorable. If you really like Painkiller (and shame on you if you don’t), this one is for you. My only real complaint is that the chorus at the end of the song sounds kind of silly with Rob Halford forcing “metalizer” into a shorter syllable than it is.
Those 70’s Judas Priest fans are going to be happy with this one. Sounding straight off Rocka Rolla/Sad Wings of Destiny/Sin After Sin, this track is a callback to that one. Normally the guitar tone would sound a bit different, and while it’s updated to today’s music, the tone is similar to those albums. Richie Faulkner most likely has something to do with this, because he’s shown his love and knowledge of all things in the Judas Priest catalog many times. This track is an indication of that.
11. Secrets Of The Dead
“Secrets Of The Dead” is the thematic opposite to “Down In Flames”. It’s about regret, loss, despair, and mystery. We don’t know what happens when we die, and that’s really a huge question for the human race as a whole. It’s a somber song that really questions the human existence and why we’re here. I wasn’t expecting a song like this on this record, but it’s a pleasant surprise to say the least. Not an amazing song, but it’s pretty decent.
12. Battle Cry
Every album should have a “main event” song on it. I usually find that it’s near the back-end of the album, and you have to wait for it. In Redeemer Of Souls case, it’s “Battle Cry”. It blows my mind how they didn’t perform this song on the tour for this album, they even opened the concerts with the opening of this song, but didn’t play it. Of the songs on the album, it’s definitely the most underrated. The song rips and shreds. Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton do their best performance on this song, Rob Halford’s vocals are absolutely on point here. It’s a call to action for Judas Priest, Rob Halford is the leader and you’re charging into a heavy metal battle with Judas Priest.
13. Beginning Of The End
“Beginning Of The End” is haunting, it scared the crap out of me the first time I heard it. I didn’t want to believe that Judas Priest would be retiring anytime soon. While it wasn’t the end of Judas Priest, this song would have been a fitting swan song for the band. It’s a beautiful song that goes through varying themes of death, remembrance, and sorrow. Normally I don’t like ending albums on tracks like this, but it fits perfectly here. After the “Battle Cry”, you just want to slow it down and take a minute to reflect on what you’re listening to.
Analysis Of Redeemer Of Souls
I have a deep personal connection to Redeemer Of Souls. It was the first brand new Judas Priest record for me as a fan. It was the first time I had seen the band after fully knowing all of their catalog. (When I saw them for the first time on the Metal Masters Tour, I barely knew their songs). The album for me is a triumphant return from the dark mark that is KK Downing leaving the band. Like I said before, you’ll hear my full opinion on KK tomorrow. Richie Faulkner’s arrival in the band, very likely saved Judas Priest from a slow demise. Instead, they came back with this album, better than ever.
Redeemer Of Souls marks a turning-point in the history of Judas Priest. It’s a triumphant return to their previous sound, while also updating it in the best way possible. Somehow Rob Halford sounds as good as ever on this album, while being 60+ years old. This album stands the test of time, and in my book, belongs alongside the classics. Top to bottom, it’s a lengthy album, especially when you include 5 Souls. The title Redeemer Of Souls is incredibly apt. It’s a redemption for the band. It’s a redemption to their fans. Finally, the album set up the band for the future.
Without Redeemer Of Souls we might not have a Judas Priest to talk about now. It was a building block for the third act for the band. Luckily it wasn’t the end for the Priest, but it would have been a damn fine way to go out. This album sees heavy rotation for me, and I just absolutely adore it.
Score And Aftermath Of Redeemer Of Souls
Redeemer Of Souls gets a 9.5/10 for me. And that’s not just a nostalgia filled 9.5/10, this album stands up to whatever other songs you can throw at it from the Priest catalog. The back half of the record is not as good as the first half, and it drags a bit there. Other than that, the album is spotless. Richie Faulkner’s addition to the band was a stroke of genius that sent a thunderbolt to the very core of Judas Priest. They could have shat out some new album to appease fans, but the Priest put their effort into this one.
For older fans out there that might want to shit on this album because “IT DOESN’T HAVE KK, THAT MEANS IT ISN’T REAL PRIEST” or anything similar to that, can kiss my, and this album’s ass.
As for what happened after this album, well, you’ll have to wait for tomorrow. Because the turmoil and tribulations for Judas Priest weren’t over, but the next album Firepower might be their most triumphant yet.
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All images and audio are courtesy of Judas Priest.
Rock hard, ride free, and defend the heavy metal faith.