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.
Well here we are! The last, (until their new album comes out at some point) review for Judas Priest-A-Thon! Redeemer Of Souls was a return to classic Priest sound. We got the Defenders Of The Faith for this new Priest lineup, now it’s time for their Painkiller. Judas Priest would outdo everything that they’ve done in the 21st century with their 2018 release of Firepower.
Background On Firepower
Judas Priest toured a bunch to support Redeemer Of Souls, but something felt like it was missing from that album. I gave it a very high score in my review, but some people felt like the production and vocal tracks were lacking a bit. This isn’t an issue with Rob Halford, but of the production of the album itself. So naturally, the Priest looked back in their history for a new producer. Tom Allom, famed producer of their 80’s albums, was called back to produce this new record. In addition to Allom, Judas Priest tapped Andy Sneap, producer of great records by Opeth, Killswitch Engage, Saxon, Megadeth, and Exodus, in addition to plenty of other bands, to come on as a co-producer. So you had two minds working on this album. One from the past, and one from the present.
The band went into the studio in late 2016 and continued into early-mid 2017. The album was recorded at Backstage Recording Studios in Derbyshire, England. Firepower was a concerted effort to reach back in the band’s sound, but also modernize it. Now, that might sound similar to Angel Of Retribution or Redeemer Of Souls. You have to remember that AoR was nearly 13 years old at the time, and Redeemer Of Souls wasn’t made to reinvent the Judas Priest wheel or ruffle any feathers.
The album would release March 9th, 2018. Judas Priest had a knack for setting charting records during this period. Firepower would be no different. It debuted at Number 5 on the US charts. Selling 49,000 copies in the US alone. The singles released for this album were “Lightning Strike”, “Firepower”, and “Never The Heroes”.
More Background On Firepower
The band had a lot to say about this album before it’s release. Most of the time, band statements about albums are a load of crap. In this case, I think it’s the opposite. Judas Priest usually doesn’t sugar-coat anything. The band all agreed that this album was fantastic and was their best work in years. Sadly, there was a problem with the announcement of a tour and the release of the album.
Judas Priest announced that Glenn Tipton would have to step away from touring due to Parkinson’s disease. Judas Priest rallied around their long-time guitarist and stepped up their work with Parkinson’s foundations. Andy Sneap was announced as the replacement on tour for Tipton. In addition to this, on the first leg of the Firepower Tour, Tipton surprised audiences by coming out for the encore to play. With Sneap’s addition to the band came some sour grapes from KK Downing.
Why KK Downing Is An Asshole
KK Downing might be a founding member of one of my favorite bands ever, he wrote and performed some of my favorite songs in human existence. That doesn’t make him any less of an asshole for his comments made about the band following Glenn Tipton’s diagnosis. KK left the band in 2011. Judas Priest went on a run that rivaled any of the times in their heyday of the 1970’s/80s. Richie Faulkner revitalized the band in a way that KK Downing didn’t. So, to all the KK fans out there, I’m sorry, but the band is better off without him.
If you didn’t read about it, or hear about it, KK Downing insinuated that Glenn Tipton didn’t write or play any of the parts on Firepower. He went on to say that Sneap contributed more than just ideas on the record. Rob Halford had a quick response to this horrible idea.
Halford And Judas Priest’s Response
I can categorically state that that is a thousand percent false. Because I was with Glenn for all of his guitar work – and he worked really, really hard. Imagine this guy in the 10th year of Parkinson’s. I’ve never seen anybody so brave in the fact that every song was a challenge for him to make it work, but he did – consistently, day after day. It was just a very powerful thing to experience first-hand. And this just goes to show you about the amazing stories that surround individuals around the world that are dealing with Parkinson’s in their life.
I just wanted to touch on that one issue, because out of everything that was laid out in that statement, that one hit me personally. Now I’ve been able to clarify that and make sure that everybody understands that everything that you hear from Glenn on Firepower is the amazing Glenn Tipton.Loudersound
Back To KK Downing Being An Incorrigible Asshole
Downing not only insinuated that the triumphant effort by Tipton to play on this record was fake, but that he was horrified and shocked that Judas Priest didn’t invite him back to fill in his original role. I have a couple responses to this. One: KK Downing couldn’t fix the issues he had with Judas Priest when he left in 2011. He left and called Richie Faulkner a clone of him, and also insinuated that Faulkner isn’t a full-time member of the band. This was all to take away from the triumphant effort that Judas Priest put into Firepower.
People like to say that Judas Priest isn’t Priest without KK and Glenn. I like to say that Judas Priest is better off without KK in the band. If he’s making toxic comments like this now, I can only imagine how bad he must’ve been in the earlier years. I can assume that he’s a large reason why Rob Halford left the band in 1992. It’s all just a sad attempt at sabotaging the band that he left, by Downing.
Downing has gone on to start a glorified Judas Priest cover band in KK’s Priest. I love Ripper Owens, and it’s true that Judas Priest has erased his existence in the band from memory basically, but that’s a Judas Priest cover band in my mind. Downing later was forced to elaborate on his statements, where he walked back the thought that Glenn wasn’t playing his own parts. KK Downing being a huge asshole wouldn’t take away from the majesty and excitement of Firepower though.
One of the fastest Judas Priest songs on record, “Firepower” sets the tone for the whole album. I know it’s cliche or whatever to say that a title track to an album is fantastic, but “Firepower” is one of the finest Judas Priest songs in their catalog. A speed metal classic, “Firepower” was the track used to open the first and second leg of the tour. You can’t get much more metal than this track, and it sets the tone for the whole album.
2. Lightning Strike
“Lightning Strike” was the first song teased from Firepower. Like “Redeemer of Souls” before it, I remember the first time hearing this song, and having to sit down after. It’s a hugely motivational song that will bring you up on your darkest days. From Scott Travis’s blasting drums, to Rob Halford belting out the vocals, and finally Glenn and Richie trading riffs, it’s one of the finest examples of heavy metal out there. You’re just waiting for that lightning to strike to set you off.
3. Evil Never Dies
Now for what I would consider to be the heaviest song in the Judas Priest catalog. “Evil Never Dies” continues the themes of redemption, resurrection, and continuing to do what you love on this album. This song flat out rips. That’s the best way that I could describe it. If you hear the main riff from this song and don’t want to bang your head to it, I’m not sure what will make you.
It’s about getting caught up by another of the Devil’s tricks to steal your soul. It could be seen as a sequel to “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”, and it even mentions that song in the opening line. Except this time, Johnny doesn’t get one over on the devil. It’s Priest at their heavy best, and you can’t get much better than this in all of heavy metal.
4. Never The Heroes
“Never The Heroes” was the third and final single released for the album. This is my favorite song on the album, the riff and opening section of the song have such power and fury. The song is about how people who go off to war, and aren’t seen as heroes. They just go and fight for their countries and come back as warriors, broken, decimated, and hardened.
With a subject matter like that, you’d expect the song to take an anti-war tone. It doesn’t, it glorifies the men and women who go out to serve their country, regardless of conflict, or anything else. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song that you’ll be humming or singing for a long time after.
The only complaint that I have about the song is that they never performed it live. It sucks, because it was a promoted single and music video, but they didn’t play it on any of the three legs of the Firepower Tour. This would have been a great one to see live.
Now Priest returns to those 70’s style fantasy themed songs. “Necromancer” was the opening track on their third leg of the Firepower Tour. This song tells the story of a necromancer who brings the dead back to life, but not for humanitarian means. This is someone who robs graves for body parts like an evil Doctor Frankenstein. People’s after-lives are taken from them for his selfish needs.
It’s another hard and heavy track that continues the run of perfection on this album. Seeing this one live, in addition to some other tracks on this album was a real treat.
6. Children Of The Sun
So we’ve got, “Children Of The Grave”, “Children Of The Sea”, “Children Of The Damned”, “Moonchild”, and now “Children Of The Sun”. This one doesn’t quite meet those lofty examples in the “Children of the X” category. But it does make for a good song on this album. It sounds like it’s about the destruction of mankind due to war and outside circumstances. Our world crumbles around us, and the only thing that we can do is wait. “Children Of The Sun” is not my favorite track on the album, but it makes for a good Judas Priest song.
7. Guardians/Rising From Ruins
“Guardians” and “Rising From Ruins” form one song like “The Hellion” and “Electric Eye”. “Rising From Ruins” is a hugely motivational song that espouses brotherhood, companionship, and loving your fellow human. Together we can do anything, apart, we’re weak and nothing. Like much of the rest of this album, you can attribute it to the fight that Glenn Tipton has with Parkinson’s Disease. He’s a goddamn hero for being able to perform at this level on the album. “Rising From Ruins” was one of my favorite tracks that they performed live on the Firepower Tour.
8. Flame Thrower
Now for some classic Judas Priest style heavy metal. “Flame Thrower” is just a hard rocking track that would fit on those 70’s/80’s era Judas Priest albums. It’s catchy, doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and I mean, who doesn’t want to hear a song by Judas Priest about a flamethrower. While it doesn’t reinvent anything about Judas Priest, it’s a solid song on this album. “Flame Thrower” would have been a cool one to play live, but I can say that about most of the songs on this album. It’s just that damn good.
Another short and sweet song that calls back to some classic Judas Priest themes. “Spectre” is about a sneaking, covert, monster that strikes quietly and moves quickly. You could say that it’s about a modern day animatronic or robot also, but I think the monster is a better interpretation. This one got played on the Firepower Tour and it was awesome there. It shows that Judas Priest doesn’t need to play fast as hell to still kick some ass.
10. Traitors Gate
As I’m going through this review, I’m having to think about revising previous statements about my favorite song, or the best song, or the heaviest song, or songs with the most metric tons of asses kicked, stuff like that. “Traitors Gate” is one of the songs that is forcing me to revise those criteria. My interpretation of this song is it’s someone on the way to their execution. They’re going from the Tower of London to the square to be publicly executed by the axeman. The person being executed can see that their death will mean a significant amount for the revolution that they started.
Overall, this song tells a fantastic story, is heavy as all hell, and takes a stab at being the best song on this record. Rob Halford even throws it back with an old style scream at the end of the track.
11. No Surrender
When this song was introduced on the Firepower Tour, it was dedicated to Glenn Tipton and his fight with Parkinson’s. This is a song that can motivate anyone. Whether it’s your job, someone else’s fight with a disease, or some other hardship, “No Surrender” is about not giving up that fight. It’s the shortest song on the album, but it has the biggest message. Never stop fighting, never give in.
12. Lone Wolf
“Lone Wolf” is probably my least favorite track on the album. It’s about a lone wolf character or person who is a loner. It also mentions an actual wolf that follows the narrator by their side, so it could be about that as well. This song is bluesy as hell and shows just how blues and heavy metal go together. Just because it’s not my favorite, doesn’t make this a bad track though. It’s just on the weaker end of a perfect album.
13. Sea Of Red
The only time that Judas Priest slows it down on this record is a meaningful one. “Sea Of Red” is a reflective song that goes over the main themes of this record. It reflects on the time that the band has spent over the years, and it contains an absolute killer solo by Richie Faulkner. A gloomy song that sets up a similar atmosphere to “Dreamer Deceiver”, it doesn’t go quite into the cosmic realm like that one, but it paints a fantastic picture. It’s a great way to close out this album.
Analysis Of Firepower
Firepower is fantastic. It’s just that simple. The album is a triumph in every single sense of the word. Judas Priest made a great album in Redeemer of Souls, with Firepower they made an all-time classic. Most bands this late into their careers, almost 50 years, would be in the “mail it in” phase. Bands like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Paul McCartney, and others make albums as a way to tour, but they don’t have much substance. Judas Priest on the other hand, have crafted one of the finest efforts in their career.
To be honest, Judas Priest had no business making an album this good. Each of the tracks on this album could be lead singles for albums. They could have split this into four different albums with the four songs being great, and then some filler. They didn’t do that, and instead made an album that doesn’t have a bad song on it. Firepower stands up with the rest of their catalog in every sense. It’s production is flawless, the notes are clear, the guitar tones are heavy, and it doesn’t sound artifacted or fuzzy anywhere.
From the lead title track all the way down, Firepower shows all the metal bands, young and old, how to make an album in the modern day. Judas Priest toured for three legs to support this album, and all of them were warranted. They could have done two more legs and I would have seen all of them. The way that the album progresses and follows the themes I’ve explained above is a triumph by itself.
Score And Following Firepower
It’s going to be a difficult ask for Judas Priest to follow-up Firepower. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Judas Priest was going to go on a trek to celebrate 50 Years of Heavy Metal. Those plans were dashed and postponed to at least 2021. This gives Judas Priest time to think about a new album, perhaps. I don’t have any details besides that they are indeed thinking about one at least. Andy Sneap and Tom Allom would almost assuredly return. Glenn Tipton is always thinking of new riffs and material for the band. So if there is a band that can make an album up to Firepower, it is Judas Priest.
As for Firepower, this is a transcendent heavy metal album. It’s like Judas Priest went back in a time machine to 30-40 years ago and collected material from themselves. The album is their best since Painkiller, it’s a perfect, hammer struck, 10/10. It’s one of the best albums of the 21st century, and if you haven’t listened to it, you owe it to your metal fandom to do so.
Conclusion To Judas Priest-A-Thon
Judas Priest seems to still be going strong, and while I know the day is going to come where they call it quits, hopefully that’s not anytime soon. Like my Iron Maiden-A-Thon reviews, this was a deeply satisfying look at the catalog of my second favorite band ever. Judas Priest has a deep and varying catalog of albums, that while it might contain some albums that are worse than others, every album has some merit. The two Ripper Owens albums are seen as the worst in the catalog, but those two albums have classic all-time Judas Priest tracks on them.
While this isn’t the true conclusion to Judas Priest-A-Thon, that comes tomorrow when I power rank all of their albums, and almost assuredly pissing off some section of the fanbase, I hope this has been a great experience for those who have read the whole thing. Judas Priest is the definition of heavy metal to me. Others came along and might have done it better, or faster, or heavier, or whatever, but Judas Priest are the ones that perfected it, and also continue to innovate on it.
Thank you for reading, and continue to rock hard, ride free, and defend that heavy metal faith.