By Dr. Abner Mality

The very day I write this, it was announced that guitarist Glenn Tipton is retiring from touring with Priest due to Parkinson’s Disease. That will send a cold chill through any Priest fan. We are living in the twilight of metal, at least in the States. The music we love is being chipped away at an ever increasing pace, leaving us to drown in a world of mumble rap. Diva pop and bro-country trash. To pretend otherwise is to deny reality.

Priest are not going quietly into that good night. What a difference a change in production makes. Tom Allom is back for the first time since “Ram It Down” and he’s brung ace producer Andy Sneap with him (Sneap will be filling in for Glenn live as well). The result is palpable. The sound on the last album “Redeemer of Souls” was shameful for a band of Priest’s stature. 10 seconds into title track “Firepower”, you realize with relief that that has been corrected…and how! The production here just pops…the energy of the songs can be felt immediately. The guitar is clean and strong and the bass-drum interplay is robust. It makes “Firepower” the best Judas Priest since “Painkiller”.

I hesitate to list this with the greatest of the band, though. It’s a fun album to listen to, but I can’t put it with “Stained Class”, “British Steel” or “Painkiller”. I would say it’s toward the high end of the middle of the pack of JP releases. I have no trouble recommending this to every fan of not just Priest, but metal in general.

The songs here are growing on me already. “Firepower” itself is an instant hit, propelled forward with hot blooded energy and a great, simple chorus. “Lightning Strike” I think is even a little better, with a feeling of some of the less manic “Painkiller” material or maybe “Judas Rising” from “Angel of Retribution”.  After this, things slow down a bit and the songs need a bit more time to sink in.  One of my favorites is “Children of the Sun” (NOT the Billy Thorpe cut), which has such a cool, catchy chorus. The intensity drops into a mellow moodiness before returning to that earlier feel. This has one of the best vocal hooks Priest has unleashed in a while. Which is a good spot to mention that Halford’s days of screaming are definitely long gone. His performance here is very measured and does not push the envelope. Which is what one should expect of a man nearing 70 years of age.

The piano driven instrumental “Guardians” is actually beautifully done and the following song “Rising From Ruins” is quite musically advanced. I even detect a “Sin After Sin” feel to this one. “Flame Thrower” on the other hand is a bit on the ham-fisted side, very basic stuff but even so with a nice thumping riff. “Spectre” ends the album in an ornate fashion, with some very intricate guitar work from Glenn and Richie Faulkner. It’s not the racing track I thought should end the album, but it has a progressive touch I wasn’t expecting.

“Firepower” is a more than solid album from the Fathers of Metal, much better than “Redeemer of Souls” and “Nostradamus”. If you’re expectations are reasonable, there’s no way any longtime metalhead can be disappointed by this.