Judas Priest Lose A Founding Member, Deliver Their Best Record in Nearly 25 Years With Redeemer Of Souls
You know, I am a very big fan of Judas Priest, so much so that I have both the band’s iconic trident symbol and the album title Defenders of the Faith permanently inked on my arms. So, when founding guitarist K.K. Downingannounced in 2011 that he would be retiring from Judas Priest, I really felt gutted. Surely this would be the end of the “Metal Gods!” But alas, our heroes decided to soldier on by replacing Downing with new guitarist Richie Faulkner (previously of the Lauren Harris band, daughter of Steve Harris of Iron Maiden), who is nearly 3 decades their junior. This sounded like an idea as ill advised as when the band tried to replace irreplaceable singer Rob Halford for a couple of albums around the turn of the millennium with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens, a very skilled Halford imitator whom the band discovered singing in an Ohio-based Priest tribute band (this event even served as the inspiration for the Mark Walberg/Jennifer Anniston movie Rock Star). Owens is a perfectly capable singer, but is also nearly two decades younger than the rest of the band and the albums that he appeared on with Priest are mostly forgettable and serve merely as a footnote in the band’s career. Halford returned to the fold in the mid 2000s and Priest has since released two somewhat uneven offerings (2005’s Angel of Retribution and the double concept album Nostradamus in 2008) featuring a handful of great songs.
Then came the announcement that the band was working on a new album. This did not inspire a great deal of excitement in me, or any of my Priest-loving friends. So when the band finally gave us a sampling of the new material in the form of the title track and first single off of Redeemer of Souls, I listened with the thought running through my head “Just, please, don’t let it suck.” And you know what? It didn’t suck. It also didn’t stand out. It was just kind of “Meh.” So much so, that I was prepared to not even give it another thought.
Well, thank goodness for boredom and Spotify. I found myself with very few new releases that I was particularly inspired by last Tuesday and serendipity sent me a Spotify notice that Redeemer of Souls (Deluxe Version) was available for listening. I gave it a cursory listen with as open a mind as possible and I’m really glad that I did!
The bottom line is that Redeemer of Souls is a pretty damn good record. Is it great? Nope! But, in my humble opinion, it is the best and most consistent offering from the band since 1990’s Painkiller. In fact, on a scale of Ram It Down (1988. Wretched) to Sad Wings of Destiny (1976. Near perfection), I would have to say that I give this record a Defenders of the Faith (1984. Very good). In fact, nearly every song here is solid and memorable. Strangely, I think that they’ve placed two of the albums weakest songs right up front. “Dragonaught” and the aforementioned “Redeemer of Souls” are songs that might have been at home on the 2005 Halford comeback album Angel of Retribution, but even these songs have started to grow on me after a few listens, though they are nowhere near as interesting as many of the songs that follow. Standout tracks include: “Sword of Damocles,” “March of the Damned,” “Cold Blooded,” “Metalizer,” and the absolutely stunning ballad that closes the regular edition of the album, “Beginning of the End.”
The 5 bonus songs on the Deluxe Edition are even extremely solid offerings. In fact, I have to wonder aloud why these 5 songs are not in the place of some of the ones on the main disc. The bonus disc ends with another ballad called “Never Forget.” It’s nothing short of a love letter to the band’s loyal fans. Slightly cheesy, but nonetheless, heartfelt.
Clocking in at roughly an hour (1 hour and 23 minutes for the Deluxe Edition), Redeemer of Souls definitely could have been well served by a bit more vigorous editing. I guess maybe that’s just the result of the enthusiasm that seems to have been re-instilled by the addition of Faulkner. As for the new guitarist, he is not K.K. Downing. And believe it or not, that turns out to be a good thing. His playing provides a fresh new contrast to Glenn Tipton’s axe mastery. The two intertwine very nicely and Faulkner seems to be inspiring his elder to new and unfamiliar territories. This may be the telling difference between the Owens situation and the choice of Faulkner. Whereas the band tried to pass off Owens’ deft but unoriginal imitation of Halford as business as usual, Faulkner does his best to stand out as “not K.K.” whilst not stepping on what makes Judas Priest the Metal Gods that they are.
If you have ever been a fan of Judas Priest and especially if you have been put off by the band’s recent output, you owe it to yourself to check out this record. It might just make you want to defend the faith once more.