Judas Priest - Redeemer Of Souls (2014)
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
One of the most influential metal bands of all time has gone through a lot of strange phases. I even adored the controversial Jugulator in 1997, which headed for a dark groove and industrial approach with a vivid new singer. The last three Judas Priest records, Demolition, Angel Of Retribution, and Nostradamus, were of an average quality at best. Priest still has its moments at live shows, and I would go see the band in concert anytime, but it wouldn’t be for its more recent material. Redeemer Of Souls is pretty much on the same level as the previous three releases. It’s an average record with a few highlights and a lot more filler.
I feel that this record is only slightly better than the boring, inconsistent, and overlong Nostradamus, but it’s on the same level or even slightly below the comeback of Angel Of Retribution, and even the hit-and-miss compilation that was Demolition. Judas Priest delivers predictable mid-tempo heavy metal stompers where everybody performs in a very solid way. But apart from new guitarist Richie Faulkner (who feels motivated to perform with his biggest idols), nobody really performs with unchained passion. The record is okay, but if the name Judas Priest wasn’t written on the album cover, not many people would care about this old-fashioned release. While comparable bands like Aria, Iron Maiden, and Loudness still have the pace and the passion and the will to experiment here and there, Judas Priest sound like it has never arrived in the new millennium.
The new record kicks off well with the dynamic mid-tempo stomper “Dragonaut” and the catchier, more melodic title track. However, listeners soon realize that many tracks sound quite alike. Almost all of them come across as reinvented and slowed down songs from classic records like Painkiller or Screaming For Vengeance. A good example is the longest entry on the regular version of the album, which happens to be “Gates Of Valhalla”. This mid-tempo song tries to be heavy and anthemic leading up to a simplistic but powerful chorus, and I’m sure it will be a great live song. On the other hand, I feel like I’ve heard very similar and better executed songs from Priest in the past. It’s the same thing with the faster “Battle Cry”, which is probably the heaviest track on the album, but it simply sounds like a cheap “Painkiller” rehash. These kind of songs would have been original and passionate thirty years ago, but today they feel crippingly old-fashioned and will only please the most nostalgic of heavy metal fans and die-hard Judas Priest maniacs.
A couple of songs start in a promising way, as if the band wanted to try out something new. The beginning of “Hell & Back” has a melancholic touch, but it ends up being another standard mid-tempo track. “Cold Blooded” sounds much better, because the calmer and psychedelic parts are recurring elements throughout the entire track, and also because Rob Halford tries to sing in a more longing manner than usual. Logically, it’s one of the better songs on the record, but the band should have needed to sound atmospheric and original to really impress me here. The band finally evolves in a more distinguished way with the closing blues rock-infused ballad “Beginning Of The End”. It’s maybe not the best song around (it sounds a little too tame to me), but there is no doubt that this is by far the most original track by Judas Priest in 2014.
The limited edition version of the album includes a second disc with five more songs that continue to not impress. The slow ballad “Never Forget” would have been an emotional closure if Rob Halford’s powerless vocals had sounded a little bit more passionate. The song feels somewhat strange, as if this last track of the special edition was the very last song of Judas Priest’s entire career. It saddens me to realize that these old heroes might soon be history, and that they’ve chosen to end their career in such a lackluster manner. Listening to this album is almost more sad than it is just plain boring. It feels like watching your once powerful childhood heroes limp around as old, broken men on crutches in a rest home. I say this with no malice, but with some tears in my eyes. Redeemer Of Souls is a record that drives home the loss of people that are living in the past. A loud and heavy band is slowly fading away in a scarily shy and silent way.
Maybe it’s time for these legends to go, and maybe they should have gone much earlier. I’m a big fan of anything Judas Priest released between 1974 and 1997, and I really wanted this new record to be a return to form for the British legends. If it had been at least as solid as Angel Of Retribution, this album would have been acceptable, but this is not the case. Listen to the band performing tracks like “Judas Rising”, “Angel”, and even “Lochness” and then listen to “March Of The Damned”, “Crossfire”, and “Secrets Of the Dead”. There is a world of difference between these performances, and if you compare the new songs to the classics of the seventies and eighties, the new release pales even more. I don’t really believe in miracles, and the new album sounds as if the band believed even less in them than me. The final result is a lukewarm, mid-tempo heavy metal release with far too many fillers, tame instrumentals, and vocal performances, as well as sad rehashes of ideas from glorious days long passed. Maybe Judas Priest will carry on, because it would be disappointing to leave with such a weak release, but it’s hard to believe that this band can still improve and progress at this point in time.
My final say is still probably a little too generous, but when I take into consideration how old this band is, that it has had to deal with an important line-up change recently, and that this record would have made a better impression on me if it had been released thirty years in the past with Rob Halford in top form, I am moderated. As it now turns out, this record is for a few extremely faithful Judas Priest fans and truly nostalgic heavy metal fans only. Everybody else will either feel bored or sad about this record (or both), just like me.
2.5 // 5