Review Summary: Priest wisely stay on autopilot with their comeback album.
After the very unsuccessful years with Tim Owens, a need for a reunion between the leftover Judas Priest band members and original vocalist Rob Halford was growing ever more desirable for both the band and their fans. Following what had been more than 12 years apart, the Painkiller
line-up announced they would be reuniting in July 2003. Owens left amicably and would later join Iced Earth after the departure of their long-time singer Matt Barlow, filling another man’s shoes for the second time. As for Priest, they began working on their comeback album, Angel of Retribution
. The album was, unsurprisingly, hugely successful with fans, but also received critical acclaim to a certain degree. It mixed the most memorable styles from their classic era together, and contains many references to their past work, both musically and lyrically.
Angel of Retribution’s Judas Priest was:
- Robert John Arthur Halford ~ Vocals
- Kenneth Downing Jr. ~ Lead Guitar
- Glenn Raymond Tipton ~ Lead Guitar
- Ian Frank Hill ~ Bass Guitar
- Scott Travis ~ Drums
Mixing the best aspects from their classic material could, if done in the right way, result in a fantastic album. Regrettably, the band doesn’t always get it right, but the nods are mostly positive and provide some of AoR’s best moments. With Judas Rising
, Priest show that they still know how to open an album with a bang. Fans will obviously recognize the opening theme of Victim of Changes
, which started of the classic Sad Wings of Destiny
, although it is played in a heavier tune.The potentially goose bump-inducing multi-tracked scream that follows completes what takes the cake for best moment on the album: its intro. This is more a false promise, however, as what follows is clearly Judas Priest on autopilot.
This all doesn’t seem to matter though. Fans will expect nothing else than what is presented on Angel of Retribution, and the band seems to plod through the ten tracks effortlessly, completely aware of being ultimately non-innovative. Understandable, for a comeback album is not one to take risks with.
As far as nods to earlier work are concerned, the aforementioned opener is the strongest reference to Painkiller
, heavy-styled and cheesy as it is. Deal With the Devil
follows it up in the same way, while also containing that sheer catchiness that made some of Priest’s 80’s releases so great. Wheels of Fire
is even more of an 80's reminder. Simple, catchy and cheesy, a formula Priest has proved to work so many times before.
The 70’s are also presented, be it not as much. Demonizer
is essentially 80’s in structure, but it solo blatantly mimics the one that made Beyond the Realms of Death
so epic. Ballads Worth Fighting For
again show that Priest doesn’t have a knack for the genre, but wouldn’t have misfit on any of their 70’s outputs. While the former is just passable, the latter’s lyrics are so annoying it makes for an immediate skipper.
Tracks where Priest doesn’t copy features from their early work all that much, however, don’t turn out too well. The uninteresting Revolution
and unnecessary intro song Eulogy
unfortunately make for 2 other unmemorable songs. Loch Ness
is an attempt at creating a 13-minute epic a la Rime of the Ancient Mariner
, but the chorus is so idiotically cheesy it ruins the potential of the entire song that could have been an excellent closer. These kind of weak moments show that Priest’s comeback album should have been a simple and catchy affair throughout, as its strengths certainly lie in tracks such as Judas Rising
, Deal With the Devil
, Wheels of Fire
, of which especially the last one will make a great live performance with its sing-along potential. Despite containing too many weaker tracks than is likeable, Angel of Retribution
’s good moments luckily outshine the bad.
What may be the single best part of the whole album, however, is the band itself. It almost seems as if the members have never been apart. Halford, while having very obviously aged since Painkiller
, sounds like he’s having fun and can still create a powerful delivery, in singing as well as in screaming, only to a lesser extent than in ‘90. The rest of the band seem to have been revitalized by his return, as was hoped, and the guitarist tandem plays those old-fashioned riffs and solos again, invoking feelings of nostalgia, instead of the often horribly bland thrashing we had to endure on the two Owens-era albums. The only slight complaint about the playing would be the drumming. Painkiller showed that, for the first time in Priest history, their drummer was to be reckoned with, but since then, Travis hasn’t been quite as powerful. He still does his chops well, mind you, but considering what he can do, his performance is a letdown.
One of the most pleasant surprises of the album has to offer is the production. Never before has it sounded quite so pleasantly clear and heavy at the same time. It completes the experience and leaves the listener with a satisfying product.
Even if unoriginal, Angel of Retribution
is in the end a very pleasant comeback album. Nods to the past are mostly obvious, but nostalgia-invoking. The band sounds tight and professional despite their age, and Halford’s return has done Priest quite some good. While listening to this record, we realize that Priest without Halford could never even be Judas Priest at all. Owens did what he could, but the inspiration to write solid material has returned with the real central figure, who never could have been truly replaced by anyone. Everything seemed in place for the perfect comeback, but just a little too many missteps make for a great album instead of a bloody excellent one. It’s still satisfying enough, and the fans surely won’t mind. I wouldn’t recommend Priest’s 15th over any of their classic albums in previous decades, but you won’t regret adding it to your collection.
+ Halford’s return has relit Priest’s inspiration
+ The material is greatly nostalgic
+ Despite their age, the band put down a very solid performance
- Just a little too many disappointing tracks
- Priest clearly will never know how to write a proper ballad
Deal With the Devil
Wheels of Fire