Review Summary: No amount of heavy riffs can redeem the soul of this recycled mess.
Judas Priest has no doubt built an impressively long and varied 40 year career in heavy metal. While Black Sabbath are rightly known as the godfathers of metal, Judas Priest have not only coined but have earned the title of "metal gods." From the twin guitar leads to the bikes and leather, Judas Priest have cemented their glorious image in the halls of heavy metal Valhalla for legions of headbanging faithfuls to pay homage to. But alas, we humans are notorious for exalting mere men as untouchable idols, and it is only healthy that we check our blind loyalty with a little demythologizing.
Judas Priest has had an exciting but patchy discography, ranging from metal classics (Sad Wings of Destiny, Stained Class) to sell-out hard rock albums (Point of Entry, Turbo) to an overblown concept double album on the mystic Nostradamus. Even among the die-hard fans there is a three way rift: those who love the influential 70s albums, those who prefer the commercial 80s classics, and the Painkiller fans. Of the three factions, I think it has been clear that the Painkiller fans have been catered to the most ever since that glorious comeback album. Overlooking the Tim "Ripper" Owens period (no Halford, no Priest), the best moments of Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus were the parts that sounded like Painkiller. Once again, the metal gods give another shot at reaching the heights of the winged robot on a dragon bike, giving the metal world what many believe could be their last album...Redeemer of Souls.
Let's hope it truly is their last album.
Opening track "Dragonaut" starts with the sound of a thunder storm and kicks off with a great riff...that sounds just like "Nostradamus" from 2008. The lyrics are typical dumb Priest:
Fire in the sky
You know you're gonna die
Dragonaut is here
We know Painkiller had silly lyrics, but that was in 1990 when the speed metal sound was still fresh and Rob Halford's screams were the best thing on earth. What happened to his voice? One very obvious difference from previous Priest albums is that Rob Halford is not half the singer he once was. Never has it been so obvious as on the lead title track "Redeemer of Souls." Maybe I wouldn't be so surprised if I had followed Halford's solo career more carefully after the excellent Resurrection, but boy is it a bummer. Halford's incomparable voice was without a doubt Judas Priest's ace card. Now at over 60 years of age, it is adequate at best and laughable at worst. Swap back to "Hell Patrol" and you have the same song just better in every way.
Third track "Halls of Valhalla" had potential. I like the Blind Guardian-esque lyrical theme, and the bridge is at least interesting. I really tried to like this song. However, the vocal screams capping off each chorus are the most hilarious on the album. Halford sounds so bad it's funny. Again, even if Halford sang this ten years ago, the song still would sound too much like "Leather Rebel" to have me squealing with excitement. Sure, 80s fans get a nod to the British Steel classic "Metal Gods" with "March of the Damned," but it sounds like a terrible Ozzy Osbourne version only Ozzy Osbourne himself has been up to better self-tributes with Black Sabbath as of late.
If we can't count on Halford's singing to impress, than we could always count on Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing to deliver the goods. Oh wait, Judas Priest founding member K.K. Downing left prior to recording this album.
I guess one of them had the right idea.
To be fair, the guitar work is still the highlight of the album. There are many decent riffs like the intro of "Sword of Damocles" and the end of "Hell and Back", and the solos are always adequate for a good headbang. "Cold Blooded" starts off soft and rather dull, but picks up to be much more interesting guitar-wise. The chemistry between Tipton and this new guy is nowhere near classics like "Tyrant," "Beyond the Realms of Death," or “The Sentinel,” but it still...admittedly...rocks. If this were the only Judas Priest I had ever heard I would probably think it's good. It is the knowledge of the band's true potential that repels me from this shadow of the true substance.
The best song on the album has to be the Eastern-tinged "Secrets of the Dead," which at least doesn't sound like the rest of the by-the-numbers Priest songs. "Battle Cry" is a poster-boy example of yet another inoffensive yet indistinguishable "Painkiller" attempt that even Painkiller diehards will find uninteresting. "Beginning of the End" is a fitting closer. It's the only full-on ballad in this tiresome metal onslaught, and while a very average track in itself that has nothing on "Dreamer Deceiver," it is like cleaning your palate with a swish of purified water. Yes, evidence shows Judas Priest has reached the beginning of the end of their career. The great Halford can barely sing, they have lost one of their two great guitarists, and they have resorted to recycling Painkiller without any of the initial energy.
Ironically, there is very little worth redeeming on this album. It would have more aptly been named Paindealer. We can only hope to see Judas Priest live for old time's sake, and we look back with nostalgia to the final chapter of the legacy that Judas Priest gave to the world...in 1990.