Review Summary: If there is a way to go out in style, its on fire. Flamethrowers and axes in hand.
If you like Metal, at some point your lion heart has been set on fire by Priest. Backed by a vocalist with range only surpassed by Freddie Mercury and the choir of Hell itself, and a spiraling, flying V led onslaught of unrivaled riffage, Priest ARE Metal. Repeat. Judas Priest ARE Heavy f*cking Metal. Album covers with skulls being drilled with ferocious intensity, Titanic sawblades astride by robots in full air guitar mode, razorblades pounding the world like a battering ram, Angels toiling in Hell, lyrics about the demons, prowling wolves, rippers, tyrants, and the gentle dawn. If there was ever an entity that defined ANYTHING EVER, its Goddamn Priest and METAL.
It has to be cool to be Rob Halford. For years, he strutted onstage with 1400 horses of Harley between his legs, whip in leather cloaked hand, confidently backed by the roar of a twin guitar act powered by the fumes of Satan’s grin. A different inclination of Priest that was, and there have been many over the years, but Halford has reigned supreme as Heavy Metal’s Deity for over 45 years. At this point, there is nothing Halford or Priest have left to prove. They could easily have joined their rock brethren and frolicked on the golf course while filling their pants over AARP coupons. But no. Not Halford. Not the kings of Heavy Metal. Not Judas Goddamn Priest. In the twilight of their years and all of the loin cloths and Thunder Gods they have inspired, they just decided to spit shine their axes and release their best album in 28 years.
“Firepower” has every quintessential Priest element on display. The first two tracks belong on the genre defining smashing opus “Painkiller,” and might have landed on the albums top half. There’s “No Surrender,” which would fight the beastliest tracks on “Defenders of the Faith” and “Screaming for Vengeance,” and had it been released in the 80s while Halford was still fully funding the S&M retail clothing market, it would have absolutely been a Priest classic, on the hallway with “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Living after Midnight.” “Firepower” is awash in anthemic choruses, gentle bridges, and of course the ever-present twin guitar act, only the production adds a tremendous amount of meat to the riffs. There's "Never the Heroes" and it's Balls to the Wall aping riff that could impregnate a cobra. Not to be outdone, "Rise From the Ruins" follows a gorgeous piano intro to rival "United" as the quintessential cheesy Priest rallying cry anthem, only this time around they get it right. The theme throughout is "Firepower" finds Priest with a thundering groove, and when combined with the stalwart tropes of their past (songs about striking serprents and demons and the beasts of the night and riffs of might and forging through the fire with honor) with cutting precision, we are left with an incredibly impressive output, the sardonic “for their age” barb be damned. This is the sound of a much younger band fueled by the early excess of Rock n Goddamn Roll.
A much sh*ttier band once proclaimed that if they are going to go out, they are going out on a chariot of fire. From a realistic perspective, this might be Priest’s last album, and it's so undeniably impressive that it probably should be. There’s a incredible, gentle song called “Epitaph” on Priest’s greatest album, dropped 42 metal juggernaut fueled years ago. If there is a way to go out in style, its on fire, Flamethrowers and wails and axes in hand. The final track, a gorgeous opus that rivals “Before the Dawn” in sheer beauty and sentimentality, is about the years gone by, and the dreams realized. For a genre defining entity like Priest, there isn’t a more fitting ending. The entity they are at the core, Heavy Metal, has always been powered by a metaphor like fire. Intensity. Burning Passion. Freewheel Burning. See you on tour, Rob. If this time Priest won’t be back, we raise our flamethrowers to you.