British heavy metal band remain defenders of the faith.
The term, “classic album,” and phrase, “returning to their roots,” are always problematic. It’s a bad sell. It’s the band saying, “sorry we broke out of our box, please don’t leave us!” The biggest question with Judas Priest’s Firepower is what did they break from originally and what are they returning to? Let’s be clear, the album is solid, but so has Judas Priest’s 40- year plus discography. Sadly, the band is long on riffs and short on answers.
Firepower has been billed as a return to form. Tom Allom, who helped produced peak-era Priest albums (read: biggest selling) and coproducer Andy Sneap helm the studio knobs. Aside from the name, I’m not sure what Allom contributed. Take an album like British Steel; recorded extremely dry in order to make the drums sound tight and the guitar riffs razor sharp. Here, the vocals are lush, the drums and bass are deep, the guitars have range. This is an Andy Sneap album. Sonically, this is one of the band’s heaviest albums.
Musically, this is Judas Priest by the numbers. The title track is awesome and is a credit to how powerful the group is entering their seventies. It also sounded better on 1990’s “Painkiller.” This is a recurring theme as “Evil Never Dies” recalls the band’s “Demolition” era. “Never the Heroes” is a mix of “Defenders of the Faith” and a not-so-subtle rip from Accept’s best-known track, “Balls to the Wall.”
As heavy as the album is, it’s seriously fails in its track-listing. All the gold is back loaded. That’s a huge leap of faith to assume listeners will endure 30 minutes of pummeling music to get to anything worth remembering. As a Priest fan, I barely did.
“Traitor’s Gate” and “Flamethrower” do sound like they could’ve been on Point of Entry or Killing Machine, classic metal albums. It’d be refreshing if the band focused more on tracks like “Rising from Ruins” or “Spectre.” Those standout tracks highlight a sophistication in the miasma of riffage. This is where Judas Priest truly is after all these years and it looks good on them. A missed opportunity all around.
Naming Firepower as a point of emphasis for the album comes as double-edged sword. Yes, the album is an abundance of wealth in musicality and sound. Yes, the album has little depth. If the point was to prove that Judas Priest “has still got it,” then Firepower is a fool’s errand.