After almost 50 years, 18 albums and basically shaping the way heavy metal was meant to be played you can hardly claim the Birminghamn boys aren't not pulling their weight. Firepower, the 19th full length album, comes four years after its predecessor; Redeemer Of Souls (2014) which proved that modern day Priest still had lots of thunder to strike. The guitar work is generally as strong as can be expected from the originators of the twin axe attack. Glenn Tipton, who was sadly diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease before the recording of the album (producer Andy Sneap (Hell) will carry his duty on the subsequent tour), defies all said hardship and alongside Richie Faulkner makes Firepower the rifflicious revelry in gritty and melodic guitar dueling and powerful heavy metal thunder. It’s a safe album, but by Priest’s standards, that does not mean bad. Arguably their lowest points have been pretty strong as well, and Firepower is far from their lowest point, as it punches the metal with a fresh and modern sound.
Opener and title track Firepower is actually a rather dull, playing it safe, kind of affair that doesn’t quite to the album justice. Aside from the raunchy guitar intro and a couple of fiery licks strewn throughout, it does little to get the ball rolling. Instead, the following Lightning Strike, used as the single for the album, does all of that and more. After that, the beginning picks up strong and heavy with a few menacingly heavy tracks and rolling thunder with hints to Painkiller (1990) and Angel Of Retribution (2003), culminating in Rising From Ruins (and its building piano intro Guardians), which - quite frankly - blows the rest of the material straight out of the gate. A mid tempo semi epic with an atmospheric touch thanks to the low rumbling of Ian Hill’s dense bass lines and a slow, melodic guitar solo that extends to the climax of the song. While the rest of the album holds a few great tracks, none fully match the intensity of Rising From Ruins, which will likely stand as Firepower’s crowning moment in years to come.
Rob Halford, now 66 years old, delivers with massive amounts of passion for the metal trade and great power in those vocal lines. Staying mostly in his comfortable, yet lethal mid range, he strikes into the higher banshee shrieks in a few choruses where they make great effect. While not going out of his way to once more break the ground he once broke, he shows no sign of his voice faltering. The album is not as experimental as Priest have been known to; most notably with Nostradamus (2008), but sticks to safe ground while still feeling fresh and new. The new life that Faulkner (replacing K.K. Downing) brought to the legendary band before the last album still rolls well, giving Firepower the same sense of love for the craft that was present on Redeemer Of Souls, which it arguably matches in quality. Obviously, no new Judas Priest album will ever hold up to the classics in the eyes of the fans, but with an open mind there’s no doubt that the Priest has lost no love for heavy metal, as Firepower is nothing if not a testament to the everlasting power of the metal gods.
Standout tracks: Lightning Strike, Evil Never Dies, Rising From Ruins, Traitor’s Gate