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No time like the present to explain why I worship the Priest. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other band that has managed to release a substantial catalogue of 15 studio albums, each of which manages to be distinct from the other whilst shifting dramatically between styles amongst groups of albums, and yet still remains distinctly Heavy Metal - Judas Priest style. Angel Of Retribution continues this pattern, and does so very well if you ask me. But will there be new elements that could put off some listeners? Eyes down to find out, dear reader...
This album seems to be a microcosm of Priest's entire career, in the way that it shifts between styles. This is not to say that different songs on here sound overtly like they're from older albums. Though heavier songs such as Demonizer and Hellrider have the aggressive, razor-sharp elements of Ram It Down and Painkiller, and the relatively more laid-back songs hark back to the catchy yet punchy British Steel era, this is a distinctly new Priest album.
The album has it's own distinct sound, and does the full range of traditional Heavy Metal songwriting within it. Angel redeems every soppy ballad you've heard dragging down a Metal album with evocative lyrics and a brilliantly paced crescendo throughout the song. Worth Fighting For and Wheels Of Fire represent a laid-back, 'driving music' style of rocking - the former quietly, almost semi-acoustically (in terms of lack of distortion, not campfire guitars), while the latter packs more punch with distorted chugga riffing. From there we have the middle ground rockers that should please everyone, including the chorus-filled Revolution. Anthemic stadium rocker or just too repetitive with the choruses? It just boils down to how you feel about those kind of songs! The heaviness is upped with the aforementioned Demonizer and Hellrider, before culminating with the epic Lochness. Clocking in at 13 minutes (16 if you count the brooding, tranquil Eulogy preceeding it), it's length alone is a first for Priest. It lumbers along almost like the beast it describes - awkwardly? Maybe. Helping ground this monstrosity is a crazy pinch-harmonic riff, something I haven't heard from Priest before, unless I happily overlooked it on one of the Ripper albums. All in all, something for everyone. Luckily it all merges together into a coherant whole - no good having something for everyone if they hate the stuff that doesn't suit their exact taste.
I feel obliged to point out the 15 years between this and Rob Halford's previous album with Priest, Painkiller. What's apparent from his return? For starters, the shriek from bygone years seems to be reserved for the choir of backing vocals. The lead vocals are mostly mid-range, though all the different pitches in the background suggest that Rob had great fun in the studio making all sorts of noises. A Fight-esque grunt is even apparent on Hellrider, indeed some of the riffing is reminiscent of the Fight project. However, they do not dominate the album. The traditional twin lead guitar attack is still the cornerstone of Judas Priest, and Glenn and K.K. do more than just trade solos here. Lots of meedly-meedly playing off each other, yes please.
Something else older fans will pick up on is the recycling of lyrical ideas from previous albums. The Hellion, Painkiller, sad wings, the Tyrant ramming it down, the Sentinel's stained class...it's all there. The lyrical theme of Deal With The Devil even harks back to Made In Hell from Halford's Resurrection album. The continued association of Halford with producer Roy Z gives the album a thick and chunky sound similar to that of Resurrection, and don't we just love the way it leaps out of the speaker. Do we? (some don't...) *ahem* anyway...recycling lyrics...lazy and unrewarding to hear? I dunno...when you're familiar with the artwork and sounds associated with these, it helps to evoke some pretty dramatic images. Take it as you will.
Maybe it's a loaded review, because as a Priest fan I'm instantly going to jump on what's good about the album. I do honestly think, though, that Angel Of Retribution pulls off enough tricks to satisfy both the grizzled, bitter old fan, and the n00b. Bring on the next one and another tour passing through Plymouth, I say. Can't get enough of this stuff...
Originally written for http://www.metalmongrel.com