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I've been shocked by some of the criticism this release has received. I know shouldn't be, but damnit, I just am. There is a little bastion of people out there in the Metal community who like the idea of setting themselves up as the most tuned-in, finger-on-the-pulse people there are, the sort of people idiots like me need to tell them what's good. The sort of people who - quite rightly - dislike the automatic high marks releases like Angel of Retribution are going to get from the mainstream Metal media (alliteration, kids!), but then do the most fucking stupid thing imaginable by convincing themselves the opposite is true. They then proceed to trash the album with the same horrifying delight (behind a facade of feeling let down, of course) that your average Kerrang! hack takes in spewing his sycophantic praise over it.
Now I'm not saying that every negative review of the album is based on this premise, but we all know who these people are and how they get their kicks out of feeling more enlightened than everyone else.
Anyway, rant over, onto the review. Is this Stained Class? No. Is this Painkiller? No. Is this easily better than the depressing attempts at staying young Priest put out in Halford's absence? Fuck yes. Without wanting to belittle the excellent Tim Owens, Jugulator is one of the most embarrassing CDs in my collection. I know this isn't exactly a refreshing thing to read, but Hell, it’s true. The fact is, the return to a classic Metal style by Priest after Halford's return would have been better than their 90s output almost by default. Even Turbo part 2 would have been acceptable, and it pains me to say that.
The good news is that this album is good. Not classic, but seriously, very good. Better than Turbo by some way and simply pissing on the dreck Priest put out when trying to latch onto the Thrash Metal sound ten years too late. The album opens with Judas Rising and after the quiet build up this song just kicked my arse. Yeah, after a few listens it did occur to me that a slightly faster opening track may have been a better idea, but this is a great song. And just listen - duelling guitars in a Judas Priest song. What a novel idea. Fucking late 90s. Anyway, the second song is Deal With The Devil and it keeps up the kicking of my arse from the first track. Not as memorable as its predecessor, but Angel of Retribution definitely opens with the essential 1-2 strike of Heavy Metal album.
And then? Yeah, Revolution sucks (See! I can criticise this album!). Worst song on the album, easily. The same boring, generic rock riff over and over again. I did start to worry a bit on hearing this one. I've got no problem with making an obvious single, but Christ, at least make it a GOOD obvious single. The only plus point is that this is maybe the first time in Priest history you can clearly hear Ian Hill.
Worth Fighting For has taken a lot of stick, mainly for not being heavy enough, which is one of the most gormless things you can criticise Judas Priest for. I mean, Screaming For Vengeance was hardly necro was it? The song is ballad-esque (the power ballad on this album is yet to come) and is about struggling on bravely when you believe in something and all that jazz and damnit if it doesn't get the old hairs on the back of the neck standing on end. Priest have done this sort of song before in the past, and better too, but that doesn't detract from how enjoyable this one is in its own right.
Next up is Demonizer and my arse is well and truly kicked once more with this little slice of Painkiller. This is the closest thing on the record to that album where Priest flamed out so gloriously, with Scott Travis' double bass pedals getting a good exercise for the first time since the opening track, and the guitar is oddly reminiscent of when Slayer were a good band.
Wheels Of Fire is an up-tempo rocker that feels more like British Steel/Screaming For Vengeance era-Priest than anything else. Not exactly memorable though. Next up is Angel, the previously hinted at power ballad. This is not what the band is really known for, but it works. I like it. The gentle acoustics eventually give way to electrics and disappointingly, not much of a solo, but Halford's emotional vocals really shine on this track... "Put sad wings around me now...” Aw, Hell yeah.
Hellrider gets the tempo up again with another nod back to Painkiller. KK and Glenn just fucking smoke on this track, and Rob's double-tracked vocals screech with serious menace. We then move onto Eulogy which, while good, perhaps could have been better. The piano on this mournful tribute to the rise and fall of bands (at least that's what I got from it) is played by the returning Don Airey. I like the feel of this song; I just wish Priest had gone a little further with it. It's gone almost before it has begun, if you know what I mean.
And then...THEN...it’s Lochness. The naysayers can shut the fuck up - this song is immense, and it just isn't a second too long. A 13 minute song about the Loch Ness Fucking Monster...how can it not be incredible? Alright, I jest - this song could have been a disaster, but the fact is that it's not. From the Sabbath-esque riffing at the beginning through to some truly incredible vocal melodies that mask the admittedly silly lyrics, this song is a beast of the proportions of the titular creature. I can't recommend it enough, it's just so haunting, menacing and strangely tragic. Really awakens the overly-sentimental Scottish bastard in me.
So...Angel Of Retribution isn't Judas Priest's best album. Did we have any right to expect it to be? I don't think so, not after a 14-year gap in the writing process. This is still a top, top album and easily one of the better releases of 2005 so far.
For fans of: Iron Maiden, Dio, and just Heavy Metal in general.
Top songs: Judas Rising, Demonizer, Lochness