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I make no qualms or secret about the fact I'm a massive Judas Priest fan, I love the boys dearly (not in the same way Dave Holland does either) and they've provided me with hours upon hours of fun much like some enormous heavy metal jigsaw. But with 'Nostradamus' all the excitement and hope of a new Priest album was quashed, once the floodgates had been opened 'Nostradamus' just sort of waffled its way out. All the heraldry, trumpet fanfares and strippers exploding out of cakes that so often comes with mainstream metal releases only added to the disappointment and as such 'Nostradamus' has sat collecting dust and the exoskeletons of all sorts of creepy crawlies (it seems renting a flat with Miss Havisham wasn't the most hygienic of my decisions). And upon revision it seems 'Nostradamus' hasn't gained anything, absence may make the heart grow fonder, but in this case it made me reckon that Priest's latest simply isn't a good one.
Honestly, I feel a tad guilty taking pot shots at this, I mean it's Priest - two guitarists with a strange similarity to those gin-drinking single mothers, a singer who is developing a back problem from his auto-cue and um... a rhythm section. I feel for the guys, the lovable eccentric (strangely spouseless in Rob's case) uncles of heavy metal. But something is very much astray here and I can't ignore it any more.
On his summer holiday someone must have given Halford a copy of Blind Guardian's 'Nightfall...' or maybe Virgin Steele's 'Atreus...' series. Obviously, he didn't listen to the bloody things and simply went;
"Yes, we are Judas Priest, we can pull off ambitious concept albums... quick Glen, to the Pro Tools!". And there we have it, Priest gave us 'Nostradamus'. This whole thing reeks of Pro Tooled castration, everything is ruthlessly neat and largely sterile. Honestly, I don't give a shit how much you dig all this modern equipment, you should still be striving to capture an organic feel to your record if you play in a traditional metal band. A main aim of 'Nostradamus' was to prove that Priest could still cut it with the young guns, they'd already done this with 'Painkiller' see, and it worked. The album actually succeeds in this aim, as this isn't the Priest of old or even the safe comeback of 'Angel of Retribution'. Instead this rather a saggy, bloated album is Priest for the 21st century: overblown and overlong much in keeping with most of the young fellows out there. The Pro Tooled vibe is best seen in the albums drumming. Scott Travis is an excellent drummer, that I can't doubt. But here he is bound and chained to functioning as a metronome simply to keep Glen and Ken's adventures in banality in time. But guess what? The boys haven't even worked out Pro Tools properly... they managed to delete most of the guitars from the verses in 'War', or at least I hope they did, I mean Judas Priest wouldn't have submitted that as a complete song, would they?
Oh lord, there are a whole bucket load of iffy moments to be had with 'Nostradamus'. 'Pestilence and Plague' for instance, nice enough verses here but then an Italian chorus? Ew, if I was of Italian descend I would have much preferred a big sing along of;
"GREASY WOPS, GREASY WOPS, PIZZA PIE!". Xenophobic as that may have been, it's much less awkward than the novelty of an Italian chorus. 'Death' is a complete snorefest, this was one of the tracks I was exposed to prior to this albums release, at the otherwise fantastic Download festival performance. It's heavy and sinister I'll give them that, but completely lacking in that necessary black magic (not the chocolates) to make a sinister metal classic. But honestly, most of the whole first side of this is pretty much interchangeable in its blandness and overwhelmingly modern in its approach to shit. There are a few glimmers of hope every now and again but this is a Judas Priest album, even 'Ram It Down' had more killers than this!
But there are two excellent numbers on the first half of this incredibly overwrought album, 'Prophecy' and 'Persecution'. The former is a tacky, schlock-tastic song with a storming mid-paced riff that will fill up those arenas quite nicely. Halford's vocals are still in excellent form, albeit a tad raspy and are generally well accented by the cheesy B-movie keyboards that aren't too far from Geoff Nicholls' work with Sabbath. And of course, the chorus had us in all in a bought of laughter all over the world... brilliant stuff. The guitar break is nice too, recalling 'Defenders...' era stuff like 'Love Bites'. But it's a lulling you into a false sense of security, I suppose I shouldn't hear the first song of a record and go "Agggrh best album ever *insert band name here* are back!". 'Prophecy' begins with an atmospheric if slightly processed guitar motif and then settles into some comfortable speed metal, good stuff but hardly awe-inspiring, but by the low standards this album has given itself, quite enjoyable, especially in such a nadir of none-starters.
The second disc generally continues the album's true concept - the none-starter. But somehow it feels a little a better, maybe it's because you can see the light at the end of this dry concept album. After two go-nowhere-nothing-special Priest tracks, we get 'Alone'. This one is a nice anthemic balladic song, it does seem like it's trying a little too hard, but then again so does the whole album. Just before the five minute mark we get a nice little UFO reference, hear that? Pinched from the truly beautiful 'Love to Love' from UFO's 'Lights Out' album... yeah KK, I fucking spotted it. Ears like a hawk! Earlier in the song we get a nice bit of 80s arena metal Priest riffage which is pretty satisfying. 'Visions' is a standout here, something a little different for the band. This wouldn't sound out of place on any modern power metal album, for instance it's not far removed, stylistically at least, from some of the Deris era Helloween ballads. Still compare this to the truly moving 'Night Comes Down' or the psychedelic haze of 'Dreamer/Deceiver' and it falls far short of the immense emotional depth Priest have been capable with their ballads in the past. The title track is another good 'un, a complete retread of 'Painkiller' but enjoyable. The synths are well used here and Halford's quasi-operatic vocals are a nice touch (but don't you think it should go into the Gloria Gaynor song after the 'But I will survive!' line). It's very cheesy, even by the Priest's own standards, but somehow it works... maybe that's because we all loved 'Painkiller'. However, the timing of this being the first single has only gone to further undermine 'Nostradamus' as it's the only song of this sort on the album. Nowhere else do Priest achieve this velocity or bombast on this album... so it simply crushed the expectations of many fans.
Glen and KK do rip it up here with the leads, no surprise really. But then again guitarists often dig stuff like this to shred over. Give a guitarist a nice simple chord progression or riff to work over and they can really let rip (I'm not implying that they can't do this over more complex arrangements, mind you) . So in all actuality, this album is Glen and KK getting with the Joe Bonamassa crowd- boring songs and killer solos! Guitar World loves you!
The segues here are generally dull too, the only advantage they have over the rest of the album is that they're much shorter! So that's a positive I guess... I'm going to put this album up on the fridge, well done guys. A lot of the time the band are trying to capture that beautiful epic feeling of 'Children of the Sea', but the magic is gone, the dragon slain and the it's a complete case of déjà vu - it's been done before and it was much better. Conceptually this album doesn't achieve much either. The lyrics are generally poorly done. I've been told that this is what happens when Glen Tipton gets a big hand in writing lyrics, it happened with the Ripper era too. The rhyme schemes are painfully obvious... love/dove/above stuff, GCSE English fodder. Historical and literary lyrics have always been Iron Maiden's forte, so it is completely beyond me why the authors of 'Living After Midnight' decided to go down this route. Perhaps, it's a case of keeping up with the Harris'... but Priest need to come to terms with the fact they are Judas Priest, not a European power metal band and not Iron Maiden. However, this isn't the first time the two's careers have intertwined - from the synth experimentation, the dodgy replacement singers, the solo careers which both involved Roy Z and now the controversial reunion albums. In all these periods it seems Iron Maiden have come out on top, as their latest actually maintained my interest for more than one listen! Astounding!
'Nostradamus' is a functionless album- if I want a Priest album I'll listen to, wait for it, a good one and for the ambitious conceptual stuff I'll also want, shock horror, a good one! The idea of the double CD album has proven itself a bad one, again and again, see Helloween's third installment of the Keeper series for another example (though that is perfect in comparison to this the ugliest of Judas' ducklings). Artists seem to be taking the same amount of good ideas they would have used for a single CD and are dragging them out, with all means of padding and fluff, into ungodly lengths of time (I figure this thing takes more time to listen to than it actually did to write, you know copy and paste on the old computer recording tool). Hopefully, this idea of the double CD album will prove itself a teething problem of the 2000s and be what goldfish in platforms were to the 70s, Flock of Seagulls hair was for the 80s and what Courtney Love was to the 90s. Also the packaging sucks, especially for the £10 I shelled out for this and more importantly, I want the old Priest logo back!