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When pompousness takes control: Vol IV - 19%

BastardHead, June 19th, 2008

Honestly, when this pompousness series took off, I never ever would've guessed that Judas Priest, the metal gods themselves, would ever release an album that would qualify to be covered. I mean really, what made the band special? Heavy fucking metal, speed, power, Halford's inimitable wails, Tipton and Downing's dual guitar attack, this was THE band right after Sabbath in the 70s. Sure, I understand they can never release Sad Wings of Destiny or Painkiller again, but they don't have to release garbage instead. Like most metalheads with an internet connection, I anxiously awaited the day the title track was streamed. Upon hearing it, I was completely stoked, it was a bit of a Painkiller rehash, but it was really fucking good. What's not to like? Judas Priest sped up again, nothing bad could happen. I resisted downloading the full leak and instead rushed out immediately after work on the day it came out to buy it. The last time I blindly bought an album, I wound up with Iced Earth's Framing Armageddon (the second installment of this particular series, actually), so you figure I'd've learned my lesson. Long story short, I haven't learned, and I probably never will.

Nearly everything that made the band special is gone. The solos are still there, but that's really about all that managed to sneak into the record. The majority of this album is midpaced and symphonic. While epic string sections aren't normally a part of Priest's repertoire, it isn't grounds for immediate hatred; but the fact that all but three tracks aren't even ear catching in the slightest, is actually offensive. Take note of these tracks, Prophecy, Persecution, and Nostradamus. Those three are the only three worth listening to, and Prophecy is more comical than balls out metal madness (seriously, I actually burst out laughing when I first heard that chorus). But again, just because a band that has been around longer than my parents tries something new, it doesn't make it terrible. There are very few riffs that even sound like they were written by Tipton and/or Downing. We all know what they are capable of, but it seems like they decided a project and concept as ambitious as this was above solid riffs, and instead needed a bunch of pointless string sections, piano, and synth guitars. What in the living dick were they thinking?

Let me take a small detour here and tell y'all a story. Back when I was about 12, I had some friends, two brothers of Vietnamese descent. The older was my age, and the younger was about 9 or 10. One day, the young one came running up to me, laughing his ass off. He explains that he just caught his brother in his room making his dick look longer by molding Play-Doh on the end of it. In essence, he was making a penis extension out of clay. I shared that with you because I believe that there is no better way to describe all of the goddamn pointless interlude tracks. They do nothing except make the album longer. They're pointless, they're impractical, they don't function, they're ugly, they are nothing but penises made out of Play-Doh. This is one of the exact reasons I disliked Nightfall in Middle-Earth, and yet Judas Priest apparently decided to emulate the album in both physical and spiritual form.

I say this because not only is it just a handful of mediocre and half assed songs mixed with a couple classics broken up by pointless interludes, but the story is completely convoluted and difficult to follow without prior knowledge of the concept. Nostradamus fares a little better here considering I knew the story beforehand, but it doesn't help that the album is arranged in a way that makes no sense at all. Why are there five tracks alloted to the segment about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Was that even a big part in the life of Nostradamus? Why the hell is that section happening before he began making his quatrains? The story, while interesting, seems to be thrown together haphazardly and nearly ruins the album.

And what the shoddy storytelling doesn't kill, the uninspired and/or boring music definitely does. There is absolutely no reason for Death or Alone to be nearly eight minutes long, especially when they are as stupidly boring as they are. It seems like they never got the song lengths right, and it severely hinders a lot of the enjoyment. For example, War is only five minutes long, but you start begging for it to end after about two minutes, the track would've actually worked better as one of those fucking interludes I hate so much. And what's even more annoying is when they actually meld the interlude into part of the main song. This would usually be something I'd enjoy, as it'd eliminate most of the pointless bullshit tracks, but the only fucking song they do that on is one of the only good ones (Persecution), therefore delaying anything good from coming out of your speakers. Also, don't believe any of the hype about Halford's voice still being in top form, it's not. He sounds like he's either straining to hit some of the higher notes in his lower octaves, or he's trying way to hard to convey emotion. Listen to Exiled, Revelations, Lost Love, New Beginnings, or pretty much any of the songs I didn't mention as being good, you'll see what I mean. Alone stands as one of the few hard rock songs on the album, and while it's enjoyable to a point (the chorus is catchy, that's about it), it drags on for far too long. Most of the tracks tend to plod along and never really drive the point home.

What this means is that the highlights of the album are obviously the heavy metal monsters. The title track is a great song, and is definitely worthy of the Judas Priest moniker. Unlike twenty other tracks, Nostradamus doesn't meander about with boring riffs and sorrowful strings backing Halford's aging croons about whatever adversity he had to endure and whatnot. The title track actually starts off with a string melody and a really non-convincing emotional verse (you know, just like nearly every other song on the record), but after that it just fucking explodes. Rob Halford nails one of his trademark falsetto wails (the first time since Persecution nearly an hour beforehand) and the song just takes off. When you really break it down, it's just a watered down Painkiller, but that song is so damn awesome even watered down versions of it smoke most of anything else written nowadays. Even the synth guitar part about four minutes in that sounds like the boss battles from Final Fantasy VII is nothing but pure unadulterated asskickery. But again, this boot-to-ass mentality really only shines through here, Persecution, and the chorus to Prophecy, everything else is boring and just meanders about with no real purpose.

Honestly, only pick this up if you have the Judas Priest logo tattooed on your ass. If nothing else, check out the title track and the outro to Persecution, as they are the only parts of the album good enough to bear the name of Priest. I think it's about time for the guys to hang up their robes and call it a career. I have a bad feeling that they'll pull some stunt like play this album in it's entirety on tour or something, as they seem extremely proud of their newest creation. Maybe I just don't want to accept this new direction and will constantly pray for another Hell Bent for Leather, but I find it hard to enjoy anything besides a couple tracks here, and three out of twenty three is a really bad percentage.