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Stronger than one might have expected - 83%

Lane, January 20th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2005, CD, Sony Music UK

I have to start somewhere and 'Angel of Retribution' album was chosen as a subject for my first ever Judas Priest review. The album is a very important piece in the band's history: The classic formation was back together again, as singer Rob Halford had returned to the line-up in 2003 (Tim "Ripper" Owens sang on 2 albums), and it is the first ever number one on record sales lists (in Greece) anywhere.

The cover shows an angel (of retribution), but music-wise this album didn't go as far into the past. I feel this revisits 'Painkiller' era (1990) quite a bit. This is evident from the beginning, as 'Judas Rising' is conjured with tapping guitar and banshee screaming when it explodes into marching double kick drumming, courtesy of Scott Travis, and tight riffing with Halford's commanding vocals. The solos... I think I do not have to say more about one of the most respected guitar duos in history, do I?! A magnificent Black Country metal opener! The album's rocking pieces follow with 'Deal with the Devil' and 'Revolution', of which the formed is more powerful and head-bangable, plus we get the twin guitar harmonies from K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, while the latter is the album's most US-sounding piece; a tad too laid-back, bringing something like Slash's or ZZ Top's material to my mind, but good at that.

Contrary to my expectations, the album's first softer song is up next, 'Worth Fighting for'. However, a song that is softer music and playing-wise is harder on emotional level. Actually, it's absolutely affecting song, yet with strong pulsing beat, where Ian Hill's bass guitar simply slays. Halford's vocals and guitar lines really capture soul's woe, but there's always something worth fighting for... "The painkiller rises again..." on 'Demonizer, and again that means tough metal forged in the mills of Black Country. Dramatic and exorcising, double bass drum driven injects molten metal in listener's veins, and does it with style. 'Wheel s of Fire' is a rolling US-vibe heavy metal song, but it does not reach that streak it was meant to do. Hmmm, another US style song, that happens to be my least favourite here...

'Angel' is a ballad, that doesn't choke a listener with too much honey, while it is one of the more beautiful songs I've ever heard. It actually is touching, but not annoyingly sticky. Starting acoustically, the song catches beat in its midpoint, but do not wait for firey guitar solos, please! 'Hellrider' isn't a ballad, as you might've already figured out, but another 'Painkiller'-ish metal mayhem. There's even some classical-inspired guitar work in the solo part. The chorus is another hymnal/horror piece. Fantastic! Talking about hymns, 'Eulogy' is one gloomy song. A bass guitar, piano (plus some synthesizers) and Halford make magic happen.

The album ends with huge 'Lochness'. It's a slower song, which has doomy atmosphere going on. Nothing too typical JP here, but more like a nod towards Black Sabbath. Starting with moody sounds bringing images of Scottish nature to mind, and then weird sounds depicting the monster, the song contains sturdy heavy metal riffs and rhythm section. Awesome vocals lines culminate to hymnic chorus. Solo parts liven up the song in drastic places. This was the first song I heard from this album on a radio, and it grabbed me hard. I believe this didn't happen to many a people, because the song is so ostracise. I love the song; it is a giant, yet it flows beautifully, and is so atmospheric.

Some things do not happen as much as wanted: Halford's singing is more on lower notes now (understandably with ageing), despite a few shrieks/high vocals, and twin guitar harmonies could have been more frequent. These aren't real complaints. Only those songs with US-vibe are, but still the songs are okay at least. If you want another negative remark, it's about ugly booklet artwork and layout (NOT about the cover art).

Produced by the band with Roy Z (Tribe of Gypsies, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Rock etc.), the album sounds great. It is powerful, it resonates, it is clear and nicely balanced. Plus, there's no preset recording adjustments, of course. It's a "picture" of its time, as there is no 1980s synthesizer influences. Performances are top-notch, as expected, nothing weak or "thereabouts". Even if Mr. Halford isn't screaming out his bollocks, he's got thew. The lyrics are METAL: Horror and monster stories, band and music itself, with some more moving texts.

Damn this album is good! If you happen to enjoy Judas Priest even a bit, then give this one a go. It was such a strong "comeback". Actually it might need more then a go, so why not give it some time, okay? It is worth fig... I mean, it is worth that much.

(Originally written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com)