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Worthy. - 77%

OlympicSharpshooter, March 18th, 2005

I pride myself on being objective about metal records. True, I can't resist dropping in my fanboy moments (look away from that Train of Thought review), but on the whole I like to think that I'm one of the more objective reviewers on this site. Pure oozing metal man-love is a nice read, but does it help you choose what records are good enough for your hallowed collection? At the least I try to offer something in my own particular idiom. Now that that's out of the way... Angel of Retribution.

AoR is a record that is aimed for the long time Priest fan, which is all things considered the way it should be and probably the only way to go because Priest's reputation has suffered over the years with the mainstream. So, like good little elves, Priest stuffs every nook and cranny of this record with references to older works. You can scarce go ten feet in any direction without stumbling over tyrants and painkillers and sentinels soaring down on sad wings from blood red skies, and frankly its a little distracting. I appreciate that they are embracing their history (if not so much revisiting it), but when you reference say, "Deceiver", you invite comparisons to past triumphs that you more than likely cannot top. But hey, they don't have to anymore do they? FINALLY, Judas Priest is in a position where they have general good faith on their side. All they had to do was beat Demolition and Jugulator and people would be glad to worship at their (w)heels. Mission accomplished guys.

Truth be told, Angel of Retribution is an admirable record in a lot of ways. Yep, I ADMIRE a Judas Priest record. That fact alone is enough to make this entire Angel of Retribution experience worthwhile for me. I admire them because they decided not to ape their old sounds and ram a whole album worth of British Steel or Painkiller-lite down our collective throats. This stuff is pureblood heavy metal, with a welcome side of classic rock, and the results are occasionally lovely. "Worth Fighting For", for example, houses no truly innovative thoughts but my fucking God, its mellow Judas Priest that manages to be moving. I don't give a damn about the lyrical content (which is actually quite good on this track) or the story being told, I am moved by the purity of these riffs, by the warmth and passion in Rob Halford voice, by a solo that (no lie) can put a hitch in my throat by being so honest. Honesty alone, something that has been lacking from Priest's work since Hell Bent for Leather is enough here, the sheer absence of artifice and pretension helping me to accept Angel of Retribution into my heart.

There's a sweet naivet� here, a nostalgia invoked even on tracks that are utterly alien to the Priest catalogue. "Lochness" is a bloated, overwrought piece of epic doom that has such a silly base (its about the fucking Lochness Monster!) that you laugh and accept Priest at face value because they conceal nothing from you. We're writing songs about children's stories, and we're writing them with utter seriousness and considerable heaviness. Well okay Priest, I'll let it pass and rock on without regret. Yes, the song is artificially extended (most ill-advised faux-fade out ever) but Halford is so thespian, his performance of these words so inspired and those riffs so damned heavy and propulsive that even this befuddled boggy abortion becomes worthy of the thirteen minutes spent on it. And hell, lyrically it isn't even that bad. Were it not for the screaming fact that this song is being written about the Lochness Monster, these lyrics would rank as perhaps the best on the album.

Rob Halford rarely shreds his upper register as he did on past triumphs, but in exchange he delivers a heartfelt and impeccably chosen performance that leaves a deep impression. Halford was often saddled with the job of saving the band from its own stupidity, the man gifted with an innate ability to deliver us from the demons of cheese, his undeniable talent and sheer presence making us forget words like 'vaporapeize' and songs about forced oral sex. He faces his greatest test here on "Angel", wherein he is charged to stand alone and redeem an irredeemably sappy song. Seventh-grade quality poetry, and an opening few minutes in which he is near enough acapella, left to endure the attentions of the unbelievers who inevitably laugh at the fragility of it. Rob Halford delivers a sobbingly emotional performance, raw and yet perfectly shaded. The way his voice wavers on those opening few bars, almost tricking us into believing he hasn't got what it takes to make this thing work, then grows stronger and more confidant as Tipton & Downing contribute a stirring Spanish-flavoured acoustic guitar line underneath, building up to the point where it works in spite of itself, like "Lochness". "Angel" reminds me of works like "Last Rose of Summer" and "Dreamer Deceiver", and although it is not a classic by the very fact that Priest is able to evoke such tender memories of their 70's output I am compelled to honour their effort.

Priest doesn't neglect the more extreme aspects of their sound either, immediately obvious from the opening of "Judas is Rising"/"Hellrider"... err, sorry, they apparently forgot that they used that trebly guitar intro twice on the damned record, but in spite of this little lapse the trio of 'intense' Priest songs ("Judas is Rising", "Demonizer", and "Hellrider") is highly impressive. Of the three, my favourite is "Demonizer" which features quite a lot of vengeful preaching which I as always dig, particularly the delivery of the line "Its Gideon's quest to take Satan's throne!". Now, I always thought that Gideon was a guy who distributed little red bibles to school kids, but I guess I was wrong. "Demonizer" is all evangelical fire and brimstone and the riffing is deadly, both of which can be said about "Judas is Rising" which is actually pretty damned good lyrically. It�s always interesting when you get power metal through the looking glass, generally from bands who predate the form and know how it SHOULD have been done. "Hellrider" is the weakest of the trinity, being too much of a construct in some ways, too pseudo-Painkiller in a way that "Demonizer" somehow isn't, but even so the almost churchy outro riffery is bloody brilliant.

And wonder of wonders (he says, gleefully hopping to a new topic), Tipton & Downing have excised the wretched modern soloing of the Owens years and have created varied, interesting, and memorable solos of a quality at least on par with the Painkiller album. Consider closely the solo-riff section of the deathly catchy "Revolution", or the jagged Dave Mustaine-like whammy-wrecking first few seconds of the "Demonizer" solo which descends into hearty shredding, more riffing, and an almost "Victim of Changes"-like solo fill which churns into more riffing underneath a shattering Halford vocal.

And oh, oh... "Deal with the Devil" is another one of those freshly unoriginal tracks that kicks ass. It gives off vibes similar to Maiden's "Wildest Dreams" (one of these days I'll review Priest without mentioning Maiden, I fucking swear it...), its a 'we built this city on [metal] 'n' roll' type lyric, its a standard quick-but-not-speed riff, with standard darting solo-fills coming out of the woodwork (Scorpions were probably best at this)... and its just so effortlessly crafted that it seems timeless. It is perfect for driving down the road to a concert, gettin' juiced on heavy rock, hanging out with your buddies. And if Rob talks about whips and chains, who's to know and who'll judge? Not I.

If it sounds like I'm making excuses left and right for Angel of Retribution, well, I'm not. Angel of Retribution is cheesy at times, poorly thought-out at others, even laughable ("Conjures up an ageless spell/guarded by the sentinel" in a ballad ferthaluvvagawd) but it rises above (on sad wings or something) this to be their best record since 1984. Most times when bands try many different styles on one album, they're just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks and more often than not the only result is a shitty wall and a half-baked album. Others have every song the same and the effect is lost (Painkiller, Dehumanizer, Reign in Blood, etc.). Here, Priest has made a diverse album that has an impressive array of stylistic changes track to track (the first four tracks particularly), and if it isn't as overflowing with ideas and ethereal creativity as Sin After Sin, at the very least it makes me think of that record.

Judas Priest has made a record that is flawed, but not deeply so, and good, but not profoundly so. It is a record that takes steps forward by refusing to stagnate, by denying the sins of the 90s, by not being afraid to be metal in all of the commercial suicide glory of that word. They even launched this record in the same week 50 Cent's massively popular The Massacre was released. So as an album, it was quite good and worth your hard-earned dime. As a testament to Judas Priest, and as an album that creates a comforting warm in my belly, Angel of Retribution is worth more than words.

Stand-Outs: "Worth Fighting For", "Demonizer", "Deal with the Devil"