The Best and Worst of Judas Priest (part 3)
Part 3: The Rest...
Hello and welcome back to our in-depth exploration of the Judas Priest catalog, in honor of the legendary band's world-spanning "Epitaph" farewell tour and forthcoming new (final?) studio album, Redeemer of Souls (due in July 2014). In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we examined the albums that we termed "The Essential Priest" and "The Wild Cards," and now we will finish off our investigation with the ones that remain...
For Diehards Only:
ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION (Sony/BMG, 2005) When Judas Priest announced their reunion with Rob Halford in 2004, all was suddenly right with the world. Tim "Ripper" Owens was quickly given his walking papers and the real Judas Priest went back into the studio to create their first album together in fifteen years. The result, ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION, while not a bad record by any stretch, seems a bit "safe" to me, as if the band were just cranking out what was expected of them. "Judas Rising," "Deal With the Devil," and "Wheels of Fire" are most definitely air guitar worthy, but on the down side, the 13 minute "Loch Ness" may be the single dullest Priest song ever recorded.
TURBO (CBS/Sony, 1986) Pop Metal was all the rage in the U.S. in 1986 and unbelievably, Judas Priest prettied up their hair-do's, plugged into guitar synthesizers and jumped right into the Aqua-Net pool with both feet on this album. Longtime fans were absolutely horrified, of course, but TURBO unexpectedly brought a whole new crowd of listeners to the Priest cause. As I mentioned in my first entry in this series, the TURBO tour was my first ever concert so even though the album has aged about as well as a carton of milk on a hot driveway, I loved it at the time and it remains a sentimental favorite to this day. Despite the heavy layer of pop-metal cheez, "Turbo Lover" is still an awesomely catchy track, and "Out in the Cold" should still be in their set list today. As for the rest...well, I'm going to plead the Fifth.
NOSTRADAMUS (Sony/BMG, 2008) After the somewhat-safe ANGEL OF RETRIBUTION reunion album, Priest did something totally unexpected: a double concept album about the famed Medieval soothsayer. The reaction from much of the Priest faithful: "Uhhh...what?" Seriously, there are a few bits & pieces on NOSTRADAMUS that are listenable but it's simply too bloated, too self-important, and overall, too dull to take seriously. I will give the band grudging props for daring to jump off the deep end and take on a project so far from their comfort zone (how many other bands with a 30+ year history would do such a thing?) but I'm in no hurry to ever listen to this one again.
REDEEMER OF SOULS (Sony, 2014) The newest addition to the Priest canon, 2014's Redeemer of Souls, thankfully leaves behind the rock-opera aspirations of the preceding Nostradamus and gets back to the straight up, no frills heavy metal that has been the band's meat and potatoes for more than twenty years. Like 2005's Angel of Retribution, it's a fairly "safe" record that should please the diehards but probably won't make them any new fans. It's simply nice to know there still is a Judas Priest in 2014 and they're still capable of kicking your ass up and down the block!
DEMOLITION (Atlantic, 2001) Well, something has to rank at the bottom of the Priest pile, and this ill-fated second (and final) disc with Tim Owens on vocals earned that dubious position very easily. Mind you, I'm not an Owens hater by any means -- I liked JUGULATOR just fine -- but after an inexplicable four-year wait for a new album, DEMOLITION's schizophrenic mix of old school Priest ("Machine Man" and "Bloodsuckers") late 90's aggro-rock ("Subterfuge," "Cyberface"), and for one shameful moment, even rap-rock ("Metal Messiah") tried to appeal to every crowd at the same time, and ended up pleasing no one. Unsurprisingly, the album went over about as well as a loud fart in a quiet church, and soon the band was reaching over to Camp Halford in the hopes of mending fences. Up until this album was released, I'd long considered TURBO to be Priest's worst album, but as soon as I heard DEMOLITION I was heard to announce "We have a new champion!" Seriously folks, this one is for hardcore Priest completists only. Ugh. No wonder this one is long out of print.
Wait! That's not quite all!
That just about wraps up our guided tour of the Judas Priest discography, but at least we can expect one more studio album from the boys before they hang up their leathers for good. (Mainly because I'd hate for the sub-par NOSTRADAMUS to be their final recorded output!) After that, I can only tip my (studded leather) cap to Judas Priest and say "Thank you" for such great music, such an amazing career and a ton of memories.
If you've already collected all of the albums that were mentioned in these three entries and you still want more Judas Priest, you can always pick up one of their numerous live albums (PRIEST...LIVE!, '98 LIVE MELTDOWN, LIVE IN LONDON, or A TOUCH OF EVIL...LIVE), greatest-hits compilations (the massive, four-CD/one-DVD METALOGY box set is obviously the most comprehensive, but the 2-disc METALWORKS 73-93 is a fine, affordable substitute) or videos/DVD's (ELECTRIC EYE, RISING IN THE EAST). Take it from someone who knows, it just takes one Judas Priest album to set you off on a lifetime of metal mania. Thank you for reading and I hope you all enjoyed this trip through Judas Priest's past, present and (hopefully?) future!!