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Judas Priest | Angel of Retribution | review | metal | Lollipop

Judas Priest

Angel of Retribution (Sony)
By Martin Popoff

Slaps on the backs and high fives all 'round: Judas Priest have dodged a hail of bullets and walked the razor's edge, which is sorta one and the same. I mean, they could've turned in a "modern" album, whatever the hell that means in an age where 165 records have come out in the last three years endlessly rewriting "Exciter," "Screaming for Vengeance," and "The Sentinel." Of course what we mean is something like the Ripper records, Glenn and K.K. periodically daubing the age creams, worrying about sounding current, a place Rob's been to as well, with both Halford and Two.

Conversely, they could've turned in a safe, shiny, vacuum-sealed Roy Z.-approved proto-power metal record like Resurrection. But no, Angel of Retribution (I still have issues with that title: There's a vague redundancy in it) brings to the table eccentricity (gone since Hell Bent For Leather), dimension, almost a whole new persona to this band of many faces and misplaces over the years. Oh, I suppose it's closer to a Resurrection, but curve balls are admirably thrown. First leaked track "Revolution" was a rumbling, oddly arranged enigma that contained a bit of Zeppelin, even Rage Against The Machine, plus a bit of the tribal United thing going on. I didn't like the verse, but then it's quickly dispensed with, all sorts of sophisticated tricks and drones and circulars taking over until you just get taken along for the ride like a barrel over the falls. A success AND an uncharacteristic track: New ground. Elsewhere, "Judas Rising" is both arcanely melodic and full-on power metal, but with an odd drum track. Again, surprisingly brainy musically. And man, before we leave that one, the best part of this record is its solos! K.K. and Glenn just have this timeless knack for dueling, composing, and going for the throat, without being speedy all the time, without widdling way up the dog whistle fretboard. They sound like mechanics. And bloody 'ell, "Deal With the Devil" is a headrush of a headbang, like British Steel, like Accept, very German (weak chorus though). "Worth Fighting For" is brave too, this time Accept meets Turbo, with a bit of a hair/Southern rock vibe.

"Demonizer" is another slamming headbang with a great groove, despite its mechanistic charting. This one brings up a point: This album isn't showy and note-dense all the time; in that respect it's interestingly, circuitously old school, almost like the work of icons who've earned, in semi-retirement, the right not to hafta switch riffs all the time. "Wheels of Fire" is catchy stuff again, just smartly swift but not fast, chugging, again strafed by fiery licks. Then there's "Angel," again a brave move, an acoustic ballad, but dark and only a little cheesy with the chord changes. I mean that in a good way: Scorpions and Aerosmith are long past being able to write mellow stuff that stirs like this. And man, "Hellrider" rips a new one too, once more within this weirdly cohesive minimalist, straight-line framework. Closing the record is "Eulogy"/"Loch Ness," which is indescribably stupid. I don't know how this got past all that leather, not to mention all the eyes that're supposed to be watching the fort. Conveniently, it's at the back, so you can just end the album after "Hellrider." But hey, if you do venture into the Loch a bit, please, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, climb into the boat before that chorus, because now you're at a hard, carbonic diamond drill bit of stupidity. I mean, all good faith is nearly destroyed by this laughing out loud Russian, vodka-swilling moment. All I can compare it to is Scorpions whistling, UDO doing a Russian folk tune on their last album, or anything by Kruiz or Black Coffee. Halford, dressed like a Cossack, big fur hat, fake moustache, banging a big lizard on the back with a broadsword. This is just the worst. One other minor complaint, I don't like the little elbow in the ribs. "Oooh, he said ‘sad wings'" or whatever the hell the other little nods to old lyrics are: Blood red skies, vengeance, painkiller, etc. (that said, there are some pretty smart lyrics here). But yeah, it just sounds like they drew a blank and had to derive. Pre-chewed food.

Without the massive blemish at the back of the boat (like the mythical creature: Try to believe it doesn't exist), Angel of Retribution is a kick-ass, yet varied and provocative (I mean discussion-provoking), collection of very solid tracks, each blessed with a different flavor of commerciality, yet at the same time, a delectable old school - and even underground - hoariness. And like I said, oy vey, the solos! It's been a long time since I bashed my head through a song, waiting for that moment when I could stop, cock my ear, and enjoy the art and aggression of a well-conceived, very musical but still maniacally metal-emoting guitar solo. Hails on this, and hails on such interesting songs.


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