JUDAS PRIEST - Firepower
March 9, 2018, a year ago
The sands of time that Iron Maiden sang about all those years ago are a reality that’s becoming increasingly impossible to ignore in the metal world and, with each year, it’s a surreal process to ask if a record by any given metal icon will be its last. With Black Sabbath now retired and silenced forever, Slayer (!) unbelievably on its final tour, and Lars Ulrich openly pondering whether he and the other guys in Metallica can play “Fight Fire With Fire” in their 70s, that burned-into-your-consciousness Rush lyric comes flooding back: “We’re only immortal for a limited time.”
So, it’s really not out of the scope of this new reality to wonder if Firepower will be Judas Priest’s last album. Only the band knows the definitive answer to that of course, but the inspired nature of the record does have a staring-at-mortality quality to it. And if this is the way Priest finally rides into Valhalla (again, we have no idea if that’s happening), then it’s a strong battle cry to end a career that saw albums released in five separate decades.
Before we get to talking Firepower's songs, it needs to be said: the production here is just beyond reproach. It’s not a surprise at all to see that Andy Sneap is Firepower's co-producer with Tom Allom, as the sheen Sneap has been able to add to records by Arch Enemy, Nevermore, Opeth, and Testament, among so many others, features very prominently here. Firepower’s slick-but-strong production is just perfect for the type of bold statement it’s making, and it ensures this album will remain memorable in the Judas Priest discography.
The other element that'll make Firepower memorable, evidently, is the song-writing. Though every Judas Priest album is always initially a disappointment because it’s not Painkiller (sad but true), that initial apprehension is discarded quickly with Firepower as Priest fans realize they'll be listening to about half of this record regularly from now on. They’ll probably even look forward to hearing five or so of these songs live, which is no small feat when it comes to legacy bands and their new efforts.
The opening trifecta of “Firepower”, “Lightning Strike”, and “Evil Never Dies” is enough to shake the head in amazement that this is full-length number 18 for Judas Priest, and it’s got to be said that “Lightning Strike” sounds way more impressive between its immediate predecessor and the subsequent statement; as a stand-alone first single it wasn’t the best, but it makes so much more sense sequenced as a track two. And, man, if only “Necromancer”, track five, had followed up the fire of the initial three. “Necromancer” is at the same time menacing and full of swagger and could have easily been on Painkiller (yes, really) or a latter-day Nevermore album (yes, really!).
And, on that Nevermore point, it’s like Warrel Dane (RIP) and Jeff Loomis’ spirits have, through some sort of transcendence (or maybe just Andy Sneap), been further transposed onto Firepower, as “Rising From Ruins” is another example of coulda-been-Nevermore, as its riffs, structure, and various passages sound so similar to that band’s latter work. It’s surreal, and we just hope Warrel would have liked it.
Two other tracks are absolutely worth mention here: “Traitors Gate” and “No Surrender”. “Traitors Gate” is an encapsulation of what makes Judas Priest’s brand of traditional metal so great and relevant even in 2018, the song just amazingly steady in so many self-aware ways. Meanwhile, “No Surrender” is equally self-aware, but through the lens of the confidence in oneself that only age brings: it takes a lot of courage to write a ripping Sunset Strip anthem in the here and now of the present, but this isn’t “Nothin’ But A Good Time.” Instead, “No Surrender”’s got that tough edge that always elevated Ratt artistically above its peers, and the song is full of sneer and attitude. It’s huge chorus is also a plus.
That’s not to say Firepower is perfect. There’s a good third of this album that slogs around in mid-paced purgatory, those tracks just there, sorta, not really doing anything interesting or unique, but instead acting as a break that no one asked for. They’re the type of songs that make you want to check your phone while at a show, and I’ve always wondered why no one in the studio ever has the good sense to just be honest with bands and convince them to get rid of the tracks. Firepower is also the home of some uninspiring lyrics, as no band this far into a career should ever be rhyming “run” and “stun” un-ironically. There are more examples, but that one suffices.
But, y’know what? Who cares about that. Boring songs and bad rhyming are the reality of listening to music obsessively and they’re everywhere, no matter the band. So let’s celebrate Firepower’s seven well-written, focused, inspiring, and highly listenable top tracks. Seven songs is almost an album’s worth of material, and that’s so commendable when you’ve written as many hymns to metal as Judas Priest has (and, remember, Ram It Down has only one good song, and nine awful ones). With all sincerity, “Firepower”, “Lightning Strike”, “Evil Never Dies”, “Necromancer”, “Traitors Gate”, and “No Surrender” are sure to find themselves - next to all the classics - on any Best Of Judas Priest playlist you’ll put together on your streaming service of choice.
Which, in 2018, is the best compliment there is.