Judas Priest delivers a spotty, uneven release that generates sparks but fails to truly ignite.
Album Grade: C
On the verge of their 50th anniversary, venerable British Metallers Judas Priest defiantly attempt to throw off notions of age on their 18th studio release. While their performance is muscular, the songs show a tendency to fall into worn out Metal stereotypes that reveal staleness at the root.
Firepower begins with a promising start in the first set of songs. The title track is a pounding, unrelenting declaration featuring edgy dueling guitars between Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner. The production is clean but with a modern edge that suits the band well. Sadly, the songwriting descends into Spin̈al Tap territory after these first few songs.
Vocalist Rob Halford takes an opportunity to slyly reference Charlie Daniels Bands 1979 hit “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” in the intro to the blistering “Evil Never Dies.” The song is the centerpiece of the album and well worth the listen. Drummer Scott Travis’ savage double kick drums provide the frenetic pace that rockets the quintet into overdrive. Powerful and propulsive, this melodic power rocker deserves to stand alongside any number of Priest’s past classics.
Lyrics are not strength for Priest, and Flamethrower maintains that tradition. Deeply abounding in Heavy Metal banality, Halford’s words are largely studded, leather-bound excuses to give his snarling operatic voice an opportunity to soar. Possessing one of the truly great voices in any genre, sometimes that’s all you need and on Firepower, Halford lays out the proof. The years have done little to blunt the top range of his voice, but has added a lower depth of notes and expanded his overall range. While the line-up of the band has changed greatly over the intervening decades, it is Halford that remains their most vital force. To place excessive critical attention on the lyrics of a Judas Priest album is to miss the point. This is a group that is about jagged, aggressive guitar riffs and propulsive beats delivered with attitude. Of the many words used to describe them, subtle isn’t one of them.
Built around a furious guitar riff, “Necromancer” arrives laced with a catchy powerful vocal chorus. The fast-paced rocker has more in common with the slash-and-burn musical style of Amon Amarth minus the “death-throating” vocal style. While it remains true to the bands approach, it adds a new dimension to their sound and is a welcome change of pace.
“Never The Heroes” has an unexpected bridge that rises and positively makes the song a clear winner. Faulkner and Tipton’s guitar work twists and bends with precision leading from sprightly solos into the bright sounding bridge before sliding deftly back into the powerful chorus. It is both daring and unique. If only there were more moments like this to be found on the album.
Unfortunately, much of the second half of the album sinks under a deluge of Metal cliché and musical style. “Children of the Sun” is overwrought to the point of comedic. Heavy-handed tired guitar riffs take center stage in this ham-fisted, self-important rocker that culminates in the cringe-worthy lyric “You’re the reason I feel dead.” A truly laughable entrée that is made worse by the attempted anthemic instrumental “Guardians” that follows. This misbegotten track begins with piano gradually accompanied by swelling guitars that crash into “Rising From Ruins.” This trilogy of songs crashes and burns so severely that it taints the remainder of the album. Songs that follow like “Spectre”, “Traitors Gate” and “Lone Wolf” are largely unmemorable filler that largely serve to fill out the albums 58-minute length.
While not a great album, Flamethrower does provide simple, dense fun for the die-hard fans of the band. Historically, Judas Priest has a varied album track record. For every classic release like British Steel or Screaming for Vengeance, there is also sludge like Ram It Down. To be fair, at no time does Flamethrower sink to those depths. It remains only a slightly better than average Priest album. At this point in their career, the simple fact that this band is out there carrying on may be enough for many, but their legacy deserves a bit more.
Bottom Line: Priest delivers the goods in the album’s first half, but descends into Metal cliché as Firepower wears on. Good, but not great.
By Dan Moir