If Judas Priest‘s track record has done anything for metal over the last forty-five years, it has taught us that lineup changes can either mark a bright new beginning or be potentially disastrous for even the best bands. The band’s history speaks for itself; while Rob Halford remains one of the most respected singers in metal, the years when Ripper Owens took the lead vocal seat with Priest are still regarded as the band’s darkest period, if they’re even regarded as productive at all. With that in mind, when guitarist K.K. Downing announced he’d be leaving the band in 2010, most fans assumed that Priest would choose discretion over valor and simply call it a day after the Epitaph tour wrapped. That didn’t happen though; whether intentionally or not, many fans cringed involuntarily when it was announced that Downing had been replaced by guitarist Ritchie Faulkner in 2011 and Priest would continue.
After the announcement, all bets were off. Really, many fans conceded that Priest’s future may indeed be safe, but it was understandably uncertain; they’d seen changes in the band go poorly before and hoped desperately that they wouldn’t see such disappointments again.
As Redeemer Of Souls (Priest’s seventeenth album, and first with Faulkner in the band) proves, fans’ concerns were needless. Each of the album’s thirteen tracks brims with the vintage metal power that fans have come to expect from the band but, even better, having some new blood on the guitar has inspired them to step up their game a bit. On songs like “Sword Of Damocles,” “March of the Damned” and “Metalizer,” guitarist/keyboardist Glenn Tipton, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis seem intent on making Faulkner prove his mettle and play harder and faster than they have in years.
Listeners will be particularly shocked by Travis’ performance on “Sword Of Damocles,” where nuance and nicety are simultaneously embraced and abandoned, and the drummer keeps the double-kicks running from the top of the song to its bottom. Some critics may say that kind of performance is excessive, but for a band who has been happily re-examining its own catalogue for the last few years, such spry and hard playing is refreshing.
In that spirit as well, Rob Halford goes to great lengths to guarantee he won’t be overshadowed by the band, offering some of the best and most daringly creative vocal performances he has committed to tape in years. Throughout the album’s run-time, Halford illustrates he’s still a high-flying and operatic performer, of course, but on “Halls Of Valhalla,” the singer dives in the other direction as well and gets positively guttural as he grunts along through the song’s second verse.
The reason for all this posturing, of course, is to make sure the new kid on the block doesn’t outshine anyone. That might sound silly in theory but, in fact, it’s absolutely necessary; perhaps because he feels like he has something to prove (and, let’s be honest, he does), Faulkner pulls out every stop and just throws everything in his arsenal at these thirteen songs. Track-by-track, Faulkner piles anything and everything he can think of into his performance to ensure that it’s remembered; he finger taps, revs as fast as he’s able and flies over the rest of the mix of a song, thunders out some thick-as-a-brick rhythm figures guaranteed to knock the wind out of the unsuspecting and more beyond that too. In that, Faulkner doesn’t just fit into Judas Priest’s form and style, he also accentuates it.
In the end, it can only be said that, while K.K. Downing will be missed from Judas Priest’s ranks, the band found the right player to fill the void he left. Redeemer Of Souls is an excellent album and ushers in a new age of Judas Priest beautifully; here, they sound ready to take on the world again, and there’s no doubt fans will be happy to follow that.
Ground Control Magazine – Judas Priest Dusts Off The Heavy Artillery – [Feature] http://groundcontrolmag.com/detail/1/1598/
Ground Control Magazine – Rob Halford Returns With A Vengeance – [Feature] http://groundcontrolmag.com/detail/1/2087/
Ground Control Magazine – Judas Priest – Sleep Train Pavillion – Concord, CA – 11/01/11 – [Live] http://groundcontrolmag.com/detail/2/2714/4/