The first album with returning vocalist Rob Halford, Angel of Retribution, is a hard-hitting, dual guitar and ear splitting vocal attack of sound and fury. It’s the kind of album that could have been recorded by Judas Priest at anytime over their long career. Like AC/DC post-Bon Scott, every song sounds essentially the same but it’s so crunchy and familiar it tastes good… mostly.
These guys know how to do their thing – black leather, driving beat, screaming vocal and riff-mongering are their bread and butter. They have rarely deviated from the formula. Unfortunately, if you’re looking for the next “Another Thing Coming” you’ll have a long wait.
1. Judas Rising – I was expecting an instrumental with a Rob Halford signature scream to lead off the album. Something to tell the listening public that Priest is back. Instead we get a mediocre first track. Halford sells the chorus, but musically it’s average.
2. Deal with the Devil – With a more melodic structure, this sounds like something out of their 80s heyday. I like it. The dual solos are reminiscent of early Priest. I’m surprised how much I want to sing along with the chorus.
3. Revolution – Leading off with a heavy bass grove that reminded me very much of Black Sabbath, this track probably should have been set as track one and I think is the first single. I wanted a much louder, higher and longer opening scream from Halford at the beginning. This sounds almost contemporary in its arrangements. The driving guitars are infectous and Halford’s voice is strong. The breaks are interesting and diverse. The best song so far.
4. Worth Fighting For – Typical drum pattern opens this song. Halford is actually singing here instead of screaming on key. I like the attempt by the band to bring a kind of “power ballad” feel, but I think it falls flat. When the guitars kick in the later half of the song, I would have rather they write a song around that riff. Someone with a bit more soul in their voice might have pulled it off better, especially if they toned down the metal aspects.
5. Demonizer – Back to traditional Priest sound with lead guitar and drums taking you into the song. This actually sounds like something Metallica might record. It might just be the double bass that gets me thinking that though. Not very melodic and not enough here to make it very interesting. I did like the “Out, Demons, Out” line. In fact, I would have built the song vocally around that. Some very weird guitar work towards the end and even Halford breaking glass with his voice doesn’t really redeem this track.
6. Wheels of Fire – I’m thinking a sequel to Freewheel Burning, but played a full beat slower. Halford is growling here and needs to be screaming on the chorus. The guitar is typical metal riffing, but everything seems to be played at too slow a speed. The previous mentioned Metallica would have played at twice this speed. Uninspired.
7. Angel – Here’s the slow song that’s supposed to be the track that displays their softer side. The guitar is very melodic and Halford is singing instead of screaming again. I don’t think the song works with his vocal at all. Boring.
8. Hellrider – Yes! Cool rhythm and lead guitar to start. Kick ass drums. Now we just need Halford to scream… no dice. Weird overdubbing of Halford on the stanzas creates a “possessed” style that is at least unique. The chorus is typical screaming, but still has that lower register overdub vocal. K.K. and Glen are showcased nicely here. I really like the music, but the overproduced vocals hurt the track. I would have liked a more operatic style in the middle with some melancholy horns or organ.
9. Eulogy – Is this Rob Halford singing? It’s overly melodramatic almost as if they were trying to write a song for Evanescense. Thank goodness it’s short.
10. Lochness – Wild guitar riffs kick off this song. It’s plodding, dark metal right out of the Black Sabbath playbook. I keep waiting to hear Ozzy start singing. Slow, boring and not the least bit a showcase for the return of Halford.
Overall, this album is a lot like the first album with a reunited Aerosmith – one good song and a lot of filler. I’m hoping that the next offering will showcase Halford’s voice and Downing and Tipton’s metal riffing. Here you get a nice effort, but not quite a homerun.