Judas Priest

Sad Wings Of Destiny
Sin After Sin
Stained Class
Hell Bent For Leather
Unleashed In The East
British Steel
Point Of Entry
Screaming For Vengeance
Defenders Of The Faith
Ram It Down
Angel Of Retribution

Sad Wings Of Destiny (Gull ’76) Rating: A
The band’s second album was a significant improvement on the tentative Rocka Rolla, as Judas Priest solidified their identity as one of the heaviest bands of the ‘70s. Though it has become somewhat overlooked over the years, Sad Wings Of Destiny is a great album that houses several essential Judas Priest tracks, none more essential than “Victim Of Changes,” which starts the album off with big, bruising riffs and a nasty mid-tempo chug. Almost prog-like in its multi-sectioned ambition, the song has a stop/start section a little past the 3-minute mark before it gets mellow and moody a couple of minutes later. This section builds spectacularly and is the high point of the album, particularly from 6:47-6:53, where singer Rob Halford, whose voice is a true freak of nature (that’s a compliment), unleashes a blood-curdling scream. It’s almost like Halford became a legend on the spot (much like when Dio sang “there’s a rainbow risiiinnggg”), but his operatic intro to “The Ripper” (“you’re in for a surprise, you’re in for a SHOOOCCKKKK!!!”) is equally memorable. Whereas “Victim Of Changes” was an almost 8-minute epic, this short slasher tale (which likely inspired Iron Maiden’s “Prowler” and “Killers”, among many others) is a relatively concise little gem, led along by its creeping rhythms and Rob’s great vocals. Continuing, “Dreamer Deceiver” and “Deceiver” are something of a twosome, as are “Prelude” and “Tyrant.” Showing off more range than they’re generally given credit for having, “Dreamer Deceiver” is a phenomenal power ballad with medieval/classical overtones on which Halford is again awe-inspiring and the soulful guitars are suitably dramatic, while “Deceiver” is another album highlight, albeit a short one, as it gallops relentlessly in a manner that would prove highly influential to many a future speed and power metal act. “Prelude” is just what it says it is, being a 2-minute piano/guitar interlude that’s reminiscent of (believe it or not) Elton John (think “Funeral For A Friend”), while “Tyrant” is another simple but stellar groove rocker on which Rob duets with himself as the dual guitar magic of K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton is unleashed. “Genocide” continues the band’s no frills delivery, and though this riff rocker is perhaps a tad too generic and cheesy at times, it’s really good on the whole, while “Epitaph” is a strange show tune-ish type song, perhaps inspired by Queen or Alice Cooper but sounding out-of-place just the same. Finally, the band returns to their riff-based groove on “Island Of Domination,” which may be a bit overly campy at times but which still provides a fittingly hard rocking and underrated finale. So there you have it, the nine songs that firmly established the Judas Priest sound, the most notable aspects of which were K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton’s dual guitar riffs and harmonies (which would be slavishly imitated) and Rob Halford’s incredible vocal range, which could make even Ian Gillan green with envy (be sure to put away any breakables when listening to this baby!). The songwriting occasionally falters, but the hits here are incredible, plus when judging this album you should place it in its proper context and realize that nobody else was doing this in 1976. As such, this was and is an extremely important album (with a really cool cover, it should be noted), as a whole New Wave Of British Heavy Metal would subsequently follow the lead of the simple but effective styles introduced herein.

Sin After Sin (Columbia ’77) Rating: A-
Something of an anomaly in the Priest cannon, Sin After Sin sometimes sees the band in a less heavy mode, instead opting for a diversity that would rarely present itself again. Fortunately, the band's songwriting is largely up to the task, starting with "Sinner," which starts the album off on a grandly epic scale, led along by the classic Priest riffs/chug, several cool solo sections, and Halford's distinctive high-pitched vocal punctuations. Following this classic Priest composition is a notable makeover of Joan Baez’s “Diamonds and Rust,” which is also considered a classic by many, yours truly included. Elsewhere, we get a couple of surprisingly sensitive ballads: the decidedly un-Priest-like but effectively pretty "Last Rose Of Summer," which features a shockingly restrained vocal performance from Halford and soulful guitars from Downing and Tipton (Ian Hill is and would remain on bass, by the way), and “Here Come The Tears,” a successful "power ballad" that gets heavier and more dramatic as it goes along. On the more rocking front, the band gets down to business on “Let Us Prey/Call For The Priest,” which demonstrates the band’s melodic guitar harmonies and power grooves, and “Dissident Aggressor,” a heavy riff monster and superb Rob Halford showcase that was later fittingly covered by Slayer. More straightforward and less impressive are "Starbreaker" and "Raw Deal," though both are still enjoyable efforts with outstanding moments, while the overall album itself is hindered somewhat by a flat production that robs the heavier tracks of some of their oomph. However, excellent drummer Simon Phillips (who later performed with the legendary likes of Jeff Beck, Pete Townshend, Frank Zappa, and Peter Gabriel) was a welcome (albeit short-lived) new addition, and some of these songs aren’t all that heavy, anyway. Besides, the band’s consistently strong songwriting and convincing chemistry ultimately shines through in the end.

Stained Class (Columbia ‘78) Rating: A
Lean and mean, weaving peerless guitar lines of glistening metal, Stained Class represents the pinnacle of Judas Priest's recorded studio output, despite being one of the band's most unsung offerings. Gone is the variety of Sin After Sin, as Priest speed things up and lower the boom, with a consistently heavy attack that's bolstered by a powerful production. Really, this is the album on which Priest fully embraced what they decided they were going to be (a no frills, ass kicking heavy metal band, no apologies necessary), led (as usual) by a classic opening cut, "Exciter." Halford's operatic high-pitched shrieks provide the template for many a future metal singer, while Tipton and Downing really come into their own on this album, with great guitar interplay being a main attraction of this song and many others. Sure, I can't help but smirk at the sheer cheesiness when Rob sings "fall to your knees and repent if you please", but this songs melodic strengths and singable vocal hooks make up for any shortcomings. Other stellar songs come in the form of "Better By You, Better Than Me," a catchy cover of a Spooky Tooth song that chugs along nicely but also features some mellower moody sections that work, while the title track really establishes a mood ("long ago..."), galloping along with an epic feel and another singable chorus. Additional highlights include "Saints In Hell," which stomps along on a HEAVY groove and a vintage Rob vocal, and the legendary dirge “Beyond The Realms Of Death,” one of the all-time great power ballads. For one thing, the song packs plenty of power, and it includes some great solo turns as well as mellow/loud shifts in dynamics that again prove the band to be more ambitious than they're given credit for. They're not as "stupid" as some stuffy critics would have you believe, either, as some of their lyrics are quite colorful and intelligent, like when they compare civilized society to the savages whose societies we’ve destroyed, questioning “who is savage?”, or when they pointedly ask “why do we have to die to be a hero?” But let’s face it, nobody listens to Judas Priest for their lyrics, and only a critic whose words aren't worth reading would harp on their alleged lyrical shortcomings. What matters most is that on Stained Class the band operates at an extremely high level musically, and though fans of latter day metal bands might lament the fact that this album isn’t nearly as heavy as their future offspring, it still rocks, bolstered by a blistering percussive performance from (yet another new drummer) Les Binks. I may not be able to instantly recall songs such as "White Heat, Red Hot," "Savage," and "Heroes End," but they sure sound good while they're playing (there's not a weak track in sight), and "Invader" is also a good, catchy (if simplistic) track. Lest you had any doubt about this album's importance, consider that Iron Maiden named a song "Invaders" and wrote a song about the plight of the Indians (as Priest do on "Savage") on their best album. Coincidence? I think not, but influence aside, what matters most is that this is a consistently entertaining album on which Priest mapped out the course they would take for the rest of their career. Note: The band’s version of "Better By You, Better Than Me" brought them some unneeded publicity when an alleged “subliminal message” in the song was blamed for causing the suicide attempts of two teenage boys; fortunately, the case was rightfully dismissed

Hell Bent For Leather (Columbia ’79) Rating: A-
Yeah, Priest are gonna “Rock Forever” and they’re planning to “Take On The World” by “Delivering The Goods” yet again. But remember that bit in my last review about how only a critic whose words aren't worth reading would harp on their alleged lyrical inadequacies? Well, when the lyrics are as sexually explicit and graphic (not to mention gay) as on "Burnin' Up" and "Evil Fantasies," it's tough not to harp on them. Still, by and large the band does deliver the musical goods throughout, with a more varied attack and concise 3-4 minute songs that in retrospect can be seen as obvious concessions to commerciality. Nevertheless, the band rocks as hard as ever on the aforementioned "Delivering The Goods," the tough talking biker anthem that is the title track, the stuttering riffs and hit man lyrics of "Killing Machine" (the title track on European versions of the album, which features a slightly different track listing), and a youth gone wild anthem, “Running Wild.” These songs and several others see Halford adopting a more guttural, grinding vocal delivery that even appears on the verses of "Take On The World," whose big beats and anthemic sing along chorus is the album's most obvious attempt at a commercial hit. Then again, "Evening Star" also has a bright and catchy chorus amid its moodier verses, while the band successfully attempts another straight up ballad with the affecting and pretty "Before The Dawn." Anyway, despite the hits to miss ratio being a bit lower than the last time out, in part because it has two more songs (11 overall), there are several top-notch Priest tunes here, including many of the aforementioned songs but also their great cover of Fleetwood Mack's "The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)," which will have you singing along while breaking out your air guitar. Really, this album covers pretty much the entire heavy metal spectrum, making it an easy one to both respect and enjoy, even if in some ways it can be seen as a transitional effort that started to set the stage for the band’s subsequent commercial breakthroughs.

Unleashed In The East (Columbia ’79, '01) Rating: A
But before their breakthrough album came this fun look back at what the band had accomplished thus far. By now Judas Priest was the prototype of the British heavy metal band (precursors to Iron Maiden, who obviously took notes - check out the beginning of "Victim Of Changes" and try telling me that Maiden didn't swipe it for the solo section in "Phantom Of The Opera - before taking metal to the next level), with a sense of theatricality that matched their music. Onstage, the band was noted for their leather and studs attire and for Halford stalking the stage astride his Harley Davidson (check out the back cover), but more important to the band's performances was the fact that they had substance in the form of great songs to back up their stylish appearances. As such, it shouldn't be too surprising that with this album Priest delivered one of the best live hard rock albums of the '70s. For one thing, Halford is in impeccable form, proving himself the archetype of all heavy metal singers by hitting all the high notes, while the energy brought forth by both the band and the crowd (the band was "big in Japan," where this album was recorded) is palpable. As such, this can work as a relatively short (nine songs) de-facto “best of” the band’s early years, or the time before they would truly become a commercially viable force in the United States by simplifying things and integrating a healthy dosage of melody into their still heavy assault. Though the group could come off as something of a self-parody at times (they were allegedly the inspiration for much of the hilarious movie This Is Spinal Tap), they always stayed true to themselves and were great at what they did, which was somewhat limited but great headbanging fun just the same. Drummer Les Binks (who fortunately never exploded!) wails throughout, while the Tipton-Downing axis slugs through stellar Priest romps such as “Exciter,” “Sinner,” “The Ripper,” “The Green Manalishi (With The Two-Pronged Crown)” (which annihilates the studio version), “Diamonds and Rust,” “Victim Of Changes,” and “Tyrant.” I personally would've liked to have seen more songs from Stained Class (plus more songs in general), but the increased energy these songs have over their studio counterparts makes this an ideal introduction to the band (many of these versions are improvements in fact). Truth is, despite their cartoonish image Judas Priest is one of the all time great heavy metal bands, and though this isn't quite the definitive live album it could've been it nevertheless offers ample evidence for any non-believers. Note: There seems to be some debate about how "live" Halford's vocals really were. Still, "authentic" or not, the end result makes for a mighty entertaining listening experience. Note #2: Those who would later be surprised when Rob Halford revealed his homosexuality (thereby making many re-examine songs such as "Island Of Domination" and "Raw Deal") obviously didn't study this album cover too carefully! Note #3: The 2001 reissue largely rectified the "this album is too short" problem by adding four songs in scorching renditions: "Rock Forever," "Delivering The Goods," "Hell Bent For Leather," and "Starbreaker."

British Steel (Columbia ‘80) Rating: A-
Once again Priest delivers the metal goods, with their most commercially aspirant offering to date. Fortunately, the material is none the worse for wear, as the band remains unremittingly consistent. Long acknowledged as wielding a major influence within the world of heavy metal, British Steel finally broke the band big in the U.S., which isn't too surprising given that several songs here have a streamlined sound that seems geared for radio play. Unfortunately, the band tries too hard for a sing along anthem a la “Take On The World” with "United," which is catchy enough but isn’t as good, and “You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise” likewise is an average attempt at more radio airplay. It was with their KISS-like ode to getting loaded, “Living After Midnight,” that the band hit pay dirt, as the song's catchy pop hooks and party 'till you drop attitude was all but impossible to ignore. Elsewhere, the rest of the album delivers more of the high quality heavy metal we expect from the band, including the heavy thumping grooves of “Breaking The Law” (love that surge at around the 2-minute mark, as did Beavis and Butthead, who made this song belatedly famous), the aptly titled "Rapid Fire" (love the laser-like guitar runs at around the 2-minute mark, and the impressive performance from yet another new drummer, Dave Holland), the gothic grind of “Metal Gods” (one of their best known songs and something of a theme song for the band). The heavy mid-tempo riff monster “Grinder,” the epic slow burner “The Rage,” and the speedy finale "Steeler" are other hard-hitting album tracks that are well worth getting to know. Truth is, the "poppy" songs are really the minority on this simple but effectively hard rocking release, which many regard as the band's best. I myself slightly prefer several other albums, but there is a lot to like here, as Halford is in full command of his voice (which he rarely uses for high-pitched screams anymore) and cool guitar runs from Downing and Tipton are commonplace. The band will never win any critics polls because of their often juvenile (and let's face it, sometimes quite homosexual) lyrics, but their “united we stand” sentiments show why the kids were always on their side. And so am I, since they have first-rate musicians, a one-of-a-kind singer, and have here integrated an impressive sense of melody amid several first-rate album tracks that still rock like a mutha.

Point Of Entry (Columbia ‘81) Rating: B-
This is a simple record so this is going to be a short, simple review. Although there are no ballads here, this is still Priest’s least heavy album in some time, as the band even more deliberately simplifies their approach, dumbing down in an obvious attempt to score a commercial hit. It didn’t really work, as the flagship single “Heading Out To The Highway,” while a fine driving song and the best song on the album, was only a moderate success. There’s not much in the way of additional highlights, though I have a soft spot for “Hot Rockin’” (the unintentionally hilarious video helps), the legitimately good “Desert Plains,” and “Solar Angels,” to name a few songs that stand out from the pack. Unfortunately, these are counterbalanced by several bland numbers and uninspired fillers, particularly on side two. The end result is a disappointingly compromised collection that I rarely listen to, and its failure is all the more baffling given the several stellar records that preceded it and the band’s immediate bounce back on their next two albums. Note: Even the album cover is pedestrian this time out, quite unlike the iconic cover that had graced British Steel.

Screaming For Vengeance (Columbia ‘82) Rating: A-
Point Of Entry was Priest's first truly disappointing album since Rocka Rolla. But back then things were different (none of this 3 years between overly long albums crap), so a mere year and a half later Priest came back with a (yep, you guessed it) vengeance on this album, one of the band's most commercially successful and critically respected releases. Long gone are the ambitious epics of yesteryear, as Priest continues their simplified approach. With generally excellent results, it should be added, as these songs are commercially minded yet tough, with strong performances all around, especially by Halford, whose high pitched screams are back and sounding as good as ever. The album can basically be divided into definite high points ("The Hellion/Electric Eye," "Riding on the Wind," "(Take These) Chains," "Screaming for Vengeance," and "You've Got Another Thing Comin'"), a couple of heavy tracks that are somewhat generic but are carried by strong performances ("Bloodstone," "Devil's Child"), and a couple of better luck next time numbers ("Pain and Pleasure" and “Fever”). "The Hellion/Electric Eye" starts things off, and when the former segues into the latter it's one of those great Priest moments. The rest of "Electric Eye" nearly keeps pace, while "Riding With The Wind" (like “Heading Out To The Highway” before it) is what I'd call a convertible classic, since when listening to it I get a visual picture of someone riding with the top down and the stereo turned up. The extremely commercial "(Take These) Chains" is a rare Priest song written by an outside hand (Bob Halligan, Jr.), and a good one it is, with moody verses and a catchy chorus, while the band (and Halford in particular) takes no prisoners on the raging title track. Along with "Living After Midnight," the Priest song that you're most likely to hear on the radio today is "You've Got Another Thing Comin'," and with good reason, as it stomps along with plenty of attitude and has a chorus that all but begs to be sung along with. Anyway, Screaming is one of Priest's edgier albums despite its at-times obvious commercial aspirations, and though there’s some inconsistency it’s still a top-notch heavy metal album.

Defenders Of The Faith (Columbia ‘84) Rating: A-
This is one of Priest's best albums, and it's probably the one that means the most to me on a personal level since this was the album I discovered the band by way back in 1984. You see, music doesn't exist in a vacuum, and our personal experiences color how we connect with music. For example, ever notice how younger fans are more into Maiden albums like Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son than longtime fans who were there for their more raw early beginnings? Or how the younger set is likewise more forgiving of Metallica's last few albums? Anyway, my point is that I really connect with this album, because when I listen to it I'm 15 years old again and the sky's the limit. All that aside, this is simply an excellent album that pretty much continues where their last one left off, beginning with four songs that are among the band's absolute best. The speedy “Freewheel Burning” simply smokes, while the menacing “Jawbreaker” is among the band's most underrated songs and “Rock Hard Ride Free” is a fist-pumping anthem with a cool chanted chorus. “The Sentinel” is another fast-paced classic that's sure to get your blood racing, in large part due to its throbbing beat and the dual guitar magic of Tipton and Downing. After going through some heavy digitized effects, the song closes with a mighty climax that leads into “Love Bites,” a catchy, campy pop metal tune with more sexually explicit lyrics that some might find offensive. Hard to tell what the band was thinking while writing “Eat Me Alive” (sample lyric: “I’m gonna force you at gunpoint to eat me alive”), one of the band's most graphically sexual (and gay) songs that had Tipper Gore in an uproar. On a musical level, however, the song rocks with a righteous intensity, and the moody, menacing “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” is another high quality Halligan, Jr. track, led by a commanding vocal from Halford, who is in vintage form throughout the album. After that well-known song, which I still occasionally hear on the radio, inspiration starts to wane, though the comparatively laid back “Night Comes Down” at least offers a nice contrast from the hard rocking rest of the album. Ending with a whimper, “Heavy Duty” is a generic rocker notable mostly for lyrics that would make KISS blush (“I know you like it hot, love to writhe and sweat, you think that this feels good, you ain’t felt nothin’ yet”), before the repetitive chants of the brief title track closes things out. The weak ending aside, Judas Priest again provides prime escapist entertainment throughout the majority of this album, as Halford’s histrionics rule and the harmonized dual guitars consistently kick (ass). P.S. Which aging metalheads among us can forget this and the prior album’s cartoonish but flat-out cool album covers?

Turbo (Columbia ‘86) Rating: C+
After years of consistent quantity and quality, Turbo was Judas Priest's first flat out flop (though Point Of Entry came close to deserving that designation). Hindered by Tom Allom's slick '80s production and drummer Dave Holland's big boring beats (really, the rest of the band had been carrying those two for awhile), this album's cheesy synthesizers and dumbed down lyrics (which pander to their perceived younger audience) makes it sound terribly dated today. I suppose that in retrospect it makes sense that the band tinkered with modern technology (after all, Maiden was doing much the same at the time), but hearing synth guitars on even the better songs (such as "Locked In") is disconcerting, to say the least, and the title track (actually one of the better songs here) sounds more like Billy Idol than Judas Priest. Likewise, lowest common denominator sing alongs such as "Parental Guidance," "Rock You All Around The World," and "Wild Nights, Hot & Crazy Days" may as well be KISS at their most formulaic, or (dare I say it?) Poison for that matter. Of course, Priest being Priest, these songs are catchy enough, but they're almost insulting when one remembers that this used to be an underground, thinking man's metal band who experimented because that was where their art took them, not because they felt that it was the best way to get on some horny 15 year old's walkman. Anyway, I suppose that given the band's history fans should be a little more forgiving than they are (this album is almost universally loathed by longtime fans), especially since the moody (if overly long and still somewhat cheesy) "Out In The Cold" and the straight ahead riff rocker "Reckless" are good album tracks. However, most of the rest of the album fails to build on their momentum, and the band's reputation would take a major hit as a result.

Ram It Down (Columbia ’88) Rating: C+
The good news? The synths are mostly gone, this isn't a "sellout" as the band is back to rocking out, and Dave Holland reawakens with a solid performance. The bad news? The lyrics are at an all-time low, the cartoonish shouts that pass for choruses are Spinal Tap-ish clichés (see: "Heavy Metal"), and this album isn't very good overall. There are some good songs, the title track, "Come and Get It," and "Hard As Iron" coming immediately to mind, but the album's flaws are more easily remembered. For example, "Love Zone" is a cringe inducing misstep that's dumb beyond belief, and "Blood Red Skies" is an attempt at an epic (7:50) that never really achieves ignition, despite some impressive histrionics from Halford at the end. Look up "generic heavy metal" and chances are good you'll find "I'm a Rocker" as the definition, but even that didn't prepare me for "Johnny B. Goode," as unnecessary a cover as their ever was and proof positive of the band's shortage of ideas this time out, as perhaps they were still hung over from the creative failure that was Turbo. The band tries hard on the slowly grinding "Love You To Death," but though the intensity is there it's still rather clumsily constructed, while "Monsters Of Rock" slows and grinds things down still further but with even less impressive (indeed, more mock-worthy) results. Truth is, bands like Metallica and Megadeth (not to mention Guns n' Roses) were making bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest seem increasingly irrelevant at the time, but rather than respond to the challenge this limp offering only seemed to reinforce that common perception.

Painkiller (Columbia ’90) Rating: A
Shockingly, after Turbo and Ram It Down had soiled the band's reputation, Judas Priest came back in a big way with Painkiller. And how fitting it was that as Priest-influenced bands like Pantera began their ascendance these leather clad legends would in turn take their own game to a whole new level of heft and might. Finally getting the state of the art production (Chris Tsangarides, who amps up awesome new drummer Scott Travis big time) that their prodigious talents deserve, Painkiller is by far the band’s heaviest effort ever. Although the band continues to write down to the teen set ("can't stop the metal meltdown" being a typical lyrical example) and the choruses don’t always cut it, the band’s mighty riffs and unstoppable grooves (having a commanding drummer makes a big difference) more than compensate, particularly on explosive tracks such as “Painkiller” (a serious contender for the best Priest song ever), “Leather Rebel,” and “One Shot At Glory” (then again I could mention most of the other songs too). Aside from “A Touch of Evil" there's not a single synth in sight (none I can recall, anyway), and that excellent song is all about its big riffs and atmospheric chorus, anyway. Oddly enough, Halford's rougher than usual vocals sound a lot like Accept's Udo Dirkschneider, and the band returns to their thrashy roots in a shockingly satisfying manner given their last two fiascos. The end result was a scorching goodbye, as Halford would depart the band soon afterwards. Update: After leaving Judas Priest, Halford formed the band Fight and released two albums, while the rest of the band recruited Ripper Owens from a Judas Priest cover band (!) and recorded two albums (unfortunately, fair or not, I'm about as interested in those albums as I am in Blaze Bayley-era Iron Maiden albums, which is to say not at all). Halford also released an industrial metal album as 2wo and more successfully recorded two studio albums and a live album with his band Halford. Somewhere in between all that activity Halford “outed” himself as a homosexual, and now in 2003, after amicably parting ways with Owens, Judas Priest and Rob Halford have reunited and are making another go of it.

Angel Of Retribution (Epic ‘05) Rating: B
With relatively little fanfare given their legendary status (not a bad thing, as metal is back underground where it belongs), the reunited Rob Halford-fronted Judas Priest returned with Angel Of Retribution, an impressive piece of work for a bunch of old geezers in their fifties. Rob still sounds really good, whether doing his guttural growl or high-pitched shrieks, and the rest of the band, with Travis still on drums and the rest of the classic lineup intact, is likewise in cracking good form. Except for “Worth Fighting For,” a melodic, more restrained (and very good) effort, the first half of the album consists of big time bruisers such as “Judas Rising” (probably the best song here), “Deal With The Devil,” and “Demonizer.” Aside from “Hellrider,” with its blistering drum grooves and intense chanted vocals, the second half of the album isn’t as heavy or as good, but it often is good nevertheless, with “Wheels Of Fire” tacking on another catchy if generic chorus. Though the songwriting is rarely at the highest levels the band has achieved in the past, they perform the hell out of most of these songs, and only the end of the album is really problematic. For one thing, you get not one but two ballads within a span of three songs, “Angel” and “Eulogy,” neither of which are highlights for me, though both are certainly solid enough. The former in particular features one of Halford’s most emotional vocals, whereas the short latter song almost functions as an intro to the 13+ minute “Lochness,” which attempts to end the album on the most epic of notes. I mean, let’s be serious, surely such an extended piece about the Loch Ness Monster can only spell trouble, right? The band should leave lyrics about mythical beasts to Dio or someone else, and songs of such pretentiousness to Dream Theater or Tool; in Priest’s hands such an attempt seems somewhat contrived. Then again, this song has its fair share of fine moments even if it’s definitely over-long, and overall I’m satisfied with this album’s results, enough so to hope that Halford hangs around for a few more attempts.

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