Judas Priest - 'Angel of Retribution' (Epic/Sony 2005)
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We now have what is certainly the most certainly the most powerful lineup this band will ever see.
Rob Halford, the God of Metal Vox, has reunited with twin guitar masters KK Downing and Glenn Tipton and bass axeman Ian Hill, as well as the drummer he'd initially taken with him when he left in 1992: Scott Travis.
The musicianship is all still there. If anything, they're better than they've ever been. You could slit your throat, wrists and genitalia quite accidentally with this disc if you aren't careful. It's sharp as surgical steel.
The songwriting is classic Judas Priest. Taken as a whole, the CD has an individual style but there is evidence of past styles seeping through. A few of the songs sound like faster harkenings to the 'Jugulator' style; even a hint of the universally-underrated 'Demolition' crops up in 'Demonizer' (minus the guitar harmonizers). Even Halford's solo-band era is showing through, most tellingly on the sinister metallic 'Hellrider'. This biting, snarling anthem would have fit comfortably on Halford's 'Live Insurrection' or 'Crucible'.
For the first time since their first two albums on Gull Records, we see the band performing a piano ballad with Mr. Halford expressing himself soulfully on 'Euglogy'. This lament is a perfectly respectable mellow interlude for a metal album.
My picks from this powerful return are: 'Worth Fighting For', 'Demonizer', 'Angel' (a classic metal power ballad that will sell a LOT of lighter fluid; have it handy when the Priest comes around on tour), 'Hellrider', 'Eulogy'. Final critical pronouncement: the whole album is classic, no filler to be found.
I'll tell you straight up that the album may take a couple of listens to get under your skin and start twitching. It is most certainly an excellent document of traditional heavy metal and deserves to be placed firmly in the canon of Metallic Scripture.
In every way, this album is the equal of 'Painkiller'. It encompasses, in a subtle creative mixture, all of Priest's stylistic eras and bears the proud trademark of their legendary dead-on, aggressive musicianship, in full good faith.
And if there are any questions from doubting heretics: Rob Halford is truly, truly back. He holds nothing back and it is clear that he is very happy to be home. The Metal God's vocal prowess is absolutely undiminished.
With all of that said, I want to discuss the physical media itself. I purchased a 'Dual Disc', with the CD on one side and a DVD concert and documentary on the other. It's all quite excellent. The live footage comes from a great show in Spain in front of hordes of European fans. Additionally, the DVD side can play the songs with a static icon on the screen for each song, plus the DVD side acts as a DVD-Rom in a PC. This is one of the best-conceived media products I've ever bought: I don't yet know at this writing if there are other editions of this album, but I recommend you buy THIS one.
While I'm that rarest fan you'll ever meet who at least somewhat likes the 'Demolition' album (the last JP product to feature 'Ripper' Owens, now fronting Iced Earth), I'll say with surety that all of you who found it to be a black mark on the band's discography will gladly forgive them once this classic worms its way into your heart and brain.