JUDAS PRIEST - Angel of Retribution

By Zombieboy - The Almighty Riff - 03/01/2005

Few bands truly define heavy metal more than Judas Priest. From their onstage presence, memorable anthems and incredible riffs, Judas Priest in their prime were unstoppable, and produced some of the best albums heavy rock has ever seen. Sad Wings of Destiny changed the sound of metal in the mid-70’s, and British Steel showed that quality heavy metal and commercial viability were not mutually exclusive terms. Their swan song with original singer Rob Halford, 1990’s Painkiller, proved to be a fitting end to an era of music and further solidified their place in metal history.

That being said, I had reservations when Judas Priest announced the return of Rob Halford last year. While the reunion was inevitable given the current trend of older bands getting back together for one last shot -- and a few more bucks -- the past few albums from both the resurrected Judas Priest and Halford’s solo project have been considerably less than spectacular. The Tim “Ripper” Owens years for Priest saw two confused and sloppy studio albums come to fruition, while Halford went on to make several cookie-cutter metal discs on his own that may not have been terrible but were certainly nothing to get too excited over. Would the reunion spark the creative juices of all involved and prove that the sum is truly greater than its individual parts? Unfortunately, the answer is a dull “not really”. While not a complete waste of time, Angel of Retribution falls into the category of pure mediocrity -- not bad enough to have a laugh over, but not good enough to be entirely enjoyable. Instead, we’re left with an album that shines for several moments, before returning to the sound of a band desperately trying to recapture its past but seemingly having no clue as to what made them so damn good to begin with.

The album starts promisingly enough with "Judas Rising", with a building intro reminiscent of their classic "Victim of Changes", and continues with a heavy, driving riff. "Worth Fighting For" is also a catchy anthem that’ll be sure to be a hit at their reunion concerts, and the ballad "Angel" proves to be a bit of a surprise, with a great moody arpeggio riff and soft vocals that recall their early 70’s material, as does the too-short "Eulogy". But these few bright spots cannot save Angel of Retribution. Perhaps the biggest letdown of the album is the lack of any real memorable riffs. Judas Priest in the past had an incredible talent for building a song around a great riff, and sadly they’re all but missing here. While the aforementioned "Judas Rising" and "Worth Fighting For" are acceptable, their strength is due more to the weakness of the rest of the songs rather than being great on their own merit. Too many tracks fall into a bland “chug-a-lug” riff pattern, with little variation in mood or tempo. "Demonizer", "Wheels of Fire" and "Hellrider" all suffer from plodding, dull riffs and uninteresting choruses. Even KK Downing and Glen Tipton’s solos sound forced and lack the slickness they usually possess. I’d also like to say that I have no idea why the atrocious "Revolution" was picked as the single for the album as it is perhaps the worst culprit of these problems.

While classic Judas Priest were never known for lyrical brilliance, Rob Halford’s lyrics were usually uplifting and helped capture the mood of the music: heavy and fun. Unfortunately, the lyrics in Angel of Retribution are so cringe-worthy and god-awful that you’ll be pining for the days when he was writing about his “Turbo Lover” and being “Eaten Alive”. Almost all songs on the new album are filled with self-referential “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” nonsense in the form of past song and album titles. Many of the songs make no sense because of the incessant name-dropping. I’m almost tempted to start an Angel of Retribution drinking game; whenever Rob says an old song title or album name, take a shot! In all seriousness though, it gets incredibly irritating and distracting, and does nothing more than remind me of their older, better material and wondering what the hell happened. I’d also like to take a moment to address my most reviled song, a track so insipid and terrible that after many spins of the album, I’ve never been able to make it through the song in its entirety. "Lochness" clocks in at over 13 minutes, and proves why Judas Priest never really attempted any long “epics” in the past unlike so many other early metal acts. The lyrics are ridiculous, with Halford crooning about the terrors of the Lochness monster and rhyming every other word and producing perhaps the worst chorus in the past 20 years. The guitar work continues the boring trend of the rest of the album, and to make matters even worse, "Lochness" seemingly never ends. I’m sure even the mighty Spinal Tap couldn’t perform this sad excuse for a song with a straight face.

I’ve tried really hard to like this album, perhaps more so than any other album I’ve disliked on the first listen. I was hoping that buried deep within the dull riffs and absurd lyrics, there’d be another British Steel or Sad Wings Of Destiny waiting to be found and appreciated. While it may sound like I simply wanted a retread of their old material, I was truly looking forward to a new Judas Priest sound and was eager to see how they’d reinvent themselves for the new generation of metal. Unfortunately, no matter how many times I listen to it, Angel of Retribution still seems tired and uninspired, sounding more like a band intent on getting one more under their belt instead of actually wanting to make something new and exciting. If you’re just getting on the Judas Priest bandwagon, I strongly urge you to avoid this album as a starter, because it’s simply not a good representation of why so many people love their music. Angel of Retribution earns a place only in the CD library of Judas Priest completists.

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