The Best Albums of 2014, #7

band017. Judas Priest, Redeemer of Souls (Epic)

It means a lot to have one’s musical heroes continuing to make strong, vital, relevant music as they reach their 60s. It’s been happening a lot for me lately, primarily with Iron Maiden and Rush, who have been experiencing remarkable periods of renewed creativity. Judas Priest, though, had been lagging behind. Similar to Maiden and Rush, the 1990s weren’t too kind, the band going through a bit of an identity crisis, trying to find itself again with a new singer. When Rob Halford returned to the band in 2003, Priest sounded like Priest again, and 2005’s Angel of Retribution was a very enjoyable, albeit minor record. To their credit they tried their damndest to create something special on the sprawling 2008 rock opera Nostradamus, but despite some very exciting moments it was far too bloated for its own good, a sad, abject failure. After that, longtime guitarist KK Downing retired and was replaced by Richie Faulkner, a musician half the age of the rest of the band, and it looked like the band was content to rest on its laurels playing retrospective tours. But then Faulkner settled into his role better than anyone could have expected, and the band figured they had another new record in them. I was plenty apprehensive, but as it turns out the new, younger blood in the band has breathed new life into Judas Priest, and Redeemer of Souls is a resounding success, their best album since 1990’s Painkiller. The key to Redeemer working so well is the band’s willingness to simplify, to simply do what Judas Priest does best, and nothing more. In other words, it’s exacty the kind of epic heavy metal they’ve been creating for decades, hearkening back to the density of 1984’s Defenders of the Faith and the energy of 1982’s Screaming For Vengeance. Halford is in tremendous form, and leads the charge on such instant favourites as “Dragonaut”, “Halls of Valhalla”, “Hell and Back”, “Battle Cry”, and the best of the lot, the rampaging “Sword of Damocles”. This is exactly the kind of album Judas Priest fans want, a masterful display of heavy metal showmanship, hooks, and power. It excites me as a fan of heavy metal, but most importantly, and selfishly, pleases me on a purely sentimental level.