10. Judas Priest, Firepower (Sony)
I say it every year, when you get into your 40s and those old veteran bands from your early teen years are still making vital, relevant, great new music, it feels like a real gift. You savour it more, knowing there probably aren’t many albums left in their career. When a band like Judas Priest has such a strong, highly influential back catalogue, there’s no real need for another classic album. As long as new material is respectable, that’s perfectly fine: most fans and critics will be forgiving because that old music means so much to so many people. In the last few years, though, Judas Priest have been pushing themselves a little more: Angel of Retribution, their first album since the departure of original member KK Downing, turned out to be very impressive, full of energy and passion. During the making of the follow-up Firepower, the band was faced with another big challenge, that being the Parkinson’s diagnosis of guitarist Glenn Tipton. Listening to the album all year long, I couldn’t help but wonder how much that fueled the performances, because there’s a sense of urgency in these 14 tracks that we really haven’t heard since 1990’s great Painkiller. Produced by Tom Allom (who produced some of Priest’s finest albums and knows what classic Priest should sound like) and Andy Sneap (who grew up a Priest fan and thus also knows what classic Priest should sound like) Firepower is ferocious, ranging from throttling heaviness (“Firepower”, “Lightning Strike”) to stately epics reminiscent of the Stained Class era (“Children of the Sun”, “Rising From Ruins”, “Sea of Red”). The best of the lot, however, is the simplest: “No Surrender” was the track I went back to time and again, a three-minute fist-banging self-empowerment anthem that totally feels like it was taken from the Screaming For Vengeance sessions. The entire band sells the track like they’re 35 years younger, with the incomparable Rob Halford bellowing the defiant lyrics with authority. There’s no quit in these guys, and if they can be this impassioned at their age, there’s no reason the rest of us can’t be as well. Bless ‘em for making their best album in 28 years.