With all the hubbub that has already built up over the release of Judas Priest's seventeenth studio album, I can't help but find parallels between it and 1997's Jugulator. A lot of pressure has been on the band as Redeemer of Souls is their first album since the controversial Nostradamus came out in 2008, the first to feature guitarist Richie Faulkner in place of founding shredder K. K. Downing, and is here amidst a three year strong "farewell tour" and rumors of a hiatus. But like Jugulator, it's a flawed effort that does make for a fun listen.
In a way similar to 2005's Angel of Retribution, Redeemer of Souls serves as a sampler of the different sounds that Priest's tried out through their career. The classic 80s albums are predictably referenced the most as the band often aims for accessible rockers when they aren't trying to rewrite Painkiller. There are a few exceptions to the rule as "Crossfire" rides a 70s blues groove, the plodding "Secrets of the Dead" invokes Rob Halford's Fight project, and "Sword of Damocles" is a theatrical waltz that sounds like something Blind Guardian would've put together.
Of course, the band members' performances appear to be the biggest point of contention and they are indeed a mixed bag. Halford can still deliver when he's in his comfort zone and Faulkner adequately keeps up with Glenn Tipton, but the higher screams do show their age and the production does make the guitars sound a little stilted at times. They do fare better than the rhythm section as usual with bassist Ian Hill being as invisible as ever and drummer Scott Travis offering a heavy but rather downplayed performance.
Thankfully the songwriting keeps things from straying into bargain bin territory. Things start off strong with "Dragonaut" serving as a high speed opener and the title track offering an upbeat groove reminiscent of "Hell Patrol." From there, "Halls of Valhalla" and "Battle Cry" are borderline epics in the vein of The Headless Children-era WASP, "Down in Flames" is a light but energetic rocker, and "Beginning of the End" serves as an airy closer. The bonus tracks are also pretty solid as "Snakebite" has an AC/DC swagger and "Never Forget" is an emotional swan song for Priest's legacy even if it is a bit saccharine...
Overall, Redeemer of Souls is a respectable outing if this does turn out to be Priest's last effort but is still pretty decent if it doesn't. Angel of Retribution was a little better at the sampler approach but there are plenty of songs to like even if there isn't an honest to god classic among them. I'd check in with Accept or Queensryche if you want to see 80s metal still going strong but this is certainly better than Nostradamus...
"Halls of Valhalla"
"Sword of Damocles"
"Down in Flames"