When singer Rob Halford screamed his way back into the classic Judas Priest line-up with 2005’s Angel of Retribution, the results were good. Not awesome, not astounding, only good. But one listen to the new Priest double CD set, Nostradamus, and you will be trawling the thesaurus looking for words to describe the experience. This is the British metalheads back in prime form; and the classic line-up helps, of course.
Nostradamus is what is commonly referred to as a concept album – loosely translated it means that there some particular theme running through all the songs (think Tommy, think Dark Side of the Moon.) And that common thread on this one is the life of Nostradamus, the early-16th Century seer who, supporters say, predicted stuff like the Great Fire of London to the rise of Adolf Hitler to the fall of the Twin Towers. And one must admit, this ‘concept’ does make for interesting lyrics, complemented with the regulation chugging rhythm section – thundering drums and killer riffs – and the not-so-regulation keyboards and synth string sections. Glen Tipton and KK Downing’s twin guitar attack is at its ferocious best here. Listen to ‘Prophecy’ or ‘Revelations’ and you will understand where Judas Priest get their heavenly moniker – they are called “Metal Gods” – from. Heavy guitars, bludgeoning drums and Rob Halford’s searing vocals, of course. Ah, that’s what you were waiting for, eh? Well, worry not: Halford’s vocal cords are evidently in very good shape. ‘Conquest’ and ‘Alone’ – with him going from a whisper to operatic banshee scream - can be two great master-classes for any aspiring vocalist.
A word of warning, though. This is classic heavy metal. Even though some songs here nudge the 8- or 9-minute mark, they are pretty much structured. So if you pop this CD in expecting to hear ‘2008 metal,’ you are most likely in for disappointment. But look forward to some fantastic metal, and you will easily slot this as one of the best releases of the year so far.
© Bobin James/Rolling Stone India, 2008