I’d call Judas Priest’s Angel of Retribution a homoerotic masterpiece, but I assure you, it’s no masterpiece. Everything else, however, is in place, from the cock-chugging power chords, to the ass-splitting guitar solos from K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, to the bowel-loosening stick work of Scott Travis. This is old school shit at its finest; the sort of pounding pleasure I listened to back in the day while I applied healthy doses of Clearasil and plotted the murder of my classmates. Judas Priest is still as apolitical and irrelevant as ever (while the world burns, they’d rather sing about the actual flames), but when you’re driving along trying to forget your troubles, there’s nothing better than mindless metal. Not that I have any real troubles, mind you, but I’m rockin’ out nonetheless. It’s good to see the lineup from 1990’s Painkiller back on the scene, for it’s been too long since I heard that motorcycle rev up its engines. Rob, we’ve missed you. And your leather.
The opening track, “Judas Rising,” could be interpreted in a host of ways, but it’s best to assume that with Judas Priest, no deeper meaning exists. The song titles, in fact, are interchangeable; the tune could just as easily be about death and chaos as ordering a sandwich. But in this case, JP’s all business:
White bolt of lightning
Came out of nowhere
Blinded the darkness
Created the storm
War in the heavens
Torment and tempest
Attacks like a swarm
Yeah, it’s tough and all that, but what in the hell are they talking about? If this were any other band, I’d argue for metaphor and social commentary, but I’m certain Halford merely pulled a few words out of a hat that weren’t copyrighted by Manowar. But it’s a hard-driving tune; an up-tempo re-introduction to a band that gave me chills when I was a less discerning consumer of music.
“Deal with the Devil” follows, and it’s arguably the best song on the record, as it nearly inspired me to tear off my shirt and, baked in sweat, play air guitar in the middle of the freeway. Phrases such as “We built our world of metal” and “When we don the leather” won’t cause anyone to forget Bob Dylan, but they demonstrate that at the very least, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Or not at all. And then there’s “Revolution,” which is the least radical song with that title in music history. For all we know, Halford is simply storming the local S&M shop to take by force the crotchless boots and cat o’ nine tails he so feverishly desires.
There are even a few semi-ballads about, which are never in the interests of the metal gods, but are enough to keep the chicks around. And yes, there are chicks at Judas Priest events, although the two I saw back at their world tour with Megadeth and Testament were so leathery and acne-ridden that I could only manage a partial erection. I mean, they were females, after all; at least in spirit. And yet, this is a man’s world, a place where “Wheels of Fire” and “Hellrider” can feel comfortably masculine. It’s only with “Lochness” where things get really out of hand. I mean really – a song about the fabled Scottish beast? Check out these words of wisdom:
This legend lives
Evoking history’s memories
Prevailing in eternity
Your secret lies safe with me
Huh? Metals bands are notorious for tackling odd nuggets from history, a tendency exploited to full effect by Spinal Tap (who doesn’t remember that Stonehenge number). It’s as pretentious as Judas Priest could possibly get, but it’s so damned silly that we immediately forgive them. At the very least, these masters of mayhem have made me feel like a teenager again, absent the loneliness, depression, and striking virginity. Thanks, Rob.