July 7, 2008

Judas Priest Takes Long Ride into Spinal Tap Territory

By Malcolm X Abram, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio

Jul. 7--When estranged singer Rob Halford rejoined Judas Priest, the band released 2005's Angel of Retribution, a strong collection of songs that showed the middle-aged band of middle-aged men could still bring the heavy-metal heat, mixing their classic power metal sound with strains of the thrash metal they helped inspire.

One of the few missteps on Angel was the plodding album closer Loch Ness, a silly 13-minute ode to Nessie that ended the album on a down note.

Unfortunately, after that album's mostly successful return to form, Priest has come back with Nostradamus, a 102-minute concept double CD about the mystic seer that frequently dips into Spinal Tap territory.

While the metal world may not have been clamoring for another of Halford's odes to the "Metal Gods," a 23-track set about the 16th-century French prophet probably wasn't too high on many fans' wish lists either. Mixing epic-length songs with short musical interludes, the album is heavy on guitar, synthesizers and keyboard "orchestrations" that at times are more prevalent in the mix than Glenn Tipton's and K.K. Downing's guitars.

Aside from the corny concept, the album's longer tunes are mostly crawling or mid-tempo songs that chunka-chunka along with few memorable riffs, though Tipton and Downing do get in several snarling solos. Arguably one of the album's biggest problems is that too many of the songs leash Scott Travis, the best drummer Priest has had since Les Binks was banging out the intro to Exciter in the mid-1970s.

Nostradamus does have some good tunes. Persecution gallops along at a good pace, showcasing Halford's still-capable wail and one of the album's better (and scarce) riffs. Likewise, Prophecy is a solid mid-tempo cruncher, and the title track allows Scott to rip off some fine double bass drum work and is one of the few up-tempo songs on the album. It's also track 23, so some listeners may never hear the song.

But for every good tune there are a couple of tracks such as the ballad Peace and Lost Love, which surely push the story along but aren't particularly fun or interesting listening experiences.

No serious metal band would purposely make an album that evokes Spinal Tap. But looking at the album art (oooh, his eyes are glowing, spooky!) and listening to Nostradamus, it's hard not to imagine Halford on stage in a black leather, hooded robe singing, "I am Nostradamus, the hand of fate!" while dwarfs in pointy shoes dance circles around him.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at [email protected] or 330-996-3758.


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