Redeemer Of Souls is an epic metal album. Not in the way of sprawling songs or overreaching orchestral arrangements but through a subtle recalibration of basic sound to comply with the ravages of time that have taken a toll on all members of the venerable Judas Priest. Songs are languid, big arena thumpers with crashing snares and sing along choruses and regular spots for guitar showmanship. But that has been the essence of this band since the late 70s and it is gratifying to see them at ease in the mould that made them their name and gave cause to more than a few heavy metal classics. What Redeemer Of Souls attempts to do, and succeeds to a large degree, is transposing the heroic approach of a song like Blood Red Skies, and the nostalgic, timeless appeal of songs like Desert Plains and Reckless, onto an entire album. The result may not be pulsing with the energy of their spring years, but carries the comfort of familiar places and peoples and sounds.
At their peak, Judas Priest possessed a certain aristocratic quality that separated them from all other heavy metal bands. The band’s sense of riff craft came from an understanding of interlocking, structural unity rather than inherent complexity or any great speed. Innocuous-seeming licks and harmonized phrases that belied their genius regularly elevated songs above their estate, adding a stately, self-assured touch to the progressively more insipid, inarticulately expressed subject matter. All along, Rob Halford’s virtuoso voice directed and wore the music about itself, acting as a legitimate fifth instrument in the band’s arsenal, allowing the guitars to explore musical frequencies in a manner that was beyond the reach of many other bands.
Redeemer Of Souls reaches those glory heights only fleetingly. Halford’s voice is still serviceable but unable to induce the intensity of previous years, as a result forcing the rest of the band to adapt to his diminishing capabilities. In the middle and slightly higher registers, however, he is without reproach, and the band in turn seem to have taken his cue and focused their collective energies on writing simple, mostly unhurried, and memorable songs. Techniques that were perfected on Painkiller are referenced more than once but ironically enough lend the album most of its datedness. Redeemer Of Souls feels like a mid-80s crunch-and-bang heavy metal album at heart, and would make for a far more consistent experience if not for these parts.
Still, Redeemer Of Souls is the finest Judas Priest album since Painkiller. There is a difference between a band that shows up to make the numbers, and one that, though it may betray its age at times, is still eager to prove a point. Judas Priest are comfortably settled in the second camp for now. There is a curious feeling of finality that surrounds this album, through lyrics, atmosphere, and the exit of a founding member. One almost wishes it were so. It would be a good way to go.