Music Type: Heavy Metal
Release Date: June 17, 2008
Sometimes, even one of your favorite bands can surprise you.
I've been a fan of Judas Priest since I was a little kid; they're one of the many bands I grew up on. It wasn't until around the turn of the century that I became really attached to the band and noticed them, however. Since then, I've reveled in the music of one of the true masters of metal, bar none. Even Black Sabbath has a hard time competing with these guys for the best of all metal in my eyes; and they practically founded the damn genre.
So of course I entered their latest album with anticipation. I had heard of the subject matter a good deal before it's release; after all, the band made no bones about the fact that it's latest effort would focus on Nostradamus. This didn't bother me as much as I think it should have. I generally look at Nostradamus as something of a hack from a bygone era of superstition and beliefs in things such as prophecies. Many of his so called prophecies were so horribly vague that they could apply to almost anything, reaping any meaning they might have. Not to mention the people who actually believe in them, who come off borderline stupid at times. But, like many figures I do not believe in or think much of, I find him and his legacy to be suitably fascinating; which probably helped temper my reaction. So going in, I suppose you could say I was all for it. Nostradamus is suitably metal enough, I think.
As always, Judas Priest did not disappoint me for my faith. This two disc album is by far the best they have done since Painkiller, the infamous album where Priest found themselves at their very heaviest and quite possibly their best. It's also hands down the most musically cohesive album they have ever done, a big plus. The best possible way that I could ever describe this album is that it is something of a Heavy Metal Opera, rife with an epic feel and subject matter without any of the wailing or fat chicks.
The first disc is the better of the two in this album. It focuses mainly on the prophecies Nostradamus gave over his lifetime and many of the songs are suitably epic. At least three quarters of the disc focuses on the Legendary Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The original four, mind you. There's no Famine to be found here; only Conquest. The rest mainly focuses on other prophecies and Nostradamus himself, leading to persecution.
"Dawn of Creation" opens the album, a suitably low key lead in to another song; like how The Hellion was to Electric Eye. It sets something of a tone before we're launched into the first relatively heavy piece of the album, "Prophecy". The album immediatly grabs you with this song, sounding suitably epic in scope and introducing us to the concept of the album, Nostradamus himself. Before the song is through, there is a positively epic twenty seconds of guitar solo that was enough to get my heart racing before the song closed and flowed into the next. "Awakening" followed, another short lead in to the next song and setting aside any doubt that this would be a pattern throughout the album. Then, it seemlessly transitioned into the next main song, "Revelations". The song has a wonderful throughline throughout to keep you enthralled. Already we have winners out of everything so far in the album.
Next is where the main subject of this half of the album begins. "The Four Horsemen" is slow, telling the rise of the Horsemen, slowly leading us into "War", the next major song in the album and obviously representing the first of the Horsemen. "War" grabs you by the throat right off the bat with a pounding drum beat as Halford sings of the coming of War. Like much of the album, this is a heavy sound, but a slower one, which many may not be used to, especially considering Priests often fast paced songs. But it still does it's job handily. Again we transition to a slower, lower beat with "Sands of Time", the next lead in song to set the stage after War. Then comes "Pestilence and Plague", driving us forward again with another heavy piece, this one moving a bit faster than the ones before it.
From there we go right to "Death", one of the two songs to quite possibly be the best of the album. It's opening from "Pestilence and Plague" on into it is positively gloomy before a guitar slowly riffs onward. A slightly growly Halford begins to sing in the first person, as though he were the voice for Death himself. It's almost chilling. Halfway through the song, we move into one of the most infectious verses I've heard in a long time. When Halford begins to sing of Death riding out from the storm, you feel the incessant urge to sing along as the song kicks into a higher gear, signaling "Death" arriving to do his merciless deed. Cue in a positively epic guitar solo before the last verses of the song. From there we move onto "Peace", another lower piece for the purpose of setting up the next song, before we go into the final song representing the Horsemen, "Conquest". This song is as good as any of the other four, giving something of a more positive, hopeful sound after the relatively gloomy "Death". After "Conquest" we move to "Lost Love", a slower paced love song that sounds positively beautiful and reminds me of "Before the Dawn" from an album years previous, though with more verses than the short aforementioned song. Then the first disc closes with "Persecution", which is a much faster song than anything heard so far on the album, far more like their usual work. It's a nice closer for the first half, at which point it's time to switch discs.
The second disc is far less gloomy than the sound of the first, and one could make the case that it's not quite as driving either. By no means is it bad in any way, in fact, I think it's very strong as well and wouldn't cut anything from it. But by now we are past the gloomy, dark prophecies of Nostradamus and his persecution, which drove the first disc of this album. The second disc opens with another lower lead in called "Solitude" before we move on to "Exile", a great drum beat opening the song with the subject of, obviously, Nostradamus in exile. "Alone" is next, which is a personal favorite of mine from this album. It's catchy with a great chorus, the kind you would usually hear in typical Priest songs. From there on we get a much more upbeat sound in "Shadows in the Flame" and "Visions". This continues through "Hope" and the song it leads to, "New Beginnings". After this four song reprieve, things go back to a slower, lower beat with "Calm Before the Storm", the lead in to the next song, the albums title track, "Nostradamus". "Nostradamus" is like the earlier "Persecution" in that it's a much faster song. From there, it's on to the closer, the epic "Future of Mankind". This one is a competitor for best from the entire album, with an awesome sound throughout as Halford sings of Nostradamus and his death.
Overall, this album as a whole is unbelievably cohesive. Each song leads into the next in a way Priest is certainly not known for. Their traditional fare is more of a typical, broken set; each song is it's own being and it's own unique sound that does not always blend with the others. Of course, said work has always been excellent, but I found this album refreshing because it turns that traditional mold on it's head. This is a cohesive concept album from start to finish with a wonderful flow.
In a way, it's something new from the band. They've gone on for well over thirty years with their perticular sound and it's gotten them far. For me, that means they've earned the right to experiement a bit, trying something with a suitably more epic, flowing scope. For others, I know this is unfortunately going to be a sticking point. I've been around metal fans enough to know many of them have a stick up their ass in regards to this sort of thing; they want their traditional fare and that's that. But this is the case with most of the fanboy sort of any media, is it not?
Musically, I don't care what anyone says. Thirty years later, Judas Priest is as top of their game as they have ever been. They are the the true legends of metal, the original leather clad badasses. Since the reunion with Halford, they've pressed forward with two great albums, including this one, and I look forward to where they go from here. I hope they never retire. The day they do is the day I cry for metal, because it would be the day it lost one of it's truest legends.
This album is one of the finest works I've heard come from the heavy metal scene in a while. In an age where legends of metal are returning to glory left and right, Judas Priest set themselves apart from the pack once more, as they always have. This is something different for them, but it works wonderfully. I honestly would not mind if they did more of this sort of thing every now and then. This comes with my highest reccomendation for anyone who likes their metal with something of an epic feel; but those with an open enough mind should still find plenty to love. For me, this is another Judas Priest classic, hands down.
My Opinion: Buy It