Although 'Redeemer of Souls' isn't a "comeback" album, expectations for Judas Priest's 17th studio album can be compared to Iron Maiden's 'Brave New World' or Black Sabbath's '13.' The departure of legendary guitarist K.K. Downing mixed with the uncertainty of Priest's future touring plans at the time, fans wondered if they were witnessing the end of Judas Priest, but with 'Redeemer of Souls,' the iconic heavy metal mainstays have made a powerful statement of solidarity.

A monstrous clap of thunder introduces the album's first track, 'Dragonaut,' which adds to the long list of deities unleashed within Judas Priest's realm. Both 'Dragonaut' and the album's title track are fairly straight-forward, revolving around solid riffing which vocalist Rob Halford follows with his own rhythmic progressions. Though guitarists Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner trade off fantastic solos during the album's two introductory tracks, it isn't until 'Halls of Valhalla' that Judas Priest launch into true excellence.

'Halls of Valhalla' is arguably the most expertly crafted piece throughout 'Redeemer of Souls,' beginning with an infectious crescendo, painting an epic soundscape while setting the track up for big riffs, strong accents and Rob Halford's first big shriek of the album. Though the opening scream sounds a bit shaky by Halford's standards, the Metal God continues on with one of the most dynamic performances of his career. Halford's storytelling abilities are utilized brilliantly throughout the cut, switching from simple singing to roaring screams and even deep, ominous lows.

'Sword of Damocles' keeps the Priest excellence alive, focusing heavily on huge guitar leads. Halford delivers top-shelf vocals once again, trading off with heavy chugging from Tipton and Faulkner during a chorus so addictive you'll wish it came in an IV. The percussive elements within 'Sword of Damocles' and 'March of the Damned' are absolutely massive at times, the latter track using its percussion to symbolize the actual marching of the damned, which is extremely effective and even cinematic.

Besides Judas Priest's 'Turbo' period, 'Redeemer of Souls' seemingly touches on each style the ever-evolving band has tried out, and for fans of Priest's earlier work, the tracks 'Hell and Back' and 'Crossfire' will catch your attention. The two songs are steeped in a blues-heavy groove, reminiscent of the heavy Black Sabbath influence found in 'Rocka Rolla.' The sound can feel slightly disjointed from the purely epic first half of 'Redeemer of Souls,' but the progression is also significantly refreshing and keeps the album from becoming stale.

The second half of 'Redeemer of Souls' is slowed down considerably compared to the first half, which can feel like a completely separate album at times, but the record's final cut, 'Beginning of the End,' is expertly written and truly envelops the listener in its soft embrace.

All together, 'Redeemer of Souls' is a strong release from a band that created some of metal's greatest and most timeless works. When fans eventually compare 'Redeemer of Souls' to Judas Priest's 16 other full-length albums, the 2014 record may not rate among the very top of their discography, but must-hear tracks like 'Halls of Valhalla' and 'Sword of Damocles' can hang with Priest's greatest songs. To grab a copy of 'Redeemer of Souls,' click here.

4 Stars

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