Judas Priest – Nostradamus

Judas Priest’s double album “Nostradamus” came out back in 2008. At this stage in their career, it seems that the veteran genre-defining metal act had decided there was no point doing just another generic Judas Priest album like 2005′s “Angel of Retribution” that marked the return of Rob Halford. So they went for something altogether more ambitious.

Nostradamus is a concept album based on the life of the legendary seer. Rather than singing about the notorious prophesies themselves, they’ve taken the far more interesting path of telling the story of the life of the man himself.  With tales of persecution, plague and love won and lost it does occasionally veer into slightly cheesy melodrama. But this is a Judas Priest album after all. What did you expect?

It’s been compared with Kiss’s infamous “The Elder”, although I feel Judas Priest have made a rather stronger album. It’s immensely varied musically. Alongside the twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing there’s extensive use of keyboards, and the album is full of atmospheric moments which owe as much to prog-rock as metal. Occasionally it even strays into even more un-Priest musical territory that’s dangerously close to the sound of a West End musical. But despite these diversions you’re never that far from plenty of their archetypal pile-driving guitar sound either, and the end result can only be described as epic. Both disks flow as one continuous piece of music, songs running into one another, sometimes with short instrumental pieces bridging the gaps between them. Like many double albums, it doesn’t quite manage to be consistently great all the way through, and there are one or two passages that feel like filler. But it’s also of those albums where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts even when some tracks don’t necessarily stand up on their own, and it has more than enough high points to satisfy all but the most narrow-minded of fans.

Rob Halford is still a force to be reckoned with as a vocalist even in his fifties, and those piercing screams of his upper register are in good working order. He’s a little less effective on the album’s many ballads; he’s not as good trying to convey emotion as he is using his voice as a lead instrument on the heavier songs.

Despite a few flaws, I like this album a lot. Many people accused them of going all Spinal Tap with the 12-minute song about the Loch Ness Monster on “Angel of Retribution”, and their response was to take things far, far further with this epic concept album. It’s not as if they haven’t done plenty of albums filled with short punchy songs in the past. If they never do another album it will be a fitting close to their career. And if they do make another one, I’m not quite sure how they’re going to follow this.

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