Sunday, July 6, 2008

Review: Judas Priest, "Nostradamus"

It’s a shame that, in one of his prophecies, Nostradamus didn’t foresee that Judas Priest would one day record a two-disc concept album about him. Maybe he could have warned them that it may not be the best idea.

The idea of a concept record about Nostradamus had me scratching my head to begin with. I kind of had an idea that it would be this bloated, overbearing, self-important piece of work, and that’s pretty much what Judas Priest delivers.

It starts well with the nice traditional riffing of “Prophecy.” The song is catchy enough that I can overlook the silly lyrics and overly melodramatic tone. By the end of the song, I was thinking this might not be so bad. And, in truth, it’s not. There are enough good songs scattered around this record to make one pretty good CD. “Pestilence and Plague” has a nice, galloping power metal feel to it, something we’ve rarely heard from Priest. “Death” is a morose, Sabbath-influenced track that might be the best of the dark numbers. “Conquest” has a cool, exotic vibe to it, thanks in large part to Halford’s vocal delivery. “Persecution” is a ripping ending to the first CD that leaves a good impression, and the title track provides a solid late-record spark with some Painkiller-style riffing, even if the vocals are, again, a little silly.

Even the flamboyant operatic stuff is not all bad. “Revelations” is a very dramatic piece of music, one of the strongest here, even if it does sound a little dated on the more metal parts, and “Alone” is one of the highlights of the second disc, opening with a Pink Floyd-ish moment before kicking in with a nice, plodding metal riff.

So, what’s the problem? Well, there are a few. For one thing there are far too many short interludes and intros on the record that really go nowhere. It feels like almost every song has some sort of intro track. The album is belabored by overbearing, and if I’m being honest, pompous tracks that are essentially the band trying to force the listener to recognize how brilliant this record is. I’m not buying it. British Steel is brilliant. Screaming for Vengeance is brilliant. Painkiller is brilliant. None of those records needed to point that fact out for listeners to recognize it.

Only a handful of the songs here are what I would truly call bad, “New Beginnings” being the notable exception — a pop ballad that’s easily the low-point of the record and possibly of the band’s career. But many of the songs just don’t seem to go anywhere. “War” is the perfect example. I listen to it, and I feel like it’s building up to some big release, some sort of crescendo, and then it never comes. Instead we move right into another slow, tortured song after another. Sitting through track after track of that just gets interminably boring somewhere around the middle of the second disc. I’m praying for a “Painkiller” to come blow the top of my head off, but hell, I’d almost settle for a “Turbo Lover” — at least it’s got a hook.

By and large the album is well put together and well composed, and perhaps as a Broadway-style piece, it might work. Unfortunately, that’s not what I want from Judas Priest. If I was looking for Broadway-style metal, there are many bands out there that do it better. What I want from Judas Priest is straight-up, balls out, traditional metal, and there’s far too little of that to be found on Nostradamus.

Get "Nostradamus."

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