Review: Judas Priest - Nostradamus
Released: June 17, 2008
By basing their latest album on the life of the famous 16th Century French clairvoyant, Judas Priest opened themselves up to a wide variety of clever (and not-so-clever) quips. In anticipation of the release, I think I've gotten most of that out of my system over the last few months. Nonetheless, I will do something special for this review: I'll write two, one (in the spirit of Nostradamus' foretelling of disaster) will be a prediction before I listen and the other a reaction after I listen. In the end, I guess we'll see if I share any of Nostradamus' gifts. (Would that make me Nostrabobus?)
Prediction: While Judas Priest is surely one of the giants of heavy metal (in the shadow of perhaps only Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath), their recent history isn't that inspiring. When Rob Halford left, they replaced him with Ripper Owens, a guy who was making his money trying to sound like Halford in a cover band. That doesn't exactly show a desire to move on. The non-Halford albums apparently weren't anything to get excited about, but Halford's return on 2005's Angel of Retribution proved that Halford wasn't the only missing ingredient. So, Judas Priest is coming off of their sketchiest period since 1986's Turbo and what do they decide to do to rejuvenate themselves? They make a concept album (and a long one at that) about perhaps the silliest, most clichéd subject they could find. They may just as well have written a concept album about Sasquatch (of course at least that one would have the potential for humor). So, my prediction, whether calculated or clairvoyant, is that Nostradamus will be an overwrought, egotistical debacle. I believe that it will be long on pretentious attempts at high art so to speak and short on the concise, driving metal that made Judas Priest great. The lyrics will be silly, yet will also be taken way too seriously by the band, as if the story of Nostradamus is important to history and philosophy rather than just just a persistent pop culture fascination. Basically, the album is gonna suck.
Review: First of all, what's up with all the synth? More than once, I expected Judas Priest to break in "The Final Countdown." A Judas Priest album should never make me think of Europe. And where are the songs that the album is structured around? I understand that a concept album is a different animal and I won't begrudge a good one a few extra filler songs that can't stand on their own, but Nostradamus is over 100 minutes long, so it needs more than a few songs to be standouts. As it is, there are only a couple songs that actually have any focus. Aside from those, there are just so-so Priest moments adrift in an otherwise aimless album. Those two forgivable songs have Priest pretending to be their metal rivals from 25 years ago. It seems a shame that band who did so much to establish their own sound, and an oft-copied one at that, should release an album whose best songs wear their Maiden-envy on their sleeves. Rob Halford's voice is still among the best in metal, but if he wants to make an album like this, perhaps he should try opera instead.
All of that makes for a bad album, but their is a more fundamental problem. I'd be glad to see Judas Priest push past their established sound and stretch out into new territory, making a case for their continued existence. However, it isn't their music that they were trying to stretch here, it was their egos. I can't help but think that Priest wanted to prove that they weren't just a bunch of "dumb metalheads," but perhaps they should have consulted Iron Maiden about more than just their sound, because Maiden based songs on epic poems, history and the Book of Revelations. Judas Priest wants us to take Nostradamus, based on what amounts to a persistent pop culture icon, just as seriously. As much as the lackluster, unfocused music, the overly processed sound and the bow to their rivals are bad, their attempt to pass off the story of Nostradamus as a serious topic is just insulting. Maybe they are just "dumb metalheads."
So, am I Nostrabobus? Perhaps. My prediction was fairly accurate, but probably more due reason than any sixth sense, and like Nostradamus, being a little vague didn't hurt my cause. So, clairvoyant or not, there's one thing I know: Nostradamus is awful.
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