Judas Priest – Invincible Shield (Sony Music)

Monday, 4th March 2024
Rating: 8.5 / 10

Fifty years beyond Rocka Rolla the debut album for UK veterans Judas Priest, we now have before us the latest studio record Invincible Shield. Debate abounds as to the purity of the current lineup – but it’s hard to dispute the strong skill sets present through the work of guitarists Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton (even if the latter is limited on a studio/songwriter basis), bassist Ian Hill, drummer Scott Travis, and vocalist Rob Halford. In the end, what matters most is consistency plus versatility in navigating the metal landscape as one hopes for the band – resolute in straddling the lines between powerhouse hooks, tempos, and melodies while offering multiple generations plenty of songs that rock. When the smoke clears, all facets present themselves in heavy doses here that should assure another outstanding front to back record experience.

The sharp riff attack for “The Serpent and the King” matches Rob’s piercing upper screams, gliding effortlessly in upward and descending melodies for the simplified chorus. The guitar tradeoffs next to some sinister drum foundational work pushes the energy level higher during the title track – the quick hitting lead breaks sprinkled about during specific verses in dynamic thrust to the main musical components. Where these veteran musicians excel currently is in the versatility of understanding when to cruise into a more palatable, mid-tempo swing or march-oriented tempo – something that swirls crowds into bundles of unlimited overthrow potential. At other times, references to past eras sprout up from say the early 80’s British Steel / Screaming for Vengeance albums with “Gates of Hell” or Painkiller levels on “As God Is My Witness”, the shred breaks mesmerizing for the latter cut. And the heavier, darker to mysterious atmosphere present within “Escape From Reality” makes this a latter half favorite, the clean to heavier guitar passages building next to a thick, booming bass foundation as Rob deftly weaves his wordcraft in the cracks and crevices as the supreme metal vocal master he attained decades previous.

While the main edition contains eleven tracks, the deluxe owners will get three bonus songs – of which “Fight for Your Life” possesses a bit more of a 70’s, bluesy proto-metal feel in its pace and guitar structure, as “Vicious Circle” slashes in that driving, 80’s traditional mold – and “The Lodger” creeps in as a moody ballad, showcasing Rob’s magnificent lower range in the verses, some weeping twin harmony guitars, a song that this scribe believes could have made the final grade on the regular release. No one will be disappointed in the production from Andy Sneap – he ensures a full sound that has that modern attack while never sacrificing the little earworms that appear through subsequent playbacks.

How does this record stack up next to the mainstay albums in the Judas Priest catalog? Time will tell of course after say six months, a year, or more – but at this point in time, it’s an energetic effort full of varied anthems plus memorable songs, living up to its namesake Invincible Shield. Who would have ever expected bands like Accept, Saxon, or Judas Priest to be still vital and as creatively fruitful as they are in the 2020’s – let’s enjoy these recordings, as if it’s the final studio full-length, they will have finished out brilliantly.

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