Judas Priest

Nostradamus

Written by: EW on 20/10/2008 20:45:16

Talk about a weighty subject choice! It seemed at the time of announcement regarding the latest album from the Brummie Metal Gods that a double-LP concept album surrounding the 16th century prophet Nostradamus could be too big a bite to chew even for Judas Priest, leaving many wondering if a band best known for writing catchy balls-to-the-wall metal tunes could pull off a theme as epic as this, and in a whopping running time of 102 minutes. 2005's "Angel Of Retribution" marked a generally accepted return to form following the widespread dismissal of 2001's 'Ripper' Owens' fronted "Demolition" but with a gestation period that seemed to last a lot longer than the three years between albums it is safe to say a lot is riding on "Nostradamus" and the controversial subject that is 'concept albums' in metal circles.

All manner of themes have been explored by all manner of metal bands in the 34 years of Priest's existence, both in the form of concept albums and as individual song themes, and as such there is nothing inherently wrong with Nostradamus as a choice. But by god when it's spanning as much plastic as this is, any band is putting themselves up there to be shot down, whether your name is as big as Priest's or not. An album I think of a lot in assessing "Nostradamus" is "Gods Of War" by America's equivalent (?) to Judas Priest, Manowar, a band not exactly known for hiding back in any form, which despite all the pretenses and potential turned out to be a soggy, bloated mess, lacking in direction and, crucially, metal to non-metal ratio, which sadly is the same direction Priest have taken. However whilst "Nostradamus"'s first disc could be compared to the whole of "Gods Of War", Priest have shot themselves in the foot with disc 2 whose 47 minutes features little approaching the term 'successful' and may in fact even be more 'heavy cardboard' than 'heavy metal'. "Alone", and "Visions" from disc 2 would have been perfectly good songs on a more standard Priest album, sitting nicely with their usual upbeat fist-pumping tomes, but in its current guise sitting amongst such lifeless tracks as "Shadows In The Flame", "Hope" and "New Beginnings" they are reduced to their barest form and severely weakened by their supporting cast. Thankfully the title-track, sitting in penultimate position, is probably the best of the album, featuring the spirit of "Painkiller" missing throughout most and carries plentiful kick to wake up most who would have drifted off during the abysmally soppy "Calm Before The Storm".

Let's state for the record that Rob Halford at no point dips below his usual brilliant and the album would be a lot for the worse if it weren't for his presence. In tracks such as "War" and "Pestilence And Plague" Halford sounds even more operatic than ever, presenting superb confidence in the material rather than that of the depressingly restrained legendary guitar duo of Tipton & Downing, who come across with a surprising lack of confidence in what the band have written. If only they opened up a little more to show why their names have become synonymous with classic metal riffing then one can safely assume the cobwebs obscuring too much of "Nostradamus" would have been obliterated long before they formed.

Priest have never been about all-out speed, their palette is much more varied than that, but the dank and morose nature that permeates across too much of the synth-driven landscape on "Nostradamus" starts to grate even before the end of your listen given it's exhaustive length. However 3 or 4 listens in and passages like much of "Death" and "Lost Love" (among many others) get wearily tiresome, making the 'forward' button become as tempting as an ice cream to a fat kid on a hot day.

I have given "Nostradamus" time to sink in, become digested and re-listened to as, well, an album this epic can't be judged upon 1 or 2 listens. As is usually the case when negatively discussing an album, it is merely the case that someone else will find the subject matter interesting. However I just cannot see anyone ever having the patience to sit through the 102 minutes on offer here as Priest have simply loaded up on the filler with the sense that a second disc needed to be tacked on, whatever the cost. By removing a number of weaker tracks previously discussed, leaving an album with the more 'metal' songs and just a few of the interlude tracks, "Nostradamus" could have been a far great success. As it is, despite all the effort clearly gone into it's making, not enough here will interest to the home listener, whilst much of the material's fallibilities will become painfully acute in a live sense sandwiched by your "Painkillers" and "Breaking The Laws". An interesting, but ultimately flawed exercise.

Download: Persecution, Nostradamus, Alone, Visions
For The Fans Of: Manowar, Iced Earth, Blind Guardian, Helloween
Listen: Myspace
Buy: iTunes

Release date 16.06.2008
Columbia Records/Epic Records

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