There are two traditional routes by which a 70-80s pub rock outfit can outrun time and popular taste. One, by trying their hand at doing covers of tasteful ‘classics’. Two, by teaming up with someone less anachronistic and, therefore, cool to show the world that they aren’t milking nostalgia. In their latest album, Nostradamus, Birmingham leather-clad heavy metal buttonchops Judas Priest take neither route. They stand their ground firmly as if we were all stapled on to circa 1979.
Now this is rather funny, considering that the Brummie band headed by Voice Trembler-in-Chief Rob Halford, have in the past both tried (successfully) doing covers of un-heavy metal numbers — such as, their version of Joan Baez’s Diamonds and rust — as well as signing on to Trent ‘Nine Inch Nails’ Reznor’s record label. But here, we get the full blast of operatic heavy metal. And yes, if you’re not embarrassed by the Andrew Lloyd Webber-meets-Motorhead concoction, you may actually like this.
First things first. The moment I realised that this a ‘concept album’, red lights started whirling in my head. Essentially, the creators of beautiful, high-school snotty ditties like Victim of changes, The Ripper and Breaking the law, have put their collective mind (which should comfortably fit a bucket) to tell us the saga of the 16th century French seer, Nostradamus.
The string section, as is the case with ‘philosophical’ heavy metal, plays an important role as the album beer walks through various chapters designated Dawn of Creation, Awakening, The Four Horsemen etc right up till Apocalypse and back. Frankly, unless you’re a Judas Priest fanatic — or at least an admirer of operatic hard rock that uses words like purgatory, desecration, Nella tentazione — this long CD will sound bone-crushingly the same from beginning to finish.
But before I do go back in time to my upper teenage years (ironically, the only way to really appreciate this album about a man who could look into the future), let me just mark a big tick for Persecution that comes bang in the middle of the album (between Lost love and Exiled). Its choppy guitars and gravitas-ful chokes (I never will conform/ My faith is deep to the core/ I stand against reform/ I’ll never kneel down before) have me turned on for a while. Such innocent pretentiousness. It almost makes me want to become as deep and impenetrable as those grown-up Harry Potter fans mesmerised by Judas Priest’s latest offering. At the altar of darkness. (Get it?)