judas priest invincible shield album cover

Opinions about Judas Priest have been divided ever since K.K. Downing left the band. A part of me understands that as K.K. is a founding member of the band and significantly contributed to what we now know as the “Judas Priest sound”. But I hold a different opinion. What happened with K.K. is unfortunate; nobody wants their musical heroes to have this kind of acrimonious split. But they couldn’t have found a better replacement than Richie Faulkner! I’m not just talking about his ability to play old Priest songs. I’m talking about the kind of energy he brought to the band and his songwriting that has a lot of old-school heavy metal elements that we’ve all come to love. It was evident in Firepower,  and it’s evident here on this new album, Invincible Shield.

judas priest with touring guitarist andy sneap

Invincible Shield, just like its predecessor, was produced by Andy Sneap, who is also a part of the band’s touring line-up ever since Glenn Tipton announced his Parkinson’s diagnosis wasn’t going to allow him to tour consistently. Sneap also handled mixing duties, which is quite evident if you know his sound. Tom Allom, who had co-produced Firepower along with Andy, had a limited role this time around. He only has co-producer credits on two songs (Sons of Thunders & Giants in the Sky), though I’m not sure why that is. The album overall sounds good. Sneap knows how to take advantage of the modern production benefits. I was a little concerned with Sneap handling more duties than he did before because sometimes he tends to use the same techniques for every band he works with; but I think working with Priest, and having worked with Tom Allom quite a lot, must have rubbed off on him as I thought the record sounded great. I’m not always the biggest fan of Sneap’s mixes; but I hear a change in his approach, and it works beautifully on this record.

From a songwriting perspective, I would say it’s a continuation of Firepower. The songs are well streamlined. The longest song is the title track which is about six minutes and twenty seconds. I don’t mind longer songs when there’s a need for it, but Judas Priest is one band that’s experienced enough to understand that not every song has to be long! If you’re done with what you wanted to convey, no need to repeat the same parts! This makes the album stronger. It’s an easy listen and you catch onto the songs quite rapidly.

The album line-up credits Glenn Tipton and Richie Faulkner as the guitar duo. Considering Tipton is still an active member of the band, this isn’t surprising. In spite of his health issues, he is involved in band matters and some live shows. According to Richie, Glenn also recorded some guitar parts for the album to the extent he could, and if he couldn’t, Richie took over. Either way, I’m glad he’s still involved and in the band. Parkinson’s is a cruel disease and I wish Glenn the best.

All songs are credited to Faulkner, Halford and Tipton. Faulkner says the band likes getting together and going over each other’s ideas and hearing how they sound together. It sounds like the pandemic altered some of those plans, as perhaps also evidenced by the fact that certain parts of the album were recorded in different parts of the world, but given the songwriting is credited to three members collectively, they probably had a chance to chime in on each other’s ideas and help arrange. Faulkner and Halford seem to have written most of the riffs and melodies. However, from the interviews I saw, it looks like Sons of Thunder, Escape from Reality, and Vicious Circle are Glenn Tipton’s ideas. It gives the album some nice variety.

Rob Halford is… well, Rob Halford! His writing, singing, and attitude are all there. How he still manages to belt out some of those notes is beyond me, but I’m glad he’s still singing! He sounds great as always. But I have to give credit to Richie Faulkner too. Why shouldn’t I? The band members do! His writing contributions fit so well you don’t really feel like a “new” member has stepped in. He’s cut from the same cloth. I also appreciate his lead work. It has some shred elements but it’s not really about that. It’s about what fits the song, and these leads have this ‘80s metal vibe to them that any fan of classic British-influenced heavy metal would love.

Let’s also note here that the standard edition of the album ends with Giants in the Sky, but the Deluxe Edition has three additional songs. One of those tracks, The Lodger, was written by Bob Halligan Jr., who has contributed to Judas Priest records before.

The songs are mainly fast and aggressive. With the modern production values and this kind of vibe, it easily reminded me of Painkiller. The previous album, Firepower, had the same vibe. So, if you liked one, I don’t see why you wouldn’t like the other. Having said that, a veteran heavy metal band like Priest also knows how to weave the songs with plenty of melody and catchy harmonies.

It’s hard to name a favorite, but keep coming back to second track, The Serpent and the King, so I guess that one already has a special place for me. Absolutely killer track! It would have fit on Painkiller just fine. The riffs are solid all through the song and the chorus is simple but effective. It’s catchy. On top of all that, the solos are super tasty. I’m not sure who played what solo, but I think it’s Richie playing most leads here and I loved it because it’s my cup of tea right there! Some classic ‘80s tasty shred without going overboard. This song is a modern day Judas Priest classic as far as I’m concerned.

Other highlights are Panic Attack, Devil In Disguise, Crown of Horns (that intro is awesome and Priest flexes their melodic muscles!), Trial By Fire, Escape From Reality, Sons of Thunder, and Vicious Circle. I think these are all solid. The good news, and perhaps what speaks to the strength of the album, is that other tracks are not bad. Like I said, if you like the newer Priest sound, you’ll like them all. But while every song is rather good, they didn’t all have a uniquely catchy melody to me. That’s why I wanted to highlight a few. If you want an introduction, definitely start with The Serpent and the King and then try some of the other highlights I mentioned.

I know that Nostradamus (2008) and Redeemer of Souls (2014) weren’t everybody’s cup of tea. I think Redeemer…is a good album but I get why opinions are divided on those. But Firepower and now Invincible Shield are two solid albums these veterans of heavy metal shared with us. That’s a lot of tracks to enjoy! It’s 2024 and Judas Priest is still writing some great music. What’s not to like?

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