Nostradamus by Judas Priest
Release date : June 2008
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
Starting life in 1969, Judas Priest, alongside Black Sabbath, built the foundations for what would become known as heavy metal music. Penning phenomenally successful, singles driven records such as British Steel, Defenders of the Faith and Painkiller, the group have earned their moniker “Metal gods” on multiple occasions. A reunion with classic singer Rob Halford was announced in July 2003, and that lineup issued March 2005's critically acclaimed Angel of Retribution. Fast, loud and heavy, Angel of Retribution wielded memorable hooks at each and every juncture, and quenched the thirst of longtime fans. Whether a more fan friendly effort could have been authored is open to debate, though one can't help but muse if Judas Priest felt much the same way.
Judas Priest's lone live date of 2006 occurred on March 31st, and was performed at London's Royal Albert Hall in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. The concert additionally formed a tribute to the late Tommy Vance, an influential British DJ (known for the Friday Rock Show) who had passed away on March 6th the previous year. In early April, Priest announced that the title of their sixteenth studio album would be Nostradamus, and began penning material in support of the planned release. As a teenager, Halford had encountered Nostradamus. However, it was the group's manager Bill Curbishley, who had previously worked alongside The Who as part of Rock opera Tommy, who suggested the idea of this eventual concept album. At the conclusion of Priest's 2005 tour, Curbishley shared the idea with the act in Estonia. In an exclusive discussion with Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles during February 2007, guitarist K. K. Downing revealed the album's tentative number of tracks as being at eighteen with little possibility of that figure being whittled down, essentially confirming that Nostradamus would likely comprise a double-disc effort. Originally eyeing a mid 2007 release, the process took longer than expected. Laid down at The Old Smithy Studio in Kempsey, Worcester between 2006 and 2007, short breaks in recording took place during 2007's summer, Christmas, and the New Year. On August 28, 2007, Downing exploited one of those short breaks, and jammed with cover act Priestone in Tuusula, Finland. By November 2007, mixing had begun.
An April 2008 newsletter issued by CMM GmbH revealed that Nostradamus would be issued in Germany on June 13th, whilst the album's North American release date was announced a few days later. Veteran cover artist Mark Wilkinson was enlisted to handle the album's artwork, and it received its global premier on April 21th via the group's official Live Nation webpage. In addition, the title track could be downloaded in exclusive, free mp3 format from the same location. Inaugural single “Visions” was given a debut airing on May 2nd by the Friday Night Rocks radio show on New York's Q104.3 FM. Limited to five hundred music fans, Judas Priest scheduled their first in-store signing sessions for more than twenty-five years. Held on May 8th and 9th with the participation of Halford, guitarist Glenn Tipton and Downing, two locations respectively played host; Hot Topic in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and independent record store Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey. Both began at six p.m., were limited to five hundred music fans, and the group would sign one item per customer - the exception being a guitar. At Hot Topic, attendees had to obtain a wristband by either pre-ordering Nostradamus, or purchasing any Priest album or T-shirt in the store after May 2nd. At Vintage Vinyl meanwhile, attendees had to obtain a wristband by ordering the new album via Vintage Vinyl, and additionally received a poster. Days before release, all of Nostradamus' cuts were available for streaming via VH1.com's The Leak.
While the album is issued on differing dates worldwide, Priest have both honoured, and have scheduled, the following gigs; a June 2th date at Helsinki, Finland's Icehall, and performances at Sweden Rock in Sölvesborg, Sweden on the 5th, Trondheim Rock Festival in Trondheim, Norway on the 7th, at Bergenshall in Bergen, Norway on the 8th, at Rockhal in Luxembourg on the 11th, at Nova Rock Festival in Nickelsdorf, Austria, at Incheba in Bratislavia, Slovakia on the 16th, at Cez Arena in Ostrava, Czech Republic on the 17th, at Kobetamendi Festival in Bilbao, Spain on the 20th, at Fields Of Rock Festival in Holland on the 22nd, at Philipshalle in Dusseldorf, Germany on the 23rd, at Zenith in Munich, Germany on the 24th - the list continues. While supplies last, US copies of Nostradamus are specially marked. Inside the CD package, an insert boasts an exclusive code. That code grants the buyer a lawn ticket to witness Judas Priest perform at a select date of the Metal Masters tour - a North American heavyweight package that includes Judas Priest, Motörhead, Heaven and Hell and Testament, the dates of which are scheduled to occur during August.
This concept piece centrally focuses upon the life and times of Nostradamus, an assumption you likely arrived at. For those of you whom are unfamiliar with the man in question, Nostradamus - whose actual name is Michel de Nostredame - was a sixteenth century apothecary who published works concerning both the prophecies and visions he held.
The second full length composed since Rob Halford's return, to call this 2008 opus a gamble would be a gross understatement. Treading towards a fourth decade, Nostradamus is a bold declaration in certain respects. In terms of ability, Judas Priest never shy away from the fact that they still hold lofty ambitions. Also, the group intend to challenge music fans via a method they've rarely used; intellect. Lofty ambitions as previously outlined, the veterans may have been best advised to leave them at that. The album's content is sprawled over two discs, and as a result of that length and its overtly musical nature, the album is simply a difficult pill to swallow. Whereas various concept albums opt towards focusing upon Nostradamus' prophetical passages, Judas Priest mainly occupy themselves with the guy's life happenings. Certain numbers touch upon those passages however, most notably; “Prophecy”, “Visions”, and “New Beginnings”.
On which specific note should this review begin? In short, the album's layout mostly adheres to a musical format. Time after time, an instrumental, symphonic fragment is succeeded by a track replete with musical content. Each instrumental paves the way for more conventional fare, and lends an intentional ambience. As a consequence, this aids the full length's lyrical mood. An initially successful venture, this chosen approach begins to weigh the album down by the time that the listener arrives at the inaugural disc's midway point. In most respects, Nostradamus boasts decent cuts. Slowly yet surely though, you become less and less receptive towards the album's happenings as its most pacy cuts occur further and fewer between.
Musicianship is Nostradamus' great strength. “Prophecy” comprises one of Judas Priest's finest triumphs, and destroys everything in its wake. In all, the song hearkens back to leather clad, motorcycle riding Judas Priest circa 1982. Yet another awe-inspiring moment, “Death”'s lyrics are impeccably encapsulated by a heavy downward spiral connoted by doom. In addition, Halford's vocal performance upon the song is the likes of which we've never heard. If the group opted to revisit 1976's Sad Wings of Destiny, then that re-recording would sonically echo “Death”, “Revelations” and “Alone”: a sombre, doomy and raw affair. Another excellent composition, acoustic ballad “Shadows in the Flame” explosively morphs into the experimental “Visions” during its closing moments.
To summarise, the word dense forms the greatest description of the album's content. Immense work has been channelled into Nostradamus, and without doubt, the finished product reflects that. In this reviewer's opinion though, the album just asks for too much from most music fans. An album you can't simply belt along to, only energy, time and focus will help the listener to understand Nostradamus. Several wonderful moments can be unearthed, but that requires dedication. However, Nostradamus will achieve relatively few complete airings. Judas Priest should be commended in recognition of their attempt to venture towards fresh territory, and for accomplishing musically stellar performances. Unfortunately, the album isn't suited to the type of listening favoured by most.