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Judas Priest Sound Hell Bent For Immortality on ‘Invincible Shield’

More than five decades into their career, Judas Priest have always been one of metal’s most reliably great bands, likely because the responsibility they feel to the genre weighs just as heavily as the music they make. They never want to let down their fans, the “heavy metal maniacs,” as lead shrieker Rob Halford dubbed them long ago, even as they’ve pressed forward in the face of adversity in recent years. Guitarist Glenn Tipton, a bona fide metal icon known for his electrifying solos, revealed he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2018, and a relative newcomer to the band, guitar hotshot Richie Faulkner, nearly died onstage playing guitar in 2021 when his aorta ruptured. Yet Judas Priest have remained hell bent for leather and, undeterred, made another album.

The title of their latest album, and 19th overall, Invincible Shield, suggests that the self-proclaimed Metal Gods are also hell bent for immortality. Half a century removed from their debut, Rocka Rolla (and its unfortunate soda-pop album cover), Priest are sticking to the script they wrote decades ago: charging guitar rhythms, virtuosic solos, percussive cacophonies, and Halford’s screeched sci-fi hellscapes. Hey, they were arguably the first band to embrace heavy metal as a genre (Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin consider the term a putdown), so they’re entitled to deliver the goods however they see fit.

Luckily for them, the musicians possess the same technical acumen as they did three decades ago, when they recorded the pyrotechnic Painkiller, and Halford, at 72, can still summon a banshee squall that would wake the dead. They show off their abilities throughout Invincible Shield, and occasionally they hit on new and surprising ideas with their songwriting.

Although some Shield tracks feel like Priest-by-numbers, the songs that really hit feel like lightning striking. On “Panic Attack,” Halford screams for vengeance against technology, building to a hair-raising bridge: “Fiber optic, mass hypnotic/Wild neurotic memes/Cynicism, greed, is what you’re fed/Disconnecting from the World Wide Web.” It’s a Luddite salvo that deserves its own ironic TikTok dance (not that Halford would log on to see it). The best moment of the song, though, comes when Halford screams, “Panic attack, panic attack, digitally insane,” leading to a guitar solo that seems to rise out of whatever the hell key the band has been playing in.

Although Invincible Shield doesn’t contain any new anthems worthy of Priest classics like “Breakin’ the Law,” “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” or “Painkiller,” and the album doesn’t inspire the overall wow factor of their previous record, 2018’s jaw-dropping Firepower, there are a few moments where the musicians transcend themselves. Priest have always been masters of in-between moments in songs that other bands seem to take for granted — bridges, prechoruses, and, of course, solos — but Priest seems to make these sections of songs step outside of themselves.

On the prechorus of “Devil in Disguise,” Halford’s voice, layered in harmony with itself, reaches heavenward with a climbing melody that builds to his catchy, shouted chorus. But it’s the way he presents that prechorus, with words like “Machiavellian shiv,” that makes “He’s a devil, devil in disguise” (words that might otherwise feel generic) feel so rewarding. Similarly, “Escape From Reality,” a song that has been sitting in Tipton’s archive, benefits from a trippy break in the middle in which Halford murkily sings, “Get lost in a psychedelic haze” before he drops the effect, like the prestige of a magic trick, to sing, “Levitating to a place that will amaze” in a major key. It makes for a nice break from the forcefulness of the stabbing chorus, “Agony/Escape from reality brings you down.” And album closer “Giants in the Sky,” Halford’s tribute to his late buddies Ronnie James Dio and Lemmy Kilmister, has a sort of musical theater flare — think Andrew Lloyd Webber with jazz horns — that sticks in your head.

These moments provide a break from more predictable songs like the singles “Trial by Fire” and “Crown of Horns.” Heavy is the crown indeed.

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Unfortunately for the track list, two of the best songs on Invincible Shield are available only as bonus tracks to the Deluxe Edition, which seems to be the version on streaming services anyway. The bluesy “Fight for Your Life” struts with Seventies swagger, like an outtake from Priest’s beloved Stained Class album, and its looseness feels refreshing after some of the rest of the album’s more rigid guitar attacks. And serial killer–themed “The Lodger,” penned by Bob Halligan Jr. — songwriter of Eighties Priest gems “(Take These) Chains” and “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” — feels even more theatrical than “Giants in the Sky,” as Halford sings, “Vengeance is miiiine,” over a jagged melody that sticks with you like a knife in the back.

Mostly, Invincible Shield is the sound of metal’s true believers spreading their message of salvation through headbanging. A little over a decade ago, they were telling fans they would be embarking on a farewell tour; they even called it the Epitaph World Tour. But here they are, still, fighting the crusade for metal, and still showing that the genre can aspire to more than the visions of heavy metal leather and motorcycles they pioneered years ago.

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