Firepower is the 18th studio album by British heavy metal band Judas Priest. It is the first studio album since 1988's Ram It Down to be produced by Tom Allom, and the first one with Andy Sneap as co-producer. A music video was made for "Lightning Strike."
In an interview with Reverb.com in November 2015, Richie Faulkner said that Judas Priest would start work on a new album in 2016. In April 2016, Loudwire posted a photo showing Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton and Faulkner himself in the studio beginning the process of the album, with Halford stating in a radio interview that the album would be ready by early 2017. During an interview at the 2016 edition of the Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, Halford expressed dissatisfaction on making a Redeemer of Souls part two: "I think it's very important that we make another stand-alone record again, a heavy metal record that's going to have its own legs and just be as different as all of them have been so far." He describes the album as "some of our best work — without a doubt," praising Faulkner for his contributions.
When asked on whether it was a conscious effort to revisit some of the band's musical past on the album, or if it came about organically and naturally, drummer Scott Travis said, "I would say it's a little bit of both. Obviously, you'd have to ask that of Richie and Rob and Glenn as far as, did they intentionally write some guitar parts like that? But keep in mind Richie certainly wasn't part of those old records and neither was I, so I don't know if it was a conscious effort, really, on their writing behalf. But from recording and then, obviously, having Andy Sneap and Tom Allom… Now Tom Allom was part of the old Priest heritage and the Priest sound, so to speak, and so he was able to, I think, incorporate and bring some of that old style back. And then Andy also, even though he is what I would call a modern-day producer, he's a big Priest fan and he lived on the lineage and just understood the Priest world and the heritage of Priest, so he was a big fan of the older records and the older sound, so it definitely was a conscious effort on their parts, as well as ours in the performing aspect of it. I mean, even some of the drum stuff I did, I wanted to borrow a little bit of Les Binks, some of his influence, which I'm a big fan of his anyway from way back in the day. So, yeah, it was conscious, but I don't know if it was written in there like that. Maybe, hopefully, it just came out that way, like you said, organically, which was cool that you were able to recognize that."
Travis sites the songs "Rising from Ruins", "Lone Wolf," "Evil Never Dies" and "Never the Heroes" as his favorite songs. He then went on to say that the production is an improvement over the previous album, "…we have two different producers on this record that we didn't have on Redeemer, so anytime you change producers, you're automatically gonna get a different sound. And that's usually what bands are looking for — that's why you hire different producers. We did record in a much more organic way than I'd certainly done since Painkiller; I have to say that. So, again, hopefully, that translates and comes through on the recording that you and the fans will be able to hear and appreciate and hopefully like. And, like I said, Andy is great and he knows how to get great modern sounds — drums, guitars and yadda yadda. He's a guitar player himself, so that's why the guitars are so goddamn loud, but that's just me. I'm kidding. But anyways… So, yeah, the proof is in the pudding. You have new producers, you're gonna have a new sound."
Both Faulkner and Travis spoke to WSOU in February 2018, agreeing that Firepower is a heavier album than, Redeemer of Souls, with Faulkner saying that the title track "might be the fastest Priest song. Especially in terms of the drum approach. A friend of mine, he said it sounds like "Painkiller," but faster. So I can't think of another song that's quicker than "Painkiller." So if you define heavy in terms of speed, it's a pretty heavy track, it's pretty full-on."
Halford and Travis explained how Firepower was chosen as the title for the band's album, with Travis said, "You have the songs, you know, 14 songs, and one of them was "Lone Wolf," so it usually makes sense to try and pick one of those songs as the title." Halford then elaborated, "If you've got a strong title, it conveys the content of your music – the whole piece, then you couldn't go wrong with a statement like Lone Wolf, you know, the fire and the power of heavy metal music. You're married up to this amazing piece of art that's been created for us, and uh, it all makes sense, so, you know, Firepower, Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith, British Steel, Sad Wings of Destiny. They all sound great, don't they? They got to have some strength and conviction in the statement that Firepower certainly does."
Recording and writing:
In November 2016, Faulkner stated that the band would begin recording in January 2017. While discussing the 30th-anniversary release of Turbo with Ultimate Classic Rock in January 2017, Halford hesitated to say that the band was "still slaving away in the studio. It's sounding great. I can't really say any more than that because it's still very nebulous, but it is sounding incredibly exciting and I'm sure we'll talk about that when the time comes." In March, Judas Priest confirmed their entrance to the studio to begin recording the album with Allom and Sneap as producers and Mike Exeter as an engineer. In an April interview with Planet Rock, Halford said that the band was "coming to some of the final moments" of completion of recording, in which it was finished in June. The songwriting process was "free and really relaxed," as explained by Faulkner.
In a January 2018 interview with Metal Hammer, Halford spoke about the lyrical content, "We're an open book. We can go anywhere, and that's my job, where the proverbial word 'challenge' comes into play. I'm looking for things around me in the real world and in the metal fantasy world, so I'm making a political comment and comments on the environment, as metaphorically as I can. We've always tried to be a bit ambiguous, so our fans can make up their own mind, but on this one, you know, we are talking about Mother Earth and places like 10 Downing Street. But we've always found a balance in not making the message too intense while showing that we're connected as a bunch of metalheads in the real world." He also credits Sneap for "the incredible work" for his part on the production.
When speaking of Greece's Rock Overdose, Faulkner commented about the album, "We've put a lot of work, a lot of energy, a lot of passion into this record. We released a song earlier this month and journalists are hearing the record, so we're starting to hear feedback from people and it seems to be overwhelmingly positive, so it makes us even more excited for everyone to hear the rest of the record and put it on in the car or do whatever people do with it." He then spoke about how it compares to Redeemer of Souls, "It's hard to say when we are so close to it. We wrote the songs, we recorded the songs, we've lived with them for a while now, so it's very hard to be objective about it. But, obviously, we feel like it's a progression from Redeemer. Everyone says it, but I think this is a better album than the last one. If it wasn't, there'd be no point in releasing it. So we wanted to do something that was better, that was different, that was classic Judas Priest but a modern Judas Priest for 2018. And I think we've done that. We love the songs. It's got a great energy, a great vibe. We recorded it differently, we recorded it more cohesively together. We rehearsed the songs, so it was a great experience to record and to write.
And I think that comes across — when you listen to the album, you can hear that come across in the sound. So, yeah, man, I think it's a great record; I'm super proud of it. I know we all are super proud of it, and I hope the fans love it as well." Faulkner talks about the difference in terms of writing and recording from the previous album, "Personally, it was the same in terms of recording ideas and putting down ideas. It was slightly different in terms of the way I approached the guitar, but in terms of the songs and the recording, definitely. For Redeemer, Glenn Tipton and Mike Exeter produced the record. For this one, we all thought, 'What can we do differently? How can we do things differently to Redeemer?' and the production team was one of those things. So we got in Mike Exeter again as an engineer, and we also brought in Tom Allom and Andy Sneap to produce. So it was two producers this time — one from a classic period of Priest's career and a more modern producer. And it was a great, great marriage. They are two great producers. You know what? It could have gone horribly wrong. There could have been egos, they could have been going into each other's territory, and we didn't know if it was gonna work or not. But I'll tell you what: it worked beautifully. Tom being a more classic producer, he had certain ways of doing things, which complemented Andy Sneap's different ways of doing things, and they just worked fantastically together.
And they were adamant that we got together in the same room with the songs that we had and we played them and we rehearsed them and we felt the songs out and we felt what it needed — the push and pull of music that happens naturally that you get from playing with people is what they wanted to bring back. And I don't think Priest has done that since Painkiller, according to Scott Travis; he said that was the last time that they did it. And I think it really affects the feel of the songs, it affects the vibe and just affects the energy of the end result. there were a couple of things that we did differently, which really affected the final result." When asked on whether the band intentionally revisited some of the earlier albums for inspiration when making Firepower, he said, "I don't think that was a conscious thing; we didn't try to go back anywhere. But I think that's a natural characteristic of Judas Priest's music. We try and push forward we want to sound relevant and current and a modern Judas Priest in 2018. Of course, there are gonna be certain characteristics in Judas Priest's music which sound like they could have been from Defenders of the Faith. Dude, I'm a fan as well. We all love Priest, we all grew up with Priest, and we identify Priest with different parts of our lives and different albums. So that's always gonna be there. But it's definitely not a conscious thing to go in and recreate something from 1986. We do what we do, we go forward, and then it's up to the listener to make that connection. And we always do — I listen to 'Painkiller' and I can hear stuff from 'Rapid Fire' or different songs throughout the time. You can hear references all through the career — that's the same thing here. But it's definitely not a conscious thing."
In an interview with Dutch-based website Lords of Metal, Faulkner was asked on the start for the preparation and songwriting for Firepower, "Some of the melodies and some of the ideas for Firepower were written a long time ago already as I always write both on the road and at home. I continuously record melodies, riffs, and choruses, and I also did that right after finishing Redeemer of Souls, so some of the ideas already started back then. After having had some downtime after the Redeemer tour, we entered the studio to start putting our ideas together. That's when the character of the album takes shape and the vibe of the record is established. Of course, you never know what you're going to end up with, but the more we progressed through the writing stages, we realized that these songs were shaping up to be great and progressed in comparison with Redeemer of Souls. It's a new thing, it's a forward-thinking album and it was pretty apparent that we had something that was firing on all cylinders." Faulkner also mentions that more material was written, "…about twenty-five or twenty-six, than what’s ended up on the album, but obviously, you have to break that down into a decent amount of songs for a record. There were more demo’s recorded, but we decided to put all of the tracks on the record instead of having ten songs on the regular album and four songs as a bonus for different editions as we felt that we couldn’t leave anything off.
Each song had its own character and its own statement to make and as such, we felt that we had to put everything on the album." He was asked why Allom and Sneap were chosen as producers, "We were kicking around producer names at the beginning of the process, and that was one of the things that we wanted to do differently compared to Redeemer of Souls. One of the things that we could refine was the production, and when we were talking about producers, different names came up, like Tom Allom, as he had already worked with the band on some of the classic albums, and Andy Sneap, being a more modern metal producer of which we really liked the sound. So when we were discussing these two names, someone came up with the idea to combine forces and let them both do the production job. It was one of those lightbulb moments because it was never been done before with Priest, but it just worked out great. It could have gone horribly wrong, with clashing egos and things like that, but it was a great marriage of a classic producer and a more modern producer. They were really instrumental in getting the sound and the energy right for Firepower, and I think that they did a fantastic job."
Shortly after the announcement that Glenn Tipton was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease on 12 February 2018, former guitarist K.K. Downing insinuated that Sneap covered Tipton's guitar parts on the album rather than being just a producer, which received critical responses from Halford and Faulkner. Downing later clarified his comments, saying that they were "regretfully misinterpreted."
Firepower received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album has an average score of 78 based on 7 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews”
Exclaim! scored the album 5 out of 10, stating it is "exactly what you would expect of (a band) almost 50 years into their career."
In December 2017, Firepower was listed by Ultimate Guitar as one of the "Top 25 Most Anticipated Albums of 2018", alongside expected albums by bands like A Perfect Circle, Megadeth, Testament, Alice in Chains, Guns N' Roses, Muse and The Offspring.
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