Sound — 5
Not many bands can be found guilty of trying out a new sound when they're pushing almost 40 years in the business, but such is certainly the case with Judas Priest, anno 2008. Almost two-or-so years in the making, Nostradamus is by far the most ambitious piece any of the members have been associated with. After making a much applauded comeback with 2005's Angel Of Retribution, I'm sure most of us were expecting Priest to play it safe, record competent but not very exciting metal albums and then be content playing a set composed of hits and a few new tunes on each tour. But, Halford & Co wanted to try on a new outfit, and seeing as I always encourage bands to stretch their wings and try new things, I'll do the same here. It's good to see Priest daring to try something new this late in their career, 'cause let's face it, they won't be around for much longer. As far as production goes, it's fairly good. And fairly good won't cut it for a band like Priest. KK & Glenn deciding to co-produce perhaps made sense from a band perspective, but in the end the sound is not up to the level we've come to expect. The two main causes for concern are the drum sound and the lead guitar sound. Where's the oomph in the drums, guys? Not only do they lack a bit of punch, but they seem somewhat lost in the mix, buried beneath the wall of guitars, Halford and keyboards, which is a shame. As for the lead guitars, I jokingly refer to this sound as "screeching for vengeance," because screech is exactly what it sounds like. Both KK and Glenn's leads sound completely out of place (I'm not talking about the actual playing here, but the guitar sound) in relation to the other instruments. As for Ian Hill, he hogs as much spotlight here as he does on stage.
Lyrics — 3
Judas Priest were never much for penning poetry (a few brilliant lyrics 30-or-so years ago aside), so opting for a conceptual piece where the lyrical side is very important is a very bold move. When writing a regular album, a few lyrical clunkers can be excused, but not so when you're penning an album telling an entire life's story. I doubt I'll offend many by saying that Judas Priest isn't a band you listen to because of their lyrics, and if you wish to enjoy Nostradamus, you better not care much for lyrics. Interviews given by the band indicate that they very much consider Nostradamus an incredibly interesting guy to write an album about, yet the words they put down to tell a story of his life are at times bad enough to make to me want to turn off the stereo and go for a walk. For starters, is Nostradamus, the bloke, really that good a choice for this album? He's a pretty well-documented guy, there's not much room to play around and write your own story, which makes the story-line fairly lifeless and in the end only makes the band seem lazy. Second, let's pretend he's indeed a very good choice for a concept album. Then why couldn't Halford come up with a better chorus than "I am Nostradamus?" Or maybe we're expected to fill in the blanks here. Halford never was much of a guy to create vivid stories with his lyrics, so that nigh every song is filled to the brim with predictable and dull rhymes along the lines of "face/race/soul/control" comes as no surprise. Most of the vocal melodies and lyrics come in short stabs of a half dozen or so of syllables at a time, which of course lends itself to stumbling, silly rhymes. Rob Halford has rightfully deserved his position in the metal pantheon for his vocal deliveries through the ages, but the old man does not have it anymore. There, I said it. I'm sure the Halford we remember is the one with the screams and high-pitched singing full of power, and when he let's it rip almost-like-back-in-the-day, he's still damn good. See Prophecy for some good singing with a bit of power and aggression behind it. Then we have the other side of his vocal spectrum these days - the soft, melancholic side. If his more aggressive side has suffered from his aging, then his ability to carry a soft melodic line has been nigh annihilated. His melodramatic vocal performances on tracks like Exiled, New Beginnings and Lost Love are bad, just bad, plain and simple. Unfortunately, this mid-power/mid-range singing dominates far too much of the album, and is often coupled with lyrics that are more fitting for the Sesame Street theme than a metal album.
Overall Impression — 3
Let's get it out of the way immediately -- Nostradamus is not a good album. I could just make my case based on the length of it, because at 100 minutes it's already a chore to listen to the whole thing without taking a break. Most albums these days shouldn't go beyond 50 minutes, so when you take modern-day Priest and double that length, it can only end in an utter trainwreck. Judas Priest are at their best when they churn out up-tempo rockers (a few songs in the vein of Beyond The Realms Of Death aside) that are around 3-6 minutes in length, and do we see many of these here? Nay. A handful of tracks can be called up-tempo, the rest are either plodding about in a steady mid-tempo, achieving little to nothing. Sure, there're decent highlights scattered along the way -- the title track is a decent rocker, if you ignore the keyboard intro and the patchy chorus, Prophecy has a nice, good groove to it and Revelations from the half-way mark is reminiscent of Priest in their best moments. But that's more or less it as far as highlights go. What Nostradamus is full off on the other hand is over-the-top, poorly executed melodrama. Judas Priest and their Nostradamus album can be described as old men trying to put on a pair of new leather pants that don't fit, but nor do they have the dignity to not wear them. In interviews leading up to the release of the album, the guys have obviously been speaking passionately about the quality of the album, how it's a unique album and that it'll be the first metal opera, and so on and so forth. I guess no-one bothered to tell them that Avantasia did a proper metal opera a few years ago? Contrary to what the band seems to think, albums that deliver epic storylines coupled with metal music and bombastic symphonic elements have been around for quite some time, and quite a few bands have managed to pull it off. Kamelot, Blind Guardian, Ayreon most recently, Queensrche, Dream Theater and several more may not have incorporated all those elements but they've taken on the task of delivering a complete story accompanied by metal music. And when put up against those releases, Nostradamus pales in comparison. Nostradamus ends up as an album in Priest's discography that it's best we forget. Overblown, pretentious and above all, horrendously executed, it makes several of their trendy '80s releases seem like masterpieces by comparison. Almost 30 years after Spinal Tap, one of the most influential and critically acclaimed metal bands of all time have crafted an album incorporating everything that Spinal Tap ridiculed. Now, all I want to know is if Nostradamus himself predicted this outcome.