Invincible Shield

rating icon 9 / 10

Track listing:

01. Panic Attack
02. The Serpent And The King
03. Invincible Shield
04. Devil In Disguise
05. Gates Of Hell
06. Crown Of Horns
07. As God Is My Witness
08. Trial By Fire
09. Escape From Reality
10. Sons Of Thunder
11. Giants In The Sky

Despite what you may have heard, a lot of people still love heavy metal. No one, however, loves it quite as much as JUDAS PRIEST. While the creation of the genre is rightly attributed to that other band from Birmingham, England, it is surely PRIEST that have been the most effusive and militant standard bearers for our beloved genre; and that diehard devotion, to an ethos they single-handedly defined in the late '70s, is plastered all over "Invincible Shield" like mud on a medieval hut.

The rise, slight fall and then inexorable second rise of JUDAS PRIEST is one of metal's greatest sagas. Even though you may have struggled to find many critics willing to eulogize about the band during the '90s (and arguably beyond),  those who actually give a shiny shit about heavy metal at its purest and best have always regarded them as a towering benchmark. Rob Halford's return to the fold for 2005's "Angel of Retribution" certainly made a significant contribution to restoring these legends to their rightful place at the top of the tree, and both the unfairly maligned "Nostradamus" (2008) and its feisty follow-up, "Redeemer of Souls" (released, unbelievably, a full decade ago) made it plain that despite an often fickle and disingenuous metal media, PRIEST were fully engaged and motoring ahead with great conviction. When the Andy Sneap-produced "Firepower" emerged in 2018, nobody with an ounce of sense or taste was able to dispute that the most iconic, pure-breed heavy metal band of them all were back on top form.

Other styles of heavy music remain available, of course, but one listen to "Invincible Shield" at the obligatory maximum volume should convince most discerning metalheads that JUDAS PRIEST are still righteous guardians of the good stuff. Once again produced by that man Sneap, the British giants' 19th studio effort goes hard as fuck from start to finish. If you love heavy metal, you will love it with every fiber of your being. It really is that simple.

Arguably the greatest thing about "Firepower" was how it updated the none-more-classic fire 'n' fury of PRIEST classics like "Screaming For Vengeance" and "Painkiller" for the listening proclivities of the modern era. There was no needless experimentation and no compromise: just huge, thunderous heavy metal songs that leapt from the speakers like rabid dogs with a hard-on for jugular blood. If anything, "Invincible Shield" is even more crushing and celebratory than its predecessor. As the slew of singles released in the run-up to its release proved, JUDAS PRIEST circa 2024 are no kind of heritage act. Joyously, the rest of these new songs are equally stunning, and people are going to bang their heads until they vomit when they finally hear them.

The first of those singles, "Panic Attack", is the finest PRIEST album opener since "Painkiller": a blistering bolt of enhanced trad metal purity with a magnificent vocal from Halford, it sets the tone for a cavalcade of pristine heaviness that rarely draws breath. Sneap's production is immaculate, as expected, and even heavier than "Firepower", but it's the mad-eyed energy on display that seals the deal. Three members of the current JUDAS PRIEST line-up are over 70 years of age, but you absolutely wouldn't fucking know it, particularly when "The Serpent And The King" kicks off, upping the tempo and casually obliterating the best efforts of many, many bands with a fraction of the age or experience. Again, Halford sounds magnificent, hitting high notes that many once predicted were a thing of the past, and sounding ever-more like heavy metal's own ageless, malevolent Gandalf. With Richie Faulkner and Glenn Tipton consuming everything with their zombie battalion of riffs and blazing solos, and bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis delivering performances strategically designed to leave bruises, PRIEST are a heroically badass killing machine all over again. And just to make sure, the title track completes an opening trilogy of pedal-to-the-metal marauders that provide a new answer to that age old question of what would you play to visiting extra-terrestrials to explain heavy metal's sound and spirit.

This being a JUDAS PRIEST record, there are some slower, more thoughtful moments, but even those are delivered with a jaw-snapping flourish. "Devil In Disguise" is a snake-hipped, groove-driven stomper, with riffs that would have slayed all-comers at any point in the last five decades. "Gates Of Hell" is a classic, mid-paced rocker with balls of granite, replete with some exquisite Halford harmonizing. "Crown Of Horns" — a song, in case it isn't obvious, about the noble pursuit of heavy metal glory — is a brooding, hyper-emotional avalanche, with AOR trimmings and a heart as big as Birmingham.

This could be the most consistent and flawless album this band have made in decades. From the grinding, thrash-fueled battery of "As God Is My Witness" and the PRIEST-doing-PRIEST, pendulous melodrama of "Trial By Fire", to the dark-hearted and tormented "Escape From Reality" and "Sons Of Thunder"'s grimly ecstatic, steroidal trad squall, "Invincible Shield" is an embarrassment of steel-plated riches.

As an added treat, if you are still not adequately satiated after the bellicose and bluesy "Giants In The Sky" wrenches the final curtain down with its iron grip, there are three more tracks available on the "deluxe" version which are all of comparable quality to everything that precedes them.

This is a fire-breathing Goliath of a heavy metal record. What the fuck else could anyone possibly need?

Author: Dom Lawson
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