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Heavy Metal

Judas Priest

Redeemer of Souls

[Epic]

3 and ½ stars

We were not led to believe that there would be a 17th album from British metal legends Judas Priest, after the commercial lead balloon that was album number 16, “Nostrodamus”. The deal was supposed to be a few years of touring, and then, bye bye, Birmingham bad boys, once and for all. Clearly, the band didn’t want to go out on a bum note, though – even if the guys loved the work they did on the bulky concept-metal behemoth that was “Nostradomus,” very few people seemed to agree with them. And Priest, as cliché as this might sound in the present day, has always been a band concerned with satisfying its fans.

So we have been gifted with “Redeemer of Souls,” which, it turns out, is everything its predecessor wasn’t – short, sharp, tightly wound and eminently riff-tastic slabs of the groove-metal Priest pioneered in the 1970s, taking pages from Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, and injecting camp-opera and biker-based machismo into the equation.

Fans of the finest Priest albums – “Sad Wings of Destiny,” “Hell Bent for Leather,” “Unleashed in the East,” British Steel” and “Screaming for Vengeance” – will find themselves easy prey for “Redeemer’s” charms. The album is blistering. The worst thing that can be said about it is that it’s the first Judas Priest album to be released without co-guitarist KK Downing in the house. Downing was a beast, but his replacement, Richie Faulkner, is no slouch himself, and he melds nicely with guitarist Glen Tipton, whether trading quintessential metal solos or joining in trademark Priestly harmony figures.

The lack of bloat is refreshing from the get-go, as opener “Dragonaut” arrives in all its fat-free melodic metal majesty. The title track manages to be both epic and relatively brief, and the uber-metal throwdown “Halls of Valhalla” displays singer Rob Halford in all his twisted, vocally acrobatic glory. This, one might be tempted to scream from the rooftops, is classic Judas Priest.

You want shredding? It’s here, but it’s of the smart, musically valid variety. You want Halford’s octave-leaping drama? He can still bring it. You want goofy doom-laden lyrics delivered in an irony-free manner? Well, with song titles like “Sword of Damocles” and “March of the Damned,” you needn’t worry.

If this does indeed turn out to be the final Judas Priest album, it’s nice to know the band will go out on a high note. Oh, and area metal-heads, rejoice – Judas Priest’s “Redeemer” tour kicks off at Rochester’s Main Street Armory on Oct. 1.

- Jeff Miers