OK, yeah, I went there. Guns are obviously a hot-button topic in the U.S. and Judas Priest, based on past legal issues regarding the self-inflicted, firearms-related deaths of two of the band’s fans, probably should have thought twice about naming its latest album Firepower. But the UK legends didn’t, and so I chose a suitably new school/old school beer called Hop Bullet Double IPA by Sierra Nevada to pair with this new school/old school album from the band, I’d argue, invented heavy metal.
The reunion era of Judas Priest (from Halford’s return to the fold in 2003 until now) has been somewhat uneven, though generally of a consistently high quality for a band with as many albums, tours and years under its collective belt. However, just prior to the release of Firepower (the band’s 18th studio effort) it was revealed that 10 years ago founding guitarist Glenn Tipton had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is now no longer able to tour at age 70. Seems reasonable. After all, he’s 70! Nonetheless, if this turns out to be the band’s swan song (and it may well not be), they will bow out on a high note.
Firepower, like its predecessor, Redeemer of Souls, certainly benefits from the energetic guitar playing of Richie Faulkner, who replaced longtime guitarist K.K. Downing 2011. It’s hard to say how much Tipton contributed to the writing and recording, but he is listed as one of the primary songwriters along with Faulkner and Halford, and the band is at least offering the appearance that he was an integral part of the making of the record. The fact that Firepower producer Andy Sneap will be Tipton’s replacement on the upcoming tour, however, is an interesting twist. (If I had to bet, I’d say Faulkner performed all guitars on the album.)
Innuendo aside, what makes this album so enjoyable is simply that Priest plays to its strengths—give Halford a couple of good riffs and a strong chorus and let him work his magic. There’s no effort to work too far outside of the basic Judas Priest canon, so Halford is in his comfort zone at all times. In the studio, his voice is still incredibly potent and he wields it with his usual authority. His highs may not reach as high, but his range is nonetheless impressive. Firepower is modern enough not to seem retro-for-retro’s-sake, but most of the 14 tracks have touch points to past Priest efforts. It probably could have been trimmed down to 10 or 11 songs to tighten it up a bit, but you’ll likely still be ready to hit repeat once closer “Sea of Red” rings out.
And you might want to crack another Hop Bullet. In addition to the un-PC name, this strong (8% ABV) double IPA is a suitable pairing for Firepower because it comes from a brewery that can be credited with helping to launch the American craft beer movement in the early ’80s. Sierra Nevada doesn’t go quite as far back as Priest, but the brewery has a similar legendary status in the craft beer world. Hoppy beers have always been Sierra Nevada’s forté, and Hop Bullet is a great addition to its lineup. Ignoring all the ridiculous trends in IPAs—hazy, fruit-added, milkshake, sour, whatever—this is pretty damn clear and doesn’t smell like a damn fruit pie.
Hop Bullet’s only concession to modernity is the use of lupulin powder, which is sort of like hop hash—all the hop aromatics and oils without the vegetal aspects of the hop flower. The brew’s high-gravity sweetness is balanced nicely with a comfortable level of bitterness and the pine, citrus and apricot notes are allowed to shine. This is an unabashedly West Coast IPA, proudly brewed with “C” hops (Centennial and Cascade). When I think of an IPA, this is basically the taste I imagine. It’s not sexy if you’re looking for the next hot IPA trend, but it’s tried and true and brewed impeccably. This is the kind of beer that largely drove the growth of craft beer for decades. It’s a classic for a reason.
Priest wisely chose the same path. It could chase trends and second-guess what fans want, but keeping the music simple, doing what it does best (and has for decades) and just focusing on good songs, has resulted in an album that feels comfortably familiar, but has just enough sheen and variety to still be relevant in 2018. Grab a 6-pack of Sierra Nevada Hop Bullet and give it a spin.
Judas Priest North American Tour Dates
3/13 Wilkes Barre, PA (Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza)
3/15 Youngstown, OH (Covelli Centre)
3/17 Uniondale, NY (Nassau Coliseum)
3/18 Washington, DC (The Anthem)
3/20 Newark, NJ (Prudential Center)
3/22 Uncasville, CT (Mohegan Sun Arena)
3/25 Ottawa, ON (The Arena at TD Place)
3/27 London, ON (Budweiser Gardens)
3/28 Oshawa, ON (Tribute Communities Centre)
3/30 Orillia, ON (Casino Rama)
3/31 Detroit, MI (Detroit Masonic Temple)
4/3 Milwaukee, WI (Riverside Theater)
4/5 Green Bay, WI (Resch Center)
4/8 Bloomington, IL (Grossinger Motors Arena)
4/10 Casper, WY (Casper Events Center)
4/11 Loveland, CO (Budweiser Events Center)
4/15 Kent, WA (ShoWare Center)
4/17 Portland, OR (Veterans Memorial Coliseum)
4/19 San Francisco (The Warfield)
4/22 Los Angeles, CA (Microsoft Theater)
4/24 Phoenix, AZ (Comerica Theatre)
4/26 Tulsa, OK (BOK Center)
4/28 Dallas, TX (The Bomb Factory)
4/29 Sugarland, TX (Smart Financial Centre)
5/1 San Antonio, TX (Freeman Coliseum)