Album Reviews

Judas Priest – Invincible Shield

(Columbia) UK release date: 8 March 2024

Seamlessly stealing from all of the band’s various eras and iterations to wonderful effect, Rob Halford and co have made a classic, true heavy metal album

Judas Priest - Invincible Shield Black Sabbath are gone, finally. It seemed, with their numerous rebirths and reinventions, that they always existed in some nebulous, almost Lovecraftian way – the Old Ones always one earthquake away from reawakening. With Ozzy Osbourne all but unable to perform and Dio dead, we can finally put headstone on a much-disturbed grave. Their successors, Judas Priest, were born from the same Midlands forges, using the same blackened tools. They have been the standard-bearers for true heavy metal since unleashing Sad Wings Of Destiny on a largely unsuspecting public all the way back in 1976 (Sabbath released their misunderstood and much-maligned Technical Ecstasy the same year), and have always revelled in their status as Metal Gods.

They’ve withstood the splintering of metal, all of its factions and its new gods – all your Iron Maidens and your Metallicas and your Megadeths, your Panteras and your Slayers… all bands they, of course, influenced. Through it all, they’ve remained constantly – almost bafflingly – consistent. When their iconic (in the truest sense) singer Rob Halford departed in 1992, they replaced him with the capable, underrated Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens for a couple of serviceable attempts at recapturing former glories. Halford returned in 2003, still Hell Bent for Leather, only for one half of their founding guitar duo – KK Downing – to leave in 2011. But unquestionably, their best albums – Stained Class, Killing Machine, British Steel, Painkiller, Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith – are amongst the very best heavy metal albums ever made.

So here we are, in 2024, with Invincible Shield, another entry in one of metal’s most illustrious catalogues. Their two previous albums with this lineup – Redeemer Of Souls and Firepower – were good (the former) and excellent (the latter), but neither really challenged the status of those truly exceptional albums. Invincible Shield just might. As God Is My Witness, for example, is classic post-Painkiller Priest – all thunderous drumming and epic thrash metal shredding. Halford’s customary blend of operatic grandeur and gnashing fury is here, and he’s in fantastic form.

Crown Of Horns is surreal, if only because it sounds more like classic Scorpions than you might expect. When it drops into a thick, classic headbanger of a riff around the three-minute mark, you know you’re either going to get a lighters-up singalong or a ripping solo. Priest being Priest, you get both. With a lyrical wink at one of Metallica’s weirdest bangers, Devil In Disguise takes us all the way back to ’84s Defenders era with its seamless blending of glammy classic rock and chunky riffage. Escape From Reality could have been taken from Black Sabbath’s triumphant comeback album 13, what with its gloomy riffs, bridge-cable bass and haunting tones. Ian Hill, the longest serving member of the band, has long been their secret weapon, crafting bass lines that always serve the song while often carrying immense weights.

Elsewhere, the saucy ZZ Top flavour of the opening of Fight Of Your Life (as it transpires, a bonus track*) actually carries through the entire song, imbuing it with a raunch and a sass that completely belies the average age of the band. Panic Attack is probably the closest you’d find on the album to distilling the true essence of what makes Judas Priest so incredible. There’s furious drumming that moves your feet for you, guitar riffs that almost compel you to bring out the air guitar, and a clear, unmistakable message: bang your fucking head. It doesn’t hurt that there’s a little treat of a section that starts at 02:58 and lasts for only a few bars that could have been cribbed from either Rush’s Tom Sawyer or Carcass’ This Mortal Coil or both. Hilarious. Giants In The Sky – which closes the regular edition of the album – is another handsome beast. A further highlight, Trial By Fire, is one of the heaviest, and defiant, songs on the collection, and it features some of Halford’s most spine-tingling vocals in recent memory.

With their staying power only really rivalled by Iron Maiden and bested by Alice Cooper, you think you’d know what you’re getting from Judas Priest. But Invincible Shield manages to seamlessly steal from all of the band’s various eras and iterations – even their odd ’80s pop-metal digressions – to wonderful effect. It’s a brilliant record, even without the weight of history behind it, and a classic, true heavy metal album from the same band that practically invented much of the genre. Essential for fans of any of the forms of metal. Obviously. 

*(Note: reviewer – and editor – was sent all of the songs for the deluxe edition in alphabetical order, but was unaware of the true track sequencing until deep into the review period. When listened to in and out of order, the quality remained the same.)

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