Opening with the furious speed metal of the title track, Firepower gets off to a powerful start. A choppy riff from Tipton and Faulkner drives the song, and when Halford opens his mouth to start singing he sounds better than he has for years. He has always remained strong vocally throughout his career, but the performance throughout this album is outstanding for a man of his age. His high-pitched screams really shake the cages as they used to in the early 1980s, and his lower register has a slightly harsh edge to it which helps him to compete with the rolling drums of the chorus. A great Ritchie Blackmore-esque classically-inspired guitar melody helps to add to light to the shade part way through, but overall this is a true metal anthem and Judas Priest have not sounded this heavy since the Tim 'Ripper' Owens-era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Lead single Lightning Strike is more of a mid-paced track, with a driving guitar riff and a punchy drum track courtesy of long-time drummer Scott Travis. The simple chorus could have easily found a home on one of the band's early 1980s classic albums, and the screaming guitar leads that appear at regular intervals really pour out of the speakers with true venom. While many metal bands rely on speed, and in fact the previous number shows that Judas Priest also excel at this, Judas Priest have always been more at home grinding out mid-paced stompers. Lightning Strike is a great example of this style, as is the heavier Evil Never Dies that follows. A simple guitar riff leads the charge, while Ian Hill's bass underpins everything with a powerful rumble, and Halford can be found spitting out the lyrics with the power of someone half his age. His King Diamond-esque shrieks during the chorus are particularly chilling, and contrasts well with the melodic, 1980s-inspired pre-chorus. Evil Never Dies completes a perfect trio of heavy opening numbers, which really sets the tone for the album and shows from the off that Judas Priest really mean business with this release. Never the Heroes has more of a classic rock feel to it than a heavy metal one, and definitely reigns in the heaviness a little in favour of a simple arrangement. The song is still built around a massive riff, but the verses have a sparser arrangement with chiming clean guitars and a simple drum pattern. Despite this more overly-rock sound, the chorus has a strong Blind Guardian feel to it with a strident, harmony vocal-driven sound that is instantly memorable. After three heavier songs, Never the Heroes pairs things back a little and demonstrates something a little different.
Necromancer regains the heaviness right away, with an evil-sounding riff that sounds like something a thrash metal band would use for a demonic break down, before exploding into a pacey anthem with some gritty vocals from Halford and a pummelling chorus with some excellent drumming. After a somewhat more restrained sound of the previous number, this one really hits hard. The main riff is probably one of my favourites on the album, as it conveys such a dark feel so effortlessly, and the slightly cartoony sorcerer-based lyrics fit in perfectly with the music. Children of the Sun is another excellent track and was one of the ones that stood out to me when I listened to the album for the first time. It is still one of my favourites, and has one of the album's best choruses that sticks with you instantly and just demands to be sung. This is also one of the more dynamic pieces on the album, with a slower clean passage in the middle that allows Halford to show off a slightly gentler side to his voice before the song ramps back up towards an explosive guitar solo. A short piano-based instrumental piece Guardians acts as an extended intro for Rising from Ruins, another crunching mid-paced number that mixes powerful riffing with beautiful verses that have somewhat of an atmospheric feel with ringing clean guitar chords. Judas Priest do not do atmospheric often, and in truth this song is barely that, but compared to their usual fire and brimstone sound - the verses here certainly help to create a bit of a different mood. The chorus is business as usual however, and sounds all the more powerful after the relatively relaxed verses. Up to this point the album has maintained an extremely quality, but Flame Thrower sees the first real dip. While certainly not an awful track, it just feels a lot less interesting than everything that has gone before it. The main riff lacks the spark of all the others, and Halford's vocals sound like something from the relative metal wastelands of the 1990s - there's just little of his usual razor sharp edge. There are redeeming qualities however, including a pretty powerful chorus, but the plodding verses always seem to go on for a few bars too long. There are few missteps on this album, but this has to go down as one of them. Spectre, which in another world could have been an excellent Bond theme, gets things back on track with a great groove and a screaming riff that forms the basis of an intense chorus. The pace of this song is slightly slower than the average found throughout the rest of the album, but that allows it to have a fantastic groove. Groove is not always something that Judas Priest make strong use of, but it works really well here for them - with Hill's bass helpfully high in the mix. It is this that makes the song stand out, and it is an extremely powerful number that hits relatively late on in the album's run.
Traitors Gate opens slowly, with a doomy guitar melody, before exploding into a another fairly fast riff that contains all of the hallmarks of a classic Judas Priest riff. It is this riff that goes on to define the song, with urgent verses mixed in with staccato choruses that see some of Halford's best vocals on the album. He sounds pretty consistently-excellent throughout Firepower, but there is something about this chorus that just really sounds so good. Few have mastered that raspy, yet still clean, sound like Halford and he remains a really beacon for heavy metal vocals. The short No Surrender is bit of a throwaway piece, but it still manages to rock hard with another strong riff and plenty of infectious melodies. At under three minutes long, it is the shortest proper song on the album and it is over almost as quickly as it begins. It is certainly less interesting than many of the other songs here, but its short length and fairly simple structure makes it a decent addition to the album. Lone Wolf is a crunchier, slower track that at times makes me think of 1990s Metallica. The opening riff certainly sounds like something they could have come up with, and the leaden drum style also sounds like their usual style. Along with Flame Thrower, this is probably my least favourite piece on the album. While the chorus is quite good, the laboured feel of the rest of the song does not have the energy or zip that the rest of the album has. This is an album that thrives on creating an strong energy, and this song does little to add to that. The slower, bluesy guitar solo does not really help either - and only adds to the plodding feel that comes from the song. I am sure that many will disagree with me, but I have never been a big fan of Judas Priest's slower songs. Lots of metal bands excel at writing 'ballads', but to me they have never really delivered the goods on that front. The album's closing number Sea of Red definitely has a feel of a ballad - the only one on the album - but this time they seem to have hit the nail on the head. The subtle acoustic intro suits Halford's vocals nicely, and the slightly folky melodies throughout are surprisingly catchy. While the song does build over time, adding heavier guitars, the tempo and folky melodies remain. It definitely becomes heavier than your average ballad towards the end, but the synthesised choirs that are employed towards the end help to add an epic end to a dynamic piece that works well to close an album that has been pretty heavy throughout. Judas Priest have excelled at writing a slower song here, and it brings Firepower to a slow-burning end. Overall, Firepower is essential listening for heavy metal fans. While some bands of Judas Priest's age scoff at the idea of recording new material, they have put out their best collection of songs for quite some time - at least since 1990's Painkiller - and I can see it troubling a lot of Album of the Year lists around the internet come December.
The album was released on 9th March 2018 via Columbia Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Lightning Strike.