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Saturday, June 28, 2008

CD Review: Judas Priest - Nostradamus

Judas Priest - Nostradamus
2008 Sony BMG Music Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



A cultural Renaissance interested in the prophecies of the renowned apothecary and philosopher Nostradamus has crept its way into mainstream society, largely from hypists and propagandists looking to tag the defragmentation of our world upon a series of ancient foretellings. Everything from the Middle East wars to 9/11 to The Greenhouse Effect to El Nino to the rise and collapse of the Soviet regime to the Bush Administration Part Deux has fallen under the microscope of modern thinkers who would like nothing more than to tie all of it to Nostradmus' civilization-altering collection of writings, Les Propheties.

Les Propheties was written largely in poetic quatrains, which heightens the romanticism factor pinned to Nostradamus. The French healer, consort and seer of a possible future (originally known by his familial name Nostredame before refurbishing it Latin-style) bore a life filled with both fame and scrutiny. The bourgeoisie were largely favorable to Nostradamus and it is their goodwill and support that initially gave the soothsayer his notoriety. Catherine de Medicis was one of Nostradamus' staunchest supporters and she soon ushered him to the court of King Henri II as horoscopist and eventual Counselor and Physician-In-Ordinary to the crown.

Using the bible and astrology as a guide to his almanacs and prophecies, Nostradmus' appeal centuries later is derived from a global fragility that is afraid to admit it is collectively seeking answers. The spiritual grounding of Nostradamus' works is one of the reasons he is less dismissed as a heretic and more of a revered finder of a purported second sight. Still, in a skeptical society as we live in today, it is easier to balk at Les Propheties, which you can sit in and listen upon any collegiate philosophy or debate class or from the leisure of your own office chair, via the internet. Not a bad stay of reputation 442 years after death...

What would Nostradamus think about 2008's complicated, tech-driven world, a world many contemporaries claim was posited in a pre-French Revolution existence? Moreover, what would he think about the evolution of music and the arts so much that a 20th century and beyond heavy metal band would create a two-hour ode to him in song? If there is an active afterlife, Nostradamus would probably find a two-disc album bearing his namesake and his life's story to be more than a bit surreal. Or if you're an optimist, you'd take the position that he foretold it in his mind, just as he foretold the date and hour of his death, July 1, 1566, to his secretary in King Henri II's court.

The bigger question, however, for the devout fan base of Judas Priest--who would just as soon ravenously scrape pittance to buy an ode to Bozo the Clown so long as the album bore their hallowed name--is what are they going to think of this marathon metal excursion into history?

Already the legion of Priest fans are murmuring amongst themselves in a state of confusion by Nostradamus, an album that might as well be subtitled "A Night at The Priest Opera." Ambitious beyond words, Nostradamus is easily Judas Priest's most mature body of work ever conceived, which of course puts a large chunk of their audience at immediate odds. Hard to wrap one's head around constant orchestral interludes and largely whispered crooning from Rob Halford, who breathes life into a first-person narrative of the esteemed philosopher, especially when most Priest fans come to the table ready to rock out with nothing on their minds, save to headbang fast and hard to the tempest of a skullcrushing British typhoon.

Well, the typhoon still exists in Judas Priest's woven arsenal, but on Nostradamus, they want you to wait for it...and wait you will, even as they create a tension-filled doom march filled with metal and symphonic supplementation on "War" that is like a Lord of the Rings battle prelude before it settles back once again into the wistful "Sands of Time" and then a mid-tempo stomp ala Defenders of the Faith-era Priest on "Pestilence and Plague."

The thing with Nostradamus is that it's going to require monster patience on behalf of the listener to appreciate what they're attempting, which is to bridge almost every era of their existence into a conceptual enterprise. Granted, the first spin of Nostradamus is going to be a huge chore, particularly if what you're seeking out of this thing is a charging metal masher like the heavy-dosed "Persecution," which arrives at the tail end of the first disc. Finding a way to make good use of their commercial-minded eccentricities on Turbo in the opening bars of "Persecution," the song pounds away with an agreeable mix of heavy strumming and tightly-woven synths, along with escalated vocals from Rob Halford (including some screeching dubs mixed within) and shredding solos from KK Downing and Glenn Tipton. Suffice it to say, "Persecution" is the payoff track on the first album, though it depends largely if you're a Sad Wings of Destiny Priest fan or a Screaming For Vengeance Priest fan. By all means Priest fans at-large love both albums, as much as most of the entire catalog, but a Sad Wings and Hero Hero Priest fan will at least bear through the unconventional nature of Nostradamus to hear where it goes next.

The manifest answer upon opening of the second disc of Nostradamus is of the Sad Wings variety with "Solitude" and "Exiled" as Rob Halford paints a morose and stirring subjectivity into his muse, concentrating upon the time Nostradamus lost his first wife and children to a plague and likewise faced suspicion of heresy for his interests in the occult. For dramatic purposes, Judas Priest focuses upon the bitter irony of Nostradamus' creation of the "Rose Pill," which was reputedly a combative agent against the plague, only to lose his first family despite his best efforts to protect them. They also touch upon the fact Nostradamus was imprisoned for a brief period of time on their would-be opus, but at-large, the album tries to headshrink a bit, encapsulating a postulated swirling madness and disorder to the great thinker that would have the listener infer a Faustian subtlety to the man's reported spiritual-groundedness.

At least the second disc grows a bit heavier and more exciting if you've simply had enough of the dallying and narrative building on the first one with the Ram it Down-esque "Visions" or the lumbering and tone-dense "Alone" and "Future of Mankind," much less the booming sub-finale "Nostradamus."

The overall picture with Nostradamus however, it that it is the band's most layered and adventurous album yet put together. Its grandiosity and inherent beauty, however, is going to be grossly lost when most fans are going to be wanting something along the lines of "Freewheel Burning," "Electric Eye" or even "Touch of Evil" instead of the audibly picturesque acoustic interlude "Shadows in the Flame," the trippy Hendrix sqwawks of "Calm Before the Storm" or the lofty and spritely "Hope" that leads into the Pink Floyd-akin "New Beginnings."

Push comes to shove, selling Judas Priest as high artisans instead of ambassadors of hard-driving heavy metal is going to be like selling Slayer as emo for many people. In time, the underlying impressiveness of Nostradamus will reveal itself with repeat listens, but the real trick is going to be mastering a tolerant ear for what Judas Priest has attempted with this heavy metal symposium. Though British Steel, Hell Bent For Leather and Stained Class will assuredly find their way to your player quicker than Nostradamus, perhaps one day the latter album will eventually charm if nothing else, as Judas Priest's attempt at fine art.

Sure, the concept album and the grand epic is second nature to heavy metal. However, Judas Priest may be a slight bit naive to think everyone is going to hang around through Nostradamus in our current retention-drained society. At least they believed in themselves enough to pull this stunt off, which you have to admire them for their bravery. Nostradamus is not in the league of Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or even Operation Mindcrime, but there's a certain brand of heavy metal that is all Judas Priest's, so when they create nearly-jokey rally cries using their muse's name on "Prophecy" and "Nostradamus," it's still inherently Judas Priest as much as "Leather Rebel" from Painkiller or "The Sentinel" from Defenders of the Faith. Filled with sweet melancholy, Bach-adorning fugue and random blares of traditional heavy metal, Nostradamus is a very inflated affair, not that the tale of a figurehead such as Michel de Nostredame can be so compactly contained.

If Judas Priest is guilty of anything with Nostradamus, it's their presumption that their fans will instantly take to this upon-greeting befuddling and later-gratifying effort, much like the Democrat party assumes the world is ready to have race and sex barriers broken down overnight in a new millennium presidential campaign. Both are noble causes, but both must also take into consideration there's too much radicalism behind their intentions that it'll take some time and consumption for the desired effect to be properly appreciated.

Rating: ***1/2

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Nostradamus is a concept album by English heavy metal band Judas Priest, focusing on the 16th century prophet Nostradamus.[1] The band's first concept album,[2] it was originally intended to be released in late 2006 before being pushed to a 2007 release,[3] and was released on June 16th 2008 on Epic records.[citation needed]

Guitarist K.K. Downing revealed in a February 2007 interview with Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles that 18 tracks had been recorded with a total length of more than 90 minutes and that there was not much he would like to cut down. In November 2007, singer Rob Halford indicated that it was still undecided whether it would be a double-disc set or not. In April 2008, it was confirmed that the album would be released as a double-CD/triple vinyl LP.

Musically, the album contains symphonic orchestrations including the use of keyboards and choirs which is unlike anything the band has previously attempted before.

In November 2007 the band began mixing the album. During its summer 2008 tour, the band plans to include shows where the album is performed in its entirety.

According to Billboard.com, the album was released in Europe on June 16, 2008 and June 17 in United States. Three configurations of Nostradamus have been issued. The most common is a regular jewel-cased double CD, but there is also be a "CD deluxe hardbound version," which features a 48-page booklet, while a "super deluxe version" includes three vinyl records (in addition to the CD deluxe packaging, plus a poster).


Story line

Nostradamus centres around the life and times of the prophet. The first disc details various prophecies he has about the future and the end of the world. This leads to him being exiled. Later on, after his death, the world realizes just how right he was.


Track listing


Disc 1

1. "Dawn of Creation" * – 2:31
2. "Prophecy" – 5:26
3. "Awakening" * – 0:52
4. "Revelations" – 7:05
5. "The Four Horsemen" * – 1:35
6. "War" – 5:04
7. "Sands of Time" * – 2:36
8. "Pestilence and Plague" – 5:08
9. "Death" – 7:33
10. "Peace" * – 2:21
11. "Conquest" – 4:42
12. "Lost Love" – 4:28
13. "Persecution" – 6:34

Disc 2

1. "Solitude" * – 1:22
2. "Exiled" – 6:32
3. "Alone" – 7:50
4. "Shadows in the Flame" * – 1:10
5. "Visions" – 5:28
6. "Hope" * – 2:09
7. "New Beginnings" – 4:56
8. "Calm Before the Storm" * – 2:05
9. "Nostradamus" – 6:46
10. "Future of Mankind" – 8:29

* * Intro pieces of music going into the main track



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Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

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