For the band’s sixteenth studio album, they went somewhere they had never gone before and really pushed the boundaries of what they could do. “Nostradamus” was going to be a concept album about the man himself, Nostradamus. The idea was brought to the band by their manager, Bill Curbishley, way back in 2005. Eventually the band came around and work started on the album in 2006 and went through 2007. The album finally saw the light of day on June 16, 2008 and saw the band get their highest charting album to date at #11 (now realize that was only sales of 42,000 and in 2008 that had become a lot as album sales were way down).
The band would shed their speed and thrash metal sound and stick strictly to a more symphonic metal sound so if you were expecting anything from before you were in a shock. This was going to be so different than anything else they had done. The album turned in to a 2 CD set with 23 tracks and over a 103 minutes worth of music. You were taken on a journey through the life of Nostradamus and would get songs about his notorious prophecies and about the man himself. You can tell by the titles of the songs on the first disc they are about some dark prophecies that talk about war and the basically the end of the world. The album is full of orchestrated moments and even choirs and if you are looking for the classic Halford scream, you will only get that on the very rare occasion. Rob sings more in an operatic singing style and fits the music perfectly. This is the band stretching their limits and really reaching for the stars.
The band is still Rob Halford, K.K. Downing, Glenn Tipton, Ian Hill and Scott Travis on drums. Don Airey is still on keyboards and then you have Pete Whitfield who handles all the string instrumentation. The band was hitting on all cylinders and have given an album that has to be listened to as an album and from front to back in the order intended to get the full effect and follow along. And due to the length of the album there is no way we are going to go through song by song in any great detail so forgive me. I will stick with the highlights and there are many.
The album is filled with a lot of interludes between the songs which blend well within the context of the album and is quite necessary to keep the flow and the songs cohesive. They really help tell the story. The first real track is the brilliant “Prophecy” which is layered with synths and the song explodes out of the gate. It has this ominous and dark feel to it and Rob is rare form and comes out with such confidence. It is a solid metal track and has one of the best choruses on the album. A strong opening song and then after another interlude we get “Revelations” where Nostradamus is accepting his visions for what they are. This is a guitar heavy track and even brings an incredible dual guitar solo from the ever talented likes of Downing and Tipton and is exactly what we want to hear.
The Interlude is called “The Four Horsemen” and we know the apocalypse is upon us. The next set of songs are all about the Horseman and first is the song “War” with the pounding drum opening lets you know we are in for a dark, foreboding song full of death and destruction. Rob speak sings the lyrics at times and seems to be fully engrossed in the Nostradamus character. The string orchestration adds a totally different dimension building the tension of the song. It all works wonderfully together. “Pestilence & Plague” is one of the better songs on the album and even has some lyrics in Italian (or Latin, sorry not sure) and some guitar work that is probably the best on the album. Then we get Doom Metal with the song “Death”. It might be the heaviest song they have done if not at least the darkest.
“Conquest” is the most normal sounding song…Priest normal I mean. There are Sabbathy moments but it is more melodic than the rest of the album. “Lost Love” is about the death of Nostradumus’ wife and child from the plague so we see his visions come to be reality. This one opens with a soft piano bringing the sadness of death. To end Disc 1, we get “Persecution” where the church is now going after Nostradamus and his visions and he is being accused of heresy. It opens quietly with some keyboards and then turns in to a heart pounding rocker and gets us back on track with the little downer of the last song.
The second disc opens with the interlude “Solitude” which is a beautiful piano instrumentation and goes in to the song “Exiled” where Nostradamus is been, well exiled by the Church. The titles of the songs on the album are brief mostly and do tell you the story in a few simple words. To me this song is so grand and so much bigger than itself. Rob’s vocals are powerful and strong in the chorus and exude the sadness Nostradamus felt being exiled from his home. “Alone” is up next and really could fit on other Priest albums as the song really fits with anyone and not just Nostradamus. Who doesn’t want to be left alone. It is a slower track and still very dark. The chorus is very catchy, some great guitar work and is a favorite track of mine because we get a little Halford scream to put the icing on the cake. Well, maybe that icing is a rare guitar solo although brief.
“Visions” see Nostradamus getting overcome by those visions and not understanding them anymore but finally accepting them for what they are. The song is a little boring despite I liking the idea of the song. It does have a solo which their weren’t enough of on the album, but overall fell flat. “New Beginnings” is probably considered a ballad which I believe is about Nostradamus finding a new love so his life is finally on the upside after all the misery and turmoil of the past. As ballads go, it ain’t the best one they’ve done.
Then we get to the best song on the album, “Nostradamus”. Rob is full on operatic in his vocals and he really hits some great notes at the beginning and then the band comes in and slams it home with a massive Halford scream. It does actually have a little of the speed metal, the classic Priest sound and that Halford SCREAM!!!! What more could you want. The song is an homage to the man himself. It celebrates everything about the man, the myth, the legend. It is a reminder of everything that is great about Priest. An utterly brilliant track!! The final track is “Future of Mankind” and it talks about how Nostradamus’ visions live on after his death and maybe we should pay attention to them. A heavy track and some wicked guitars and Scott pounding away on the drums and some evil voice at the end speaking Italian (or Latin). It is a long track and ends nicely as it started with same piano sound as “Dawn of Creation”.
- Dawn of Creation
- The Four Horsemen
- Sands of Time
- Pestilence and Plague
- Lost Love
- Shadows in the Flame
- New Beginnings
- Calm Before the Storm
- Future of Mankind
I’m not doing a track score because you can’t remove any songs because they are needed for the story. Did I like every song, no, but without them you miss the bigger picture. I thought the album was bloody brilliant. The more I listened, the more I got the story and the more enjoyable it came. I loved the symphonic feel and didn’t miss the speed metal aspects of prior albums. It was a heavy album and very dark at times. But I have been fascinated with Nostradamus since I saw an HBO show about him way back in the early 80’s. This has brought back that fascination and we are better for it. I hear about this album getting a bad rap, but they are all wrong. I think it is a focused Priest and I don’t feel they missed any mark. They nailed it on all levels…great story, great music and still Priest. Not everything worked, but more than enough did to keep my interest throughout. For that, I give the album a 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars. I am glad they stretched their wings and reached for something bigger than normal.
UP NEXT: ‘A TOUCH OF EVIL: LIVE’ (2009)
THE COMPLETE ALBUMS COLLECTION SERIES:
- Rocka Rolla (1974)
- Sad Wings of Destiny (1976)
- Sin After Sin (1977)
- Stained Class (1978)
- Killing Machine / Hell Bent For Leather (1978)
- Unleashed in the East (1979)
- British Steel (1980)
- Point of Entry (1981)
- Screaming for Vengeance (1982)
- Defenders of the Faith (1984)
- Turbo (1986)
- Priest…Live! (1987)
- Ram it Down (1988)
- Painkiller (1990)
- Angel of Retribution (2005)
- Nostradamus (2008)
- A Touch of Evil: Live (2009)