Nine Circles ov…the Iron Maiden and Judas Priest Reunions

judas priest rob halford iron maiden bruce dickinson

It’s been a couple of weeks since the release of Firepower, and none of us can stop listening to it. Seriously. The eighteenth studio album from NWOBHM legends Judas Priest, has given the world many things. It’s given listeners one of vocalist Rob Halford’s strongest vocal performances in years, and the band’s best album overall since 1990’s Painkiller. It gave the band a No. 5 debut on the Billboard 200 — their highest chart U.S. chart position ever. And most importantly, it’s given the vast metal blogosphere a treasure trove of ideas for new #content.

Unfortunately for you — or perhaps “fortunately,” depending on what you think of us — we were not immune from that last gift.

Firepower marked the ninth album released by either Priest or that other NWOBHM band you often hear about, Iron Maiden, since the bands reunited with their legendary frontmen — Halford and Bruce Dickinson, respectively — in the early aughts. (Maiden’s released five to Priest’s four, albeit with a four-year head start.) And since this particular segment also comes in nines, we figured we’d feed that insatiable #content beast by ranking all of them here in one, combined list.

Notice the “we” there? Yep. Unlike most entries in the “Nine Circles ov…” canon, this won’t just be one person’s list, but rather a team effort. Why’s that? Well… because pretty much the whole team was high on Firepower, and wanted in on this in some capacity. So we asked everyone involved to come up with their own, individual lists for the nine albums, then calculated each album’s average position to determine our final, full-team rankings. And then, obviously, we each picked a couple and wrote about them. Because that’s what we do.

All of that (and more!) is below. So up the Irons, call for the Priest, and click on through to check it out!

The Team Rankings:

9. Judas Priest — Nostradamus (2008)

judas priest - nostradamus album cover

While there are a lot of things I don’t like about Nostradamus, Judas Priest’s 16th album and follow-up to their stellar 2005 Halford reunion ripper Angel of Retribution, I admire the hell out of the ambition behind it. And it’s not exactly misplaced: I’ll never say Judas Priest bit off more than they could chew. It’s dark, sullen, and symphonic, but I think it’s definitely the album the band set out to make. And there are a few bright spots: “Revelations” takes some of that Screaming for Vengeance vibe and runs with it, and “Persecution” has a nasty pulse. But the production gets bogged down in too much keyboard and ambient sound, dulling the razor edge that has always marked the best Priest tunes. Couple that with songs that don’t really work out of context from the conceptual arc and a crucial lack of swaggering fun that marks even the middle of the road albums (Point of Entry, Ram It Down) and you have most of why Nostradamus is something I almost never revisit.

Chris

8. Iron Maiden — The Final Frontier (2010)

Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

Four albums into post-reunion Maiden and a full four years after A Matter of Life and Death, we get a lukewarm The Final Frontier. But, I’m partial to this one and mostly for the trio of classically-titled and extremely classically-‘Maiden-sounding’ “Isle of Avalon,” “Starblind” and “The Talisman.” These are closest of the bunch to the Maiden I call my own. Meanwhile “Mother of Mercy” sports that trademark tight bass work and “Coming Home” is a decent sounding look into Dickinson’s other love of flying. Otherwise, this album lacks the punch and staying power that Dance of Death and Brave New World had. The majority of this set of songs begin solid enough, but fail to keep any sort of momentum. I’m still partial to it as an Iron Maiden fan but can’t place it near the top of the post-reunion five pack.

Josh

7. Iron Maiden — A Matter of Life and Death (2006)

Iron Maiden - A Matter of Life and Death

A Matter of Life and Death is a curious one. An album that inspires optimism early with the enthusiasm of “Different World” and “These Colors Don’t Run” quickly yields to a deliberate, frustratingly plodding cadence. While not without high points, there is a notable imbalance between the more energetic tracks (“The Pilgrim”) and the frequent, seemingly endless slow-motion passages (“For the Greater Good of God”) that introduce many of the songs. While it’s a strategy that hits the mark on occasion –– I find the opening to “Lord of Light” quite tasteful –– it does feel overused by the end of the 10 track, 72 minute listen. From a structural standpoint, AMOLAD is found somewhat wanting. But it’s still a Maiden record and there are enough high points to warrant a revisit.

Corey

6. Judas Priest — Redeemer of Souls (2014)

judas priest redeemer of souls

Redeemer of Souls was a decent bounce-back from Nostradamus, in that a. for the most part, the band sounded like themselves again, and b. the album was actually pretty listenable (if not necessarily “stellar”) in one sitting. Hell, it had a couple of bona-fide great Priest tunes on it – reassuring, given it was their first go-round without founding guitarist K.K. Downing. Still, I don’t know if you can call Redeemer a true “return-to-form”; taken as a whole, it’s more of a return-toward-form. Sure, the opening four tracks — from “Dragonaut” through “Sword of Damocles” – are all pretty damn tough to find fault with, and “Battle Cry” is a late highlight, but beyond that? It’s a mostly middling affair. Still, it was a stepping stone toward their full righting-of-the-ship on Firepower, and hardly a total loss.

Dan

5. Iron Maiden — The Book of Souls (2015)

Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls

Let’s begin with the obvious: two discs was too much. Period. With that out of the way, the chorus of “If Eternity Should Fail” hasn’t left my brain since release day. It signified, at least to me, a return to the sort of vigor and fire the band had had prior to their split. For example, the rolling thunder of the title track and “Death or Glory” not only have some serious swagger but took me back to their Powerslave days — fond memories. However, starting with “Shadows of the Valley” up until the end of disc two is where a huge culling needed to happen. Those last four tracks sound nothing at all like the rest nor do they share any similar traits that had me beyond stoked the first time I listened to this album. But, at least we end up with just over an hour of kick ass Maiden and honestly for a 43-year-old band what more can you ask for.

Josh

4. Iron Maiden — Brave New World (2000)

iron maiden - brave new world album cover

You can argue endlessly about whether 2000 was the end of the 20th century or the start of the 21st, but it is an unassailable fact that on May 29, 2000, Iron Maiden galloped back into our hearts with Brave New World. And it was more than just the welcome return of Bruce Dickinson’s pipes: bringing back the concise songwriting chops (and wicked riffs) of Adrian Smith also injected a new life into the band.  Tracks like “The Wicker Man,” “The Mercenary,” and “The Fallen Angel” recalled Maiden’s punchy hits from the ’80s, while epics like “The Nomad” and “Blood Brothers” showcased the more prog-oriented direction the band would traverse moving onto future albums. But it all started (again) here, and it was a powerful wake-up call to modern metal that sleeping giants never rest for long.

Chris

3. Judas Priest — Angel of Retribution (2005)

judas priest - angel of retribution

I still remember the first time I listened to Angel of Retribution. I wondered if Priest would be able to reclaim the power they’d had before Halford left. Two tracks in, my fears were put to rest. The strength, power and passion in the entire album is near-perfect to my ears. From the opening track, “Judas Rising” to the epic closer “Lochness,” the legendary Judas Priest showed the metal world that they were back and better than ever. To this day, it’s still my favorite post-reunion Priest or Maiden record. The Metal Gods still own!

Frank

2. Iron Maiden — Dance of Death (2003)

Fun fact: the cover art of “Dance of Death” is actually a freeze frame from President Dementia’s infamous “pee tape.”

As much as I enjoy Brave New World, Maiden’s follow-up always struck me as a superior effort. (Okay, fine, except for that artwork.) From “Wildest Dreams” through “BLOOD IS FAAAAAALLLLLING LIKE RAAAAAAAIN,” through the emotional acoustic journey(-man) that closes things out, there’s hardly a moment on Dance of Death that doesn’t completely nail its landing.  For my money, it’s the band’s best guitar album bar none…plus, unlike its predecessor, it manages to avoid building any bathroom breaks into its run-time. (Looking at you, “The Mercenary” and “Dream of “Mirrors.”) Even 15 years on from its original release (15!), you can launch into the battle-hearty bravado of “Montségur” or the devastating double-kick rumble of “Face in the Sand” and you’ll still get the same chills. That, to me, is the mark of a classic.

Dan

1. Judas Priest — Firepower (2018)

Judas Priest - Firepower

Leave it to Judas Priest to deliver an album this strong almost fifty years after their formation. Firepower is a summation of the band’s immeasurable influence over the course of their careers, from the onslaught of the opening title track to the epic closer in “Sea of Red” and the many soaring anthems in between. Richie Faulkner’s role within the band finally feels fully integrated, resulting in a backbone of very consistent songwriting throughout, where even the “mediocre” songs are still pretty good. If this does turn out to be the last album we receive from Judas Priest, it’s a hell of a way to go out.

Ashley

Notes(tradamus):

OH GOD, I’m so, so sorry for that. That pun was an abomination. I promise it won’t happen again.

  • Average Position for Each Album
    • Firepower – 1.83
    • Dance of Death – 2.83
    • Angel of Retribution – 3.0
    • Brave New World – 3.33
    • The Book of Souls – 5.33
    • Redeemer of Souls – 5.83
    • A Matter of Life and Death – 6.5
    • The Final Frontier – 7.67
    • Nostradamus – 8.67
  • Nine Circles really loves Firepower; Priest’s latest album topped two of our panelists’ lists, and didn’t finish lower than third in any of the six.
  • On the other end, there’s no love for Nostradamus. Priest’s ill-advised concept album finished dead last in all but one individual list. (And even in that one, it finished 7th.)
  • Four different albums finished with at least one No. 1 ranking on the individual lists: Firepower, Dance of Death, Angel of Retribution and Brave New World.
  • This one’s kind of funny: in all but one individual list, the two “of Souls” albums (Redeemer and The Book) finished adjacent to each other. Three of those five had Book ranked above Redeemer.
  • Approximate number of minutes in the combined run-times of these nine albums? 651.
  • Approximate number of times Dan changed the order of albums 4-6 on his list? Also 651.

Individual Rankings:

Dan

iron maiden - dance of death album cover

1. Dance of Death
2.
Firepower
3.
Brave New World
4.
Angel of Retribution
5.
A Matter of Life and Death
6.
The Book of Souls
7.
Redeemer of Souls
8.
The Final Frontier
9.
Nostradamus

Chris

iron maiden - brave new world album cover

1. Brave New World
2. Firepower
3. A Matter of Life and Death
4. Dance of Death
5. Angel of Retribution
6. Redeemer of Souls
7. The Book of Souls
8. The Final Frontier
9. Nostradamus

Josh

Judas Priest - Firepower

1. Firepower
2. Angel of Retribution
3. The Book of Souls
4. Dance of Death
5. Redeemer of Souls
6. The Final Frontier
7. Brave New World
8. A Matter of Life and Death
9. Nostradamus

Frank

judas priest - angel of retribution

1. Angel of Retribution
2. Firepower
3. Brave New World
4. Dance of Death
5. The Book of Souls
6. Redeemer of Souls
7. Nostradamus
8. A Matter of Life and Death
9. The Final Frontier

Ashley

Judas Priest - Firepower

1. Firepower
2. Angel of Retribution
3. Dance of Death
4. Brave New World
5. Redeemer of Souls
6. The Book of Souls
7. The Final Frontier
8. A Matter of Life and Death
9. Nostradamus

Corey

iron maiden - dance of death album cover

1. Dance of Death
2. Brave New World
3. Firepower
4. Angel of Retribution
5. The Book of Souls
6. Redeemer of Souls
7. A Matter of Life and Death
8. The Final Frontier
9. Nostradamus

What do you think? Share your personal rankings in the comments section below!

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