After a very long six-year wait, heavy metal legends Judas Priest have unleashed their brand new studio album, 'Redeemer of Souls.' It's their first effort without founding guitarist K.K. Downing, and has been trumpeted as a return to the band's traditional sound after the confused reaction fans gave their (perhaps overly ambitious) last album.

The early word on 'Redeemer of Souls' has been very positive, but does the album hold up to intense analysis? Here's everything you need to know:

Q: Let's start with an easy one: is 'Redeemer of Souls' better than Judas Priest's last album, the much-mocked 2008 double-disc concept album 'Nostradamus?'

A: Yes. But 'Redeemer of Souls' also further clarifies where 'Nostradamus' properly fits within the Judas Priest discography: as an intentional outlier, and a bold, admirably weird experiment that's actually far more entertaining (granted, in doses) than you might remember.

Q: OK, how does it compare to their other post-reunion album, 2005's 'Angel of Retribution?'

A: 'Angel' is darn good -- in particular, we'd forgotten just how brutal 'Demonizer' is -- but 'Redeemer of Souls' is better, trading its predecessor's aggressive but occasionally more generic chugging for fresher, more sophisticated riffs with more surprising twists and a greater sense of the all-important groove.

Q: So you're saying this is the best Judas Priest album since 1990's mighty 'Painkiller?'

A: No. Because you're forgetting about Halford's 2000 masterpiece 'Resurrection,' which we've got filed alongside the rest of our favorite Judas Priest records regardless of what the label says. And if you think we're wrong can we quickly direct you to listen to 'Made in Hell?'

Q: No love for the Ripper era?

A: There's cool stuff on both 1997's 'Jugulator' and 2001's 'Demolition,' but let's face it, Priest is Priest when the "Metal God" is on the mic. And they're all much better together. 'Resurrection' is the exception that proves the rule; you won't see us placing anything by 2wo or Fight as high on any rankings of the extended Judas Priest discography.

Q: Speaking of the "Metal God," how is Rob Halford's one-of-a-kind voice holding up?

Very nicely! Obviously and wisely, he's not trying to dive-bomb across octaves every second like he did back in, say, the 'Freewheel Burning' days. But much like Robert Plant, he's rolling with the changes to his still-amazing talents in an extremely tasteful and satisfying way. And when he does break out the full wail -- which he does here for the first time during the opening minute of the third song, 'Halls of Valhalla' -- you'll get those same wonderful chills.

Q: How's the new guy? Should I really buy the first Judas Priest album that doesn't feature founding guitarist K.K. Downing? 

A: As anybody who saw Priest on their recent (and happily, falsely titled) 'Epitaph' tour will tell you, Richie Faulkner is awesome. And don't forget, Downing's former battery mate and fellow founding guitarist Glenn Tipton is still in the fold. Unlike the old days, the liner notes for 'Redeemer of Souls' don't spell out which guitarist played which solo on each track. (Boooo!) But Halford, Tipton and Faulkner share songwriting credit for every song on the album, and it's quite clear that this new lineup has brought a welcome breath of fresh air to the group's chemistry.

Q: Does 'Redeemer of Souls' really need to be 22 minutes longer than say, 'British Steel?'

A: Probably not, but that's just the way things are these days. If you ask us, the biggest shame of the compact disc, download and streaming revolutions was that they obliterated the seemingly arbitrary -- but actually just about exactly perfect -- time limits of the vinyl album. So what songs would we cut to get down to the magic 45-minute mark? Here comes the hate mail... but probably 'Cold Blooded,' 'Metalizer,' and 'Hell and Back.'

Q: Did they pick the right songs for the actual album, or should some of the deluxe edition's five bonus tracks have been granted that honor instead?

A: They made the right choices. Almost every bonus track has a superior stylistic counterpart on the proper 'Redeemer of Souls' album. For example, there's no way you'd trade the elegant, restrained album closing farewell 'Beginning of the End' for 'Never Forget,' the more makwish (Dare we say Bon Jovi-esque? Guess we just did!) power ballad that closes out the bonus disc. Possible exception: the classic power groove of 'Snakebite' gets under the skin more effectively than several songs on the actual record's second half.

Q: Is there anything on here to offend Tipper Gore, who famously placed the band's 1984 song 'Eat Me Alive' on her "Filthy Fifteen" list?

A: No idea. Also: we don't care, she should have minded her own business in the first place. As Halford told us in a recent interview (see video below), the lyrics on 'Redeemer of Souls' delve into tried and true subject matter such as "Vikings, dragons, aliens, Bible-thumping and guns." There's no parental advisory sticker, and we didn't notice anything that could cause trouble.

Q: So sum it all up: Should I buy 'Redeemer of Souls?' If so, which version, and which songs are worthy of space in the group's already crowded set lists?

A: Yes, any true fan of Judas Priest or classic heavy metal should absolutely (legally) own 'Redeemer of Souls' -- and not just as a thank-you for previous services rendered by this legendary group. It's an extremely worthy addition to their discography. The bonus tracks are not essential, but they're fun -- so if you're feeling rich, go for the deluxe version. Personally, we're looking forward to hearing album opener 'Dragonaut,' 'March of the Damned' and the Iron Maiden-styled 'Sword of Damocles' performed live. And while researching this story, we've come to realize how badly we want 'Demonizer,' 'Freewheel Burning' and 'Steeler' to be played as well!

Watch Judas Priest Talk About 'Redeemer of Souls'

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