Around a minute into track ten of the new Judas Priest album Invincible Shield, Sons of Thunder, the smile that placed itself on your lips from the first note of opening track Panic Attack finally makes sense. You realise at this point that, yes, the hype, for once, has just been justified. Not only is IS the best Judas Priest album this century, the best since KK Downing flew the coop, it’s also their best effort since 1990’s Painkiller.

It’s not a claim to be made lightly, and it’s not to dismiss the better moments of Firepower, Redeemer Souls or even Jugulator; But pound for pound, for sheer thrill-a-minute-headbangability, Invincible Shield has ’em all licked.

The stomping Giants In The Sky, wherein Rob Halford mixes his own trademark wail with some nice Freddie Mercuryisms, has the best ending utilised on any JP album since the band’s glory days of the mid eighties; that it segues into the thumping, bass-led Fight For Your Life with it’s raw Killing Machine licks and attitude makes it doubly appealing.

Fight For Your Life might just be the best thing here (but only, sadly, if you snare the deluxe version of the album), a hammering, yammering shot at the solar plexus that’ll have you pressing play again as soon as it’s finished for hours, possibly days; Halford’s vocals are superb, not because they leave you reeling at the fact he can still pull out a vengeance-filled scream at his age, but because of the sheer chutzpah with which the Metal God delivers. This is tour de force stuff, proof – not that any is really needed, I realise, but proof nonetheless – that nobody rams it down in the vocal booth quite like Rob Halford.

Refreshingly, this is an album that touches on all the great points in the band’s past without sounding like a ‘quintessential’ album – Angel of Retribution, say – that tries to please everybody whilst missing what it is that’s made this band such an essential part of all our lives for half a century. Seasoned listeners will smile as they pick up little quotes and nuances from the past but, it has to be noted, this is the freshest, most vital sounding Priest album in a long, long time. Props must go also to guitarist Richie Faulkner for coming up with some amazing riffage here – the opening of The Serpent and The King is right up there with anything from 1978-1984 in this reviewer’s book, and Faulkner once again shows himself to be a true defender of the faith, whatever your standpoint on his position in the band. Even bassist Ian Hill, who apparently recorded his parts whilst on tour in Europe sounds energised and alive thanks to Andy Sneap‘s roaring production which give Hill a welcome push in the mix. It’s a delight to hear him grinding away on Devil in Disguise in tandem with Scott Travis, who himself gives one of his most hard-hitting performances in quite some while.

And what of Glenn Tipton? He’s still here, contributing two songs in the shape of Escape From Reality and Sons of Thunder; That he’s here at all is something to give thanks for, but, even if his contributions to the album were necessarily limited, it’s undeniable that his spirit suffuses every moment of the record, but especially on the freewheeling title track that features superb harmony leads and nods to Sin After Sin and British Steel in it’s thunderous grooves.

If this turns out to be Judas Priest’s swansong – and let’s face it, there’s a strong chance that it is – it’s hard to imagine a better, more fitting way to bring down the curtain on one of heavy metal’s greatest careers. Bravo.

Invincible Shield is out now.