ROB HALFORD with Family & Friends – Celestial (2019)
Legendary Judas Priest frontman ROB HALFORD has teamed up with some family members and musician friends to deliver a new solo album titled “Celestial”, which will be released on October 18, 2019. “Celestial” is a Christmas themed album featuring holiday classics and new songs from Halford, obviously done with Rob’s classic metal / hard rock punch, but also showcasing his love for classy the ‘metal ballad’sound.
Best known for his work with Judas Priest, which bracket his solo efforts under the guises of Fight, Two, and his eponymous project, Halford walk into familiar territory with “Celestial”.
Why you may ask? Well, in case you forgot back in 2009 he released Halford III: Winter Songs, which contained a mixture of original compositions and well-known relics, including “We Three Kings,” “Come All Ye Faithful,” “Oh Holy Night,” and “Oh Come, O Come, Emanuel.”
That refresher in mind, while Hard Rock stalwarts “Metal” Mike Chlasciak on guitar and Bobby Jarzombek on drums helped complete the cast for Winter Songs, Halford drew from a smaller, familial circle for “Celestial”, and as such, the album is officially credited to Rob Halford with Family & Friends.
Indeed, his brother Nigel plays drums, his sister Sue holds bells, and his nephew Alex plays bass, following his father, Ian Hill, the famed low-ender for Judas Priest. Another footnote, Hill dated and eventually married Sue, which led to the birth of Alex; this relationship was the spark that first brought Halford to the attention of Judas Priest in its nascent years. That said, the lineup for “Celestial” is completed by Jon Blakely and Robert Jones on guitar.
Twelve entries make up “Celestial”, four originals and eight season favorites, and the songs here vary widely in terms of selection, style, and realization.
The opening title-track places you outside, the taking in the warm sounds of a choir and organ, which quickly fade into galloping hooves and crisp church bells, punctuated by the familiar voice of Santa Claus. The mood then takes a dark, somber turn, and after which “Donner and Blitzen” uses rich Christmas themes and traditions and puts them atop a classic vibe from the heyday of Judas Priest.
Moving on, the band’s rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” following in the scorched footsteps of “Donner and Blitzen,” is a rollicking, metallic inflection of the traditional carol, played in the vein fans might have hummed in their heads when news of the album was released.
Contrast that to the very next track, “Away In a Manger,” which while still holding Eighties Metal sensibilities, is sung as an ethereal ballad, with Halford’s voice lilting over sparse guitar and percussion. This is as “The First Noel” takes a similar path and features subtle guitar and keyboard accompaniment, and this pairing flows naturally into “Good King Wenceslas.”
More of a straight ahead Metal approach, “Deck the Halls” is complete with the massive sound you would expect from dual guitars fronted by Halford. That in mind, outside of the vocals, this version takes long, winding paths away from its source material, with dueling guitar licks carrying far more than their weight, especially on the back end of the track.
Taking a similar path “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” actually comes through as a warm, effective version, despite the brash intonation; its short run time helps move things along, a technique which also works toward “Joy to the World” avoiding a kitschy sound.
Elsewhere, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” successfully mixes the two styles, spending most of its 5 minutes on a slow, somber ballad, before unleashing Halford and his dueling guitar partners.
Last but not least warm organ envelops “Protected By The Light” to close the proceedings, and the lyrics find Halford wishing the best of the season, and and the best of all year, to listeners and detractors alike.
Stating the obvious, Rob Halford is still a metalhead at heart, and his harder inclinations come through early and often across the dozen tracks included on “Celestial”.
However, his strength is sometimes best exemplified by his restraint, and the softer tracks here end up being some of the better and more memorable work.
Xmas is coming!
01 – Celestial
02 – Donner and Blitzen
03 – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
04 – Away In a Manger
05 – Morning Star
06 – Deck the Halls
07 – Joy to the World
08 – O Little Town of Bethlehem
09 – Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
10 – The First Noel
11 – Good King Wenceslas
12 – Protected by the Light
Rob Halford : Vocals
Robert Jones : Guitars
Jon Blakey : Guitars
Alex Hill : Bass
Nigel Halford : Drums
Sue Halford : Bells