On their second album since replacing legendary frontman Rob Halford with tribute-band-impersonator Ripper Owens, Judas Priest prove they can still keep up with their two obvious competitors, the reunited Iron Maiden and Halfordís homonymous band. All three Maiden/Priest descendants have gotten heavier with age, but their songwriting skills seem to be on the wane: in recent years, only Maidenís "Wicker Man" has emerged as a contender for the classic-metal pantheon.
That said, Priest still get plenty of mileage out of their patented mix of tough-guy belligerence and demonic fantasy, and guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing will always be the baddest tag team in metal. Owens doesnít go for the high notes as often as Halford does, but he does pay worthy tribute to the master on the screeching "Bloodsuckers." Tipton and Downing share a crystalline twin-guitar lead on the pretty ballad "Lost and Found"; elsewhere, they drag out plenty of modern gadgets to add some contemporary bite to their retro riffage. Some of the rockers suffer from weak hooks and overblown arrangements, but the band never fail to make the necessary impact. For that alone, the metal world still needs them around.
(Judas Priest perform next Thursday, February 14, at the Orpheum. Call 617-679-0810.)