It’s hard to believe ten years have passed since K.K. Downing left Judas Priest. Downing, who had been a member of Priest for more than 40 years, had expressed interest numerous times over the years in rejoining his former band, but those offers were rejected. As he approaches his 70th birthday, Downing has formed a new band – KK’s Priest.
KK’s Priest featured Downing at the helm on guitar, ex-Judas Priest vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, Hostile guitarist A.J. Mills, and former Voodoo Six bassist Tony Newton. Original Judas Priest drummer Les Binks was also part of the original KK’s Priest lineup for a short time after its founding, until he had to bow out. Binks was then replaced by Sean Elg of Cage to round things out.
As you would expect, KK’s Priest’s debut album Sermons of the Sinner is very similar to Judas Priest, a fact the band has owned up to is proud of. Downing said of the project that “People hoping you're going to make a record that you've already made. So in a way this record just sounds like something that has already been made or should have been be made. It does have a lot of things that are connected to the past.”
After a brief opening interlude, KK’s Priest’s classic metal sound is unleashed with “Hellfire Thunderbolt.” Dual guitars drive the song, and Owens’ vocal prowess is on display with some potent falsetto parts. Owens' performance throughout the album is strong. The rest of the album follows that path of catchy hooks and plenty of guitar wizardry from Downing and Mills.
A song certain to be a crowd pleaser at KK’s Priest live shows is “Raise Your Fists,” a rousing anthem metal fans will appreciate that has the requisite lengthy guitar solo. “Wild and Free” is in a similar vein, an uptempo track that slows down toward the end with a call and response and has a sentiment that longtime metal fans can embrace.
Most of the songs on Sermons of the Sinner are pretty focused, with a couple of exceptions. One is “Metal Through and Through,” which clocks in at just over eight minutes. The band varies the tempos and there are more extended solos, but this track definitely could have used some editing.
The nine minute epic closer “Return of the Sentinel,” a sequel to the song from Judas Priest’s 1984 album Defenders of the Faith, is more effective. It has an interesting compositional arc that is sometimes intense and other times serene. It sets the stage for the band’s next album, which they are already working on.
In his decades with Judas Priest, Downing wrote or co-wrote many legendary songs, and his legacy as one of metal’s outstanding guitarists is secure. But he wasn't content to rest on his laurels and still has the desire to create new music, and as is evident on Sermons of the Sinner, his creative drive remains strong. He and KK’s Priest have delivered a debut album that celebrates metal’s past while still looking to the future.