It’s startling to think that it’s already been ten years since legendary guitarist KK Downing left heavy metal icons Judas Priest in a well documented and not entirely amicable parting of the ways. After taking some time out, in 2018 Downing established KK’s Steel Mill, a music and arts venue where onstage alongside former Priest members Les Binks and Tim “Ripper” Owens, plus Hostile guitarist AJ Mills and former Megadeth bassist David Ellefson, the foundations for solo debut Sermons of the Sinner (EX1 Records) were laid the following year.
Recruiting Voodoo Six bassist Tony Newton and drummer Sean Elg (hired after Binks injured his wrist) the record was delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic but rather than be disheartened, Downing took this time and used it to his advantage, tweaking and tidying up any detail with which he wasn’t entirely satisfied.
After the portentous narration of intro ‘Incarnation’, Sermons of the Sinner lifts off with the wailing six string histrionics of ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’, the riffs and fingertips flying thick and fast as Owens screams his lungs into agonising oblivion. The fast and furious title track follows, Elg’s drum intro not a million miles away from ‘Painkiller’ as Owens goes full Rob Halford and Newton brings the slower bridge section to life with some fluid bass licks.
‘Sacerdote y Diablo’ opens with a sly nod to Diamond Head‘s ‘Am I Evil’ before settling into a fast atmospheric stomp that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Nostradamus (Epic Records). ‘Raise Your Fists’, ‘Brothers of the Road’ and the lengthy ‘Metal Through and Through’ combine classic Priest with touches of Iron Maiden, and with its, “we’re rule-breakers, hellraisers” refrain, ‘Wild and Free’ is as cheesy as it gets. Riff-heavy chugger ‘Hail For the Priest’ precedes album closer ‘Return of the Sentinel’, and while only time will tell if a nine minute sequel to a bonafide classic will prove brave or foolhardy, it’s certainly a risk worth taking.
When any long standing member of an established act goes their own way, some form of distance is usually imperative. A clear and decisive line of separation between the two camps designed to stop or at least deter unwanted comparisons. But not here. With virtually every aspect of its existence, from the cover art to the band name to the music itself, Sermons of the Sinner not only allows for acknowledgement of the past but categorically demands it.
A sense of déjà vu will not be uncommon throughout the record but whether this means a tick in the plus or minus column is, of course, purely subjective. The one thing which everyone will agree on, however, is that Downing has lost absolutely none of his skill as a fretsman. It may be ten years since leaving Priest but his fingers still fly as fast and accurately now as they did back in the day. So with the guitars – and let’s not forget the talented AJ Mills here – doing most of the melodic heavy lifting – it’s clear from the outset that Downing has not let things get the better of him, turning disappointment into triumph and returning with a vengeance.
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7 / 10