Jan 25, 2024, 06:28AM

K.K. Downing's Road to Redemption

K.K. Downing leaves Judas Priest to strike out on his own with K.K.'s Priest.

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It happens often in the music business. A popular member of a band leaves or is removed from the line-up, while some iteration of the band carries on. This applies to Judas Priest founding member and guitarist K.K. Downing.

Downing quit in 2011 over irreconcilable differences with management and his sense that Priest’s music wasn’t up to the standard of past excellence. The band continued, replacing Downing with young shredder Ritchie Faulkner. When Downing’s original dual-guitar mate Glenn Tipton announced his Parkingson’s diagnosis and self-imposed semi-retirement in 2018, Downing was reportedly “shocked” that he wasn’t asked to rejoin the band.

Downing, now 72, was invited to perform with Priest at the band’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2020, but was informed he wouldn’t be rejoining Priest for the 2022 50th-anniversary tour. Left on the sidelines while vocalist/frontman and Metal God Rob Halford carried forth with a lineup that included only two original members (Halford and bassist Ian Hill,) Downing was understandably miffed.

Unwilling to accept that banishment from Priest would be the last chapter in his metal legacy, Downing formed his own band, K. K.’s Priest, staking a legitimate claim on one of the most popular names in hard rock and metal history. The band, which features top-shelf vocals by metal veteran Tim “Ripper” Owens, released its debut album Sermons of the Sinner in 2021. The record generated some buzz, was a critical success, and put Downing back on the map.

With the release of 2023’s The Sinner Rides Again, Downing has returned to form.

Songwriting, riffage, and production value come together decisively on K.K.’s Priest’s second album. The title track evokes comparison to great Judas Priest juggernauts like “Electric Eye,” while the by-turns doom-laden and galloping “Wash Away Your Sins” takes on Jesus Christ Himself. If the gear shift between chorus and guitar solo on single-release “One More Shot At Glory” doesn’t make a headbanger’s blood run pleasurably cold, they ain’t metal.

On December 30th, at the threshold of 2024, K.K.’s Priest dropped a revelatory YouTube video of their performance at last summer’s Bloodstock Festival, which includes a mix of new material and several classic cuts from Judas Priest’s oeuvre that Downing had a hand in writing.

In 2018, I saw Judas Priest without K.K. Downing. It was good. The show goes on, even without founding members that help make a band’s name. What’s also good is the return of K. K. Downing, with a grinding and exalted slab of metal that puts him right back at the top of the heap. The band has announced the first leg of its U.S. tour to commence in Fort Lauderdale on March 7th.

One day later, March 8th, Judas Priest—the band that left Downing behind—will officially release its 19th studio album, Invincible Shield. This is going to be great.


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