The New Moon at the end of November brings release of the tribulations around Judas Priest in the past two years. K.K.Downing has issued the following statement:
It seems Judas Priest’s choice to cover up pervading toxicity had sucked the oxygen from their pond, until K.K.Downing was urged to stir it. Rightfully so – having left the band in 2011 amid unresolved conflict, and prior to Priest’s supposed farewell tour, he is not just attached to the band – he formed and helped mould it out of his own creative body over the course of 40 years.
His conflict being primarily with Glenn Tipton, he wrongfully but logically presumed that, once Glenn announced his Parkinson’s diagnosis and stepped down from active touring, Priest would rush to re-incorporate the other half of the axe duo that constituted the band’s essence.
Little did he know that Judas Priest had already made other calculations.
Nothing had to change.
Judas Priest had established themselves as “gods” and “legends”, and in the words of Ian Hill, “heavy metal may now be cliche, but we invented it”. Ta-da.
Heavy Metal as a genre, with enough exceptions that still confirm the rule, has long given up its revolutionary connotations and become a bastion of conservatism with an odour of bellicosity, a refuge for frail identities. (One proof is the comments’ section of the heavy metal news site, blabbermouth, where commenters seem mostly concerned with “shutting up” their idols, alongside any critical opinion.) There is some “truth” in metal, but it is that of a party line, a uniform, a brand holding the imagined power to provide fanatics with a sense of belonging. It’s a trap for both parties, those being sucked and their sycophants – a perversely intricate construct, given this is only rock’n’roll.
It’s been such a backlash, such hostility KK Downing has had to endure from “fans” (coupled with that of his former colleagues), for simply relaying his own version of events in a dicreet and gentlemanly manner. It may sound like a storm in a glass to the outsider, but Priest’s struggle has been fierce to preserve the myth and keep up the facade, pleasing their (albeit dwindling) hordes of fanatics, to whom they openly refer as “maniacs”.
What the “maniacs” receive in return, are the full pyrotechnics for which they are prepared to part with their hard-earned dollar. Music and deep creatvity play second fiddle to this. Could Priest nowadays do a concert on a minimal stage, in black shirts, with no effects, and still be as impactful? Let’s leave the question open – but it seems to matter little to their fans that a fantastic guitarist such as K.K. Downing, whose name alone is an accolade, is no longer in the picture. Many of their concert attendants, reportedly, think Richie Faulkner is K.K, and leave the concert happy. Personal, challenging guitar style? Improvisation, soul, character? It’s all lost in the screens, smokes, and techically-enhanced screams. The Firepower fanboys want to be “blown away” and “get their ass kicked”, not to think, feel, and truly experience.
But that’s the case, to some extent, even in classical music today. Intimate, authentic concerts, where every note of the soloist is suffered, compete with productions where Paganini is turned into a hollow spectacle.
The latter are keywords, perhaps. Rob Halford has promised the Judas Priest 50th anniversary tour (minus K.K.) to be an “amazing spectacular”. He has also intimated that he finds the Ronnie James Dio hologram a “most beautiful, wonderful thing”.
Judas Priest is currently promoting a 2020 tour, booked through to the end of next year, featuring Glenn Tipton. While our hearts go out to Glenn, common sense wonders whether a late-stage Parkinson’s sufferer, whose only appearance in 2019 was a brief, painstaking struggle, could make it next year.
What if not? A further “spectacular” addition to the already giant screens? A “beautiful” hologram?
All of the above is a bit exaggerated, and not all Priest fans are zombies – although the ones who seek pure music and genuine identity, may be quick to regroup in the K.K. camp. Even those who were fond of the myth and their childhood heroes, might agree the balloon has popped. But K.K. has emerged from the dysfunctional rock’n’roll bubble rejuvenated and vigorous.
The fans were already enthusiastic at his Bloodstock appearance in August this year; but his full Priest-classics concert in Wolverhampton on November 3rd, featuring Les Binks, Tim “Ripper” Owens, Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson, and second guitarist AJ Mills, is described thus by a fan:
“I think the best 50th anniversary celebration “Priest” could present already happened, and it was in Wolverhampton a few weeks ago.”
K.K. had the brisk demeanour of a child, coupled with mature sensitivity, bringing his wonderful takes and twists to Priest solos.
We do hope he forges on with new material, emerging from self-imposed obscurity and the swamp of non-resolution. The myth has been debunked, and fare well to Judas Priest on their 50th anniversary sail with two replacement guitarists. Hold your metal prayers that not too many in your congregation see the preacher naked.