JUDAS PRIEST’s irrevocable Epitaph and the Resurrection of K.K.Downing

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:

CaptureKK

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.

K.K.Downing

K.K.Downing with “MegaPriest” at KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton, 3rd November 2019

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.

K.K.Downing

K.K.Downing with “MegaPriest” at KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton, 3rd November 2019

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.

K.K.Downing

K.K.Downing with “MegaPriest” at KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton, 3rd November 2019

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?

Judas Priest 2020 tour poster

Judas Priest 2020 tour poster

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.

Judas Priest on their 2019 Firepower Tour

Judas Priest on their 2019 Firepower Tour

Diana Chavdarova

Metal trailblazer K.K.Downing of JUDAS PRIEST triumphantly returns to the live stage after ten years

We usually like to shun pompous epithets dominating the metal media, but K.K.’s emergence at this year’s Bloodstock Festival has been an artistic as well as a personal triumph. Having left JUDAS PRIEST in 2011 (but remaining legally a member), his involvement in playing music amid unresolved issues had been close to none.

 

It has been quite an ordeal for the passionate Judas Priest fan to follow them this past year-and-a-half. Of course, Judas Priest is an ordeal itself – full of agony as well as ecstasy, a birthplace of extreme emotion inhumanly executed, origin of extreme metal and dare we say heavy metal per se, while transcending boundaries and never being cliche. But much needed catharsis has seemed to elude as of late.

Concluding image of the Firepower tour

Concluding image of the Firepower tour

It all began with the unfortunate announcement of Glenn Tipton’s Parkinson’s diagnosis in February 2018 and him being forced to step down from being a full touring Judas Priest member.

It seemed then that K.K.Downing, the other half of the guitar duo which constituted the dual-lead attack and, alongside Rob Halford, the legend that became Priest, had assumed that the way was open for him to return to the band he formed and devoted his life to.

Little did he know that not only this wasn’t the case, but his expressed surprise would trigger undisguised hostility in the Priest camp. An innocuous statement of Downing’s, namely that Andy Sneap had probably a greater contribution to Priest’s Firepower album than that of just any producer – much like the late Chris Tsangarides had on Painkiller – spurred Rob Halford to insinuate that Downing had made an ill implication of Glenn Tipton not having played guitar on Priest’s last installment. Tipton in turn, who was said to have only decided not to tour three weeks prior to the tour itself, appointed Sneap as his replacement without room for negotiating alternatives.

Judas Priest on their Firepower tour

Judas Priest on their Firepower tour

Many hints on the part of the band, aimed at Downing, were thrown in the media in the following months, suggesting that he had departed on his own accord and shouldn’t expect to be asked back (despite that Rob Halford had also once left), with some of them targetting K.K.’s reputation while also implicating the fans, as in: “Fans won’t miss KK Downing, since we have Richie Faulkner who brought new energy”. To the latter, KK responded that he had been the one most energetic on the British Steel 30th Anniversary tour, where namely, in October 2009, he made his final appearance on stage. We’d like to add to that K.K.’s unique style and cordial personality which couldn’t be replaced and which makes an artist, rather than just meticulous technicality.

K.K. Downing at Bloodstock Festival

K.K. Downing at Bloodstock Festival

Furthermore, in his book “Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest” which came out in September 2018, K.K., while remaining gentlemanly, made it clear he had reasons to have departed, involving decrease in the quality of performance, questionable management, and not least the personality of Glenn Tipton who, through “subtle control” in the words of K.K., sidelined him creatively and in terms of decision-making for the band. K.K.’s protests were fully ignored, he said, and the band had been run as a dictatorship instead of democracy, thence leaving him no choice.

For the fans of Judas Priest, the 2018-19 Firepower tour has been excessively emotional primarily due to the partial involvement of Glenn Tipton who still played some encores on chosen shows. We were made witness to his passion and attachment to the stage. His last appearance was on the 3rd of May, when his efforts seemed poignant.

K.K. Downing with Ross The Boss

K.K. Downing with Ross The Boss

The next step for Priest was the announcement of a 50th-anniversary concert (respectively tour), which everyone would have assumed should involve Downing (and why not other past members, such as drummer Les Binks of Stained Class fame). To our dismay, however, it seems to have been suggested that Sneap would continue “flying the flag” as replacement in Judas Priest, while K.K. intimated Priest’s lawyers had been sending him letters, “trying to erradicate the last speck of me” – this all leaving us to anticipate a golden wedding with a new girlfriend, while trying to divorce one’s wife.

Whatever’s going on behind the scenes in Priest, seems to stem from the realms of the irrational. Some fans hold it against Downing that he made bad business decisions in his life (as if this has any relevance to pure artistry), while business-savvy Priest have it together – but what business plan involves the promotion of a 50th-anniversary tour with only two original members (Tipton still being featured on the poster without promise of participating), a third one eager to play?

K.K. Downing with Ross The Boss Band

K.K. Downing with Ross The Boss Band

Speaking of playing, K.K. was artistically unambiguous on the 11th of August at Bloodstock, where he joined Ross The Boss (Ross Friedman, formerly of Manowar) and his band – this peer of Downing’s had his heart in bringing disheartened K.K. back: “I don’t know anything about what went down between K.K. and the band and I hope one day it could be solved matter. Fact it’s my ulterior motive to bring K.K Downing out and get him playing again and maybe back to where he belongs in Judas Priest. (…) I would love to put some good vibes out there to him and so maybe there would be a chance that something could happen and I think the fans would love it.” (themetalvoice.com)

K.K. Downing with Ross The Boss Band

K.K. Downing with Ross The Boss Band

K.K. emerged to show us what it’s all about. Youthful and dynamic, an eternal kid at heart, he executed with his poise of a “precision musician” as he describes himself, with distinction and ease, but also barely concealing his excitement and vivaciousness.

However dysfunctional the characters in the band might have been, they seemed to work together splendidly in the name of rock’n’roll – anything can be forgiven but the loss of spark and an air of toxicity, detrimental to music itself.

Throughout the clashes with his band (of which we can’t bring ourselves to say “former”) and the negative portrayal in the media, Downing has remained positive and keeps extending his will for dialogue (unfortunally met with a brick wall so far). The result on stage is the ingredient essential to music – groove.

Promotional poster for Judas Priest headlining the 2020 Wacken Festival

Promotional poster for Judas Priest headlining the 2020 Wacken Festival

Priest have been ill-advised to try and divide their fans, claiming whatever part of their unfortunately dwindling audience. Isn’t this in stark contrast with one of their anthems, United?

K.K.Downing is improvisation and freedom, a gale cutting the air to not let it stale. We need that back in Judas Priest, where the star of Rob Halford shines ever brightly.

In his latest interview following the performance at Bloodstock, a cheerful Downing leaves us resolutely hopeful: “Maybe this would be the first of many things… when bands get together, perform together…”

But “it is what it is”, K.K. always concludes, and in whatever way, we hope he Heads Out To The Highway without looking back, granting us his consistent lively presence on stage.

Ross The Boss with K.K. Downing performing Judas Priest classics: Green Manalishi (Fleetwood Mac cover), Heading Out To The Highway, Breaking The Law, and Running Wild:

The publication prepared by Beyond The Black

JUDAS PRIEST’s Heavy Duty: Clash of the Metal Gods

An attempt to navigate their recent turbulence while flying the flag for Glenn Tipton

“There’s good and bad news about TWISTED SISTER”, said Dee Snider prior to their retirement, “we look like aging drag queens, but we’ve always looked like that”.
To everyone’s dismay, the golden years of glamorous metal titans from the other side of the pond, JUDAS PRIEST, could currently benefit from such tedium.

Judas Priest

What should be a whole separate article, this drama is underscored by the somber fact of Glenn Tipton’s progressively deteriorating condition.
It would appear he’s been living with Parkinson’s for at least ten years, while carrying on his heavy duties like a hero. In his candid soft-spoken manner, Glenn crushed us with: “Guys, my brain is telling my hands to do something and they’re not doing it”, while demonstrating genuinely upbeat humour – a relief for those who love him and inspiration to others. (Full interview at Guitar World)

Judas Priest

Judas Priest, London, Hammersmith Apollo, 26 May 2012; Photo by Diana Chavdarova

Judas Priest

Judas Priest, Utrecht, TivoliVredenburg, 14 June 2015; Photo by Diana Chavdarova

Considering Glenn Tipton the anchor of JUDAS PRIEST, I’ve stumbled across opinions that “Glenn is extremely underrated in rock’n’roll, metal, and music entirely”, which cannot be more puzzling.
Rooted in blues, his clarity of phrase exudes almost fragile vividness, and culminates in the immersive ecstasy of this string-caressing sensuous master. He combines traditional blues modes and classical ones with the blend of precision and unrelenting expressiveness that came to characterise the band. In later years his tone eased out, while assuming a deeper, more demure form.
It must also be noted that Glenn has always interacted with the audience as naturally as the heavyweights of blues, yet so intensely, his gaze seemed intent on stopping our heart.
“This isn’t just JUDAS PRIEST”, he said, “It’s an event in which we’re together, and nothing in the world can compare.”

An immediate answer might be that the ferocity of KK Downing, his tonal sharpness and apt improvisation, merged with Halford’s insane crescendos, epitomised Metal to the PRIEST fan.

Equally understandable was KK Downing’s astonishment, conveyed in late February, that he wasn’t considered Glenn’s replacement for the upcoming tour.
As a consequence, this eloquent gentleman and founding member had to suffer what seem ill-accusations and attempts to diminish his legacy.
During a radio interview, Rob Halford all but erupted, deeming KK’s emotive publication “superfluous” and “insinuative”.
If anything became clear to the audience, it was how deep tension ran between Halford and Downing, whatever the reason. KK followed up with a brief clarification, dispersing a possibility of being misinterpreted.

It should be allowed that KK Downing could have approached the band privately. The band has been in denial, however, for ignoring the obvious option of Downing assuming his original role, in lieu of Tipton. Fans needn’t be made aware of PRIEST’s dealings, but they ought to have been considered while making such a crucial decision.

Members of the band proceeded to release statement upon statement of how surprised they were that KK would fathom the possibility of his return, culminating in: “We lacked energy towards the end of KK’s era” – precisely why KK said he left.

We have Downing’s autobiography coming up in September:

Judas Priest's Heavy Duty

“As the band approaches its golden anniversary, fans will at last be able to delve backstage into the decades of shocking, hilarious, and haunting stories that surround the heavy metal institution. In ‘Heavy Duty’, guitarist KK Downing discusses the complex personality conflicts, the business screw-ups, the acrimonious relationship with fellow Heavy Metal band IRON MAIDEN, as well as how JUDAS PRIEST found itself at the epicenter of a storm of parental outrage that targeted heavy metal in the ’80s. He also describes his role in cementing the band’s trademark black leather and studs image that would not only become synonymous with the entire genre, but would also give singer Rob Halford a viable outlet by which to express his sexuality. Lastly, he recounts the life-changing moment when he looked at his bandmates on stage during a 2010 concert and thought, ‘This is the last show.’ Whatever the topic, whoever’s involved, K.K. doesn’t hold back.” (Pre-order link)

The argument that KK had quit, and his return was unthinkable, does not hold water not only due to the drastic change of circumstances following Tipton’s withdrawal, but because a similar situation had occurred before:

Halford in 1998:
“I would never do it” (referring to a PRIEST reunion), “I’m not just saying that now and five years from now I’m gonna be on stage with PRIEST again. I value my personal creativity and my integrity more than a few dollars in the bank. It’s never the same the second time around, especially when there’s something more attached to it than the music. Reunions smack of big dollars, instead of people feeling that they want to go out and play music together.” (Read full interview)

Halford sounds slightly more unwavering there, than Downing more recently:
“I think today I’m a better player than I was yesterday or five years ago when I left the band, because I’ve had a chance to relax a little bit and take in and absorb stuff that I’ve learned and practiced, as opposed to learning something and zipping off somewhere and having to do this, that and the other.” (Full interview)

KK’s move seems logical in light of Glenn’s illness, of which he must have been somewhat aware: “I wasn’t happy with the band’s live performance. I thought it could have been better, not that the fans would notice. To me, Priest was always a stealth machine and that’s what I liked about it.”

The new PRIEST record, Firepower, is accepted shockingly well, with superlatives like “better than Painkiller” or “as good as Defenders”. To me it’s unfortunate evidence – JUDAS PRIEST have arrived at the house of IRON MAIDEN, with perhaps MANOWAR, ACCEPT and some METALLICA, roofed by solo HALFORD, and sprayed with SABBATH, PURPLE, and more 70s and 80s gloss. It spells safe and archaic, and leaves me wondering whether I’d have enjoyed it in 86.
There’s “everything” in this record, which explains its wide appeal. It’s almost a contemporary pop-formula: remotely catchy tunes one cannot quite put their finger on, alas nothing original or infectious. The tune Flamethrower at least is sexy, with a twist reminiscent of the successful HALFORD solo efforts.
Here again, I tend to advocate KK Downing for leaving after the magnificent Nostradamus.

Judas Priest - Firepower

Judas Priest – Firepower

A reason for the accolades of Firepower might have been given in that same 1998 Halford interview, strikingly relevant today:

“What’s going on with this whole “Metal Nostalgia” movement right now? RATT [mid-’80s Glam Metal band] and TWISTED SISTER are touring again, the KISS reunion, the VAN HALEN debacle; JUDAS PRIEST has a new disc out…

Rob Halford of TWO:
It’s a human necessity; it’s affection. You establish yourself as something that you look back on as you move forward. You think of a moment in your life when you felt right and you identify with that moment. You want to keep that moment living inside you emotionally. And the best way to do that is to have the thing happening in front of you on a stage or on a record.”

The recent PRIEST tour is going well, with HALFORD having been rejuvenating almost as much as Glenn had been declining in the past ten years (said with affection and sadness). When I saw PRIEST in 2008, I thought that was the end of them with Rob’s less than stellar form; today, his melody is overflowing, having attained the solidity and scope he perhaps always sought. He reportedly sees no reason why PRIEST should retire anytime soon.

Halford is an icon and vocal phenomenon who should by no means leave the spotlight; it’s difficult however to swallow PRIEST without the duel of Tipton’s and Downing’s complementing each other axes, let alone neither of them being present.

Throughout the years, Halford has expressed desire for artistic freedom, ranging from a dance record to black metal, and, most recently, a collaboration with Toni Iommi – which should work out splendidly, judging by how Halford fronted SABBATH. Doom, the blues of metal, might suit him fine in his maturity.
Should he fly on the flag of PRIEST, however, reconciling with Downing is necessary.
It’s that unrelenting zest of KK Downing that PRIEST needs now to sharpen their blade, with Rob still on form.

After all, this is the band who molded “Heavy Metal”, and who epitomise and symbolise the genre – as concurred by the musician perhaps most influenced by BLACK SABBATH, Tom G “Warrior”:

“JUDAS PRIEST – Stained Class
An album that shaped my understanding of Heavy Metal – I actually purchased it when it came out. I had seen pictures of JUDAS PRIEST, but I hadn’t actually heard any music. I’d read they were a fantastic band but I didn’t really know what I was in for. Then I put on Stained Class and what I heard was a completely unknown brand of surgically precise modern metal – there was no other band that had this absolute metal style. That was really the invention of metal, even though of course BLACK SABBATH were before, but PRIEST really reinvented themselves with Stained Class, and they also reinvented the entire genre of Heavy Rock – this album was a true revelation. I remember very distinctly when I listened to it in 1978 I actually had to get used to it first. It was almost too modern for me at that age. As fantastic as the early albums are as well, on Stained Class they had this inexplicable groove – they had a really distinctive style of writing songs, and they were so precise.”

Here’s the allure of JUDAS PRIEST: beyond the gleaming surface of being surgically sharp, there’s the underscore:

“We don’t play it clean”.

There’s the insatiability of rock, amplified. The grit, the hint of grotesque, the encompassing lust… the vow of being alive. PRIEST are the trailblazing abstract expressionists of Metal, except that music can never be abstract. As the lines of Rothko go in the play “Red” by John Logan:

“HOW ARE YOU?!… HOW WAS YOUR DAY?!… HOW ARE YOU FEELING? Conflicted. Nuanced. Troubled. Diseased. Doomed. I am not fine. We are not fine. We are anything but fine… Look at these pictures. Look at them! You see the dark rectangle, like a doorway, an aperture, yes but it’s also a gaping mouth letting out a silent howl of something feral and foul and primal and REAL. Not nice. Not fine. Real. A moan of rapture. Something divine or damned. Something immortal, not comic books or soup cans, something beyond me and beyond now. And whatever it is, it’s not pretty and it’s not fine… I AM HERE TO STOP YOUR HEART‬!”

We’ll see JUDAS PRIEST on European soil this summer, following their US tour.
We place our hopes in yet another meeting with Glenn, to whom we extend our fervent well-wishes.

Diana Chavdarova

Judas Priest