I probably don’t need to go over K.K. Downing’s history for anybody reading this review. Chances are you know just as much as I do, although it’s worth noting that K.K.’s history with JUDAS PRIEST goes all the way back to 1969. I’m sure you also know that, with Glenn Tipton, he was part of the guitar duo that revolutionized the concept of heavy metal and set the bar for just about every other band in the genre.

It’s already been 10 years since Ken left PRIEST. I’d imagine the metal fire has been smoldering in him for most of that period. Well, now he’s got an outlet for it, bearing the rather hokey name of KK’S PRIEST. And if you’re into the faster, less complex, more headbanging side of JUDAS PRIEST, Sermons Of The Sinner is going to satisfy your craving. K.K.’s not taking many risks here and just seems content to crank out the riffing and soloing for which he’s been known. He’s brought along former PRIEST screamer Ripper Owens and other talented players along for the ride. The record sounds great…as crisp and clean as any of the great PRIEST albums of the past – and the cover and interior artwork is actually superior to PRIEST’S output. I am reminded in several ways of HALFORD’s first solo effort, Resurrection, in that it firmly re-establishes a core sound. Perhaps future albums from K.K.’s PRIEST will experiment a bit more but Sermons Of The Sinner is firmly traditional in outlook and output.

After a spoken intro, ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’ lives up to its name with a scorching fast jolt of metal, Ripper screaming his lungs out and Ken’s guitar soloing comfortingly familiar. Not quite as over the top as Halford on ‘Painkiller’, but not that far off either. Not only is K.K.’s lead work outstanding throughout the record, but his new guitar partner A.J. Mills lays down killer fretwork of his own. One of the biggest pleasures of this album is hearing the lead guitar duels on tunes like the title track, ‘Wild And Free’, and ‘Hail For the Priest’. Downing really lucked out in finding a quality player like Mills. Also notable is the very prominent and fluid bass work from Tony Newton, who helped mix and master the record.

The songs are all familiar PRIEST fodder and in fact, some parts are obviously meant as tribute to JUDAS PRIEST classics of the past. Most of the epic ‘Return Of The Sentinel’ is definitely in this vein of obvious sequel. That song ends the album on an odd note, as it fades out in a very mournful and semi-acoustic fashion, like something from the earliest days of J.P. The middle of the album sees more anthemic and “rocking” tunes like ‘Raise Your Fists’ and ‘Brothers Of The Road’ popping up. Enjoyable mid-range PRIEST cuts like ‘Rock Hard Ride Free’ and ‘Heading Out To The Highway’ come to mind.

One thing that really gets silly are the lyrics, which are right out of fifth grade. ‘Brothers Of Ohe Road’ and ‘Metal Through And Through’ are real eye-rollers and show the lyrical part of PRIEST was never K.K.’s forte. Ripper’s super high pitched vocals can sometimes be a chore…there’s no doubting the lungpower, but he still doesn’t quite have Halford’s knack of different inflections and levels of volume.

For a record to establish a foundation from which to grow, Sermons Of The Sinner works very well indeed, and it would be a pretty hard heart that wouldn’t be a bit warm and nostalgic hearing Downing work his magic once more. The album belongs in every PRIEST fan’s collection.
Review By: Dr. Abner Mality

Sermons Of The Sinner
Explorer 1 Records
4 / 6