KK’s Priest – The Steel Mill. It was on a previous evening at this very venue when three former members of the mighty Priest got together with Dave Ellefson and AJ Mills to perform a mixed set of Priest Classics and rarely-played gems in front of a sold-out crowd that an idea germinated. I still recall the beaming smiles on the stage that night.
KK’s Steel Mill, Wolverhampton – 6 July 2023
Words: Sophie James
Photography: John Inglis
As the late great Malcolm Dome went on record directly after that appearance, “I was expecting it to be good, but not that good!”
Fast forward to the present, with one album (Sermon Of The Sinners) that transports us back to the glory days already under their belts, its follow-up is due imminently (new single already out), and an autumn tour has been announced. This, then, was a very eagerly anticipated gig, where else, but on ‘home’ turf.
With all the partitions removed in this most adaptable of venues, one was immediately taken aback by the vastness of the space, one that will soon be filled to the brim with Metalheads eagerly awaiting the return to live performance of one of their heroes on the World Debut gig of this exciting new project.
Even before the intro VT rolled on the giant screen, the size of the production was of arena proportions and far in excess of anything that I had previously encountered here.
As the video rolled and the shadowy narrator spelt out his warning, one line resonated. “This is KK’s Priest”. While the intro continued, the expectation of the hordes was now at fever pitch as the man – and the band – were mere moments away.
As Maximus Decimus Meridius famously said, “At My Signal, Unleash Hell.” The stage exploded into life in a bombardment of Pyro, Sparks and Smoke as rapid-fire opener Hellfire Thunderbolt blasted from the PA.
The new single, One More Shot At Glory, followed. If you haven’t already heard it, then this is classic Priest with all the elements that endeared them to legions of Metalheads over the years. The melodies, the guitar harmonies, the screams and the relentless thundering drums all perfectly mixed and roaring.
“I have a question for you. What’s My Name? What’s My Name?” No surprise on what was coming next as they made their initial foray into that extensive back catalogue for The Ripper.
I always thought the song was the perfect piece of murderous musical melodrama, invoking images of those foggy bygone London streets laced with fear. One didn’t have to try too hard this evening as those scenes were projected in magnificent technicolour across the main and auxiliary screens.
“You are the very first show for KK’s Priest, and you are the very first people to hear another track of our new album, The Sinner Rides Again.
Reap The Whirlwind was signature Priest Speed Metal with those trademark shrieks and relentless pounding drums. One must wonder what the Step Count must be on Sean Elg’s Fitbit after a workout like this. Not far behind him, for that matter, was bassist Tony Newton who was practically covering every inch of the stage.
Night Crawler saw the first of three excursions into the flawless Painkiller album, a particular favourite, I have to admit. Its opening chords prompted a huge cheer from the packed crowd. Some of those who were at Reef the previous Friday may well have heard this being rehearsed in The Little Room.
“Time to go to our first album, and here’s the title track.” Sermon Of The Sinner is an epic worthy of that accolade, and here it is projected in all its majesty.
The ominous chords of the intro tape are further accentuated by Tony’s menacing bass as Burn In Hell (from Ripper era Priest) escapes its shackles, and the stage is bathed in an infernal scarlet. “I’m still laughing,” snarls Ripper as Sean’s drums come crashing in.
Now the classics and epics start to roll with Beyond The Realms of Death. AJ’s solo was just sublime, and the crowd showed their appreciation.
Hell Patrol is, IMHO, a hugely underrated number from Painkiller, coming as it does immediately after the vicious title track and a welcome inclusion in the evening’s set.
Continuing the ‘highway theme’, the mid-paced anthemic Brothers Of The Road is delivered with the efficiency of a two-stroke, its sentiments resonating with the masses. There sure is a lot of love in the room this evening.
Obviously, the band must hold the Painkiller album dear to their hearts, and the final representative was Metal Meltdown. A joyous, celebratory rendition. The BPM on this was just insane.
Priest’s take on The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) always struck me like a machine starting up, and tonight was no different. Such was the appeal of the mass Wooaaah-ohh-ohh-ohhs, the crowd’s participation was more akin to that of a football crowd.
When impassioned fans have those hypothetical discussions over a pint or ten regarding the ‘Greatest Riff Meisters’, the usual luminaries such as Blackmore, Page, May and Young, et al immediately spring to mind, but one pair that is often overlooked on such a level are Tipton and Downing. Is there a better, more instant, pleasing and addictive riff than Breaking The Law? Two and a half minutes or so of steely ecstasy.
What better way to close the main set than with Victim Of Changes? Another case for including in the hypothetical Greatest Riffs of All Time category? Absolutely!
The crushing riff was resplendent, and time for KK himself to take the spotlight on that first solo. And as for that final scream from Ripper…WOW! How does one even begin to sing like that?
The only mild disappointment of the evening came during the encore or, more specifically, the brevity of it. Returning to the debut album for Raise Your Fists while a rip-roaring number in its position, it failed to capitalise on the glorious reimaginings of what had gone before. As they departed, the crowd were left somewhat bemused and comparatively deflated, considering what had gone before.
Understandably, wishing to create their own identity, the original Metal Through and Through combined with either Living After Midnight or You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’ would have cemented a triumphant finale.
That aside, this was a consummate demonstration, not to mention a celebration of all things that are glorious about Priest and Heavy Metal in general.
A casual observer would never have deduced that this was the live debut of this band. They played, not to mention gelled, like the seasoned professionals that they are. It goes without saying about the talent, range and power of Ripper. In AJ Mills, KK has found the perfect foil, as is vital to recreate arguably the best guitar duo of all time.
As for the rhythm section of Tony Newton and Sean Elg, they propelled things along with such vigour that they were as vital and dynamic a part of the whole sound as the vocals and guitar.
Sadly no Sentinel Parts I or II, but that would be like a musical equivalent of a lottery win.
As I mentioned earlier, with one Sinner out and another being unveiled very soon, this is a band that is not resting on the laurels of its founder but is a creative, vibrant, not to mention pulverising force, forging new chapters on their own terms.
An event and an evening that will live forever. As they now unleash this feast on the wider world, be aware that “The Priest is Back” and Malcolm’s words resonate still further.