The old ways are strong again.
In the metal realm, it is quite common for the fracturing of old allegiances to forge new ones, though the notion of one of the founding father outfits of the genre having one of its members construct a colossal tower to rival the current exploits of said metal institution is rare.
This is the eventuality that former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing brought to the table four years ago when he formed his own spinoff project dubbed KK’s Priest with ex-Priest cohorts Tim “Ripper” Owens and Les Binks in tow, though sadly the latter would have to leave prior to recording any material due to health concerns.
The eventual 2021 debut “Sermons Of The Sinner” proved a boon for all suffering under the isolation and drabness of the Covid-19 lockdowns, and also saw K.K. and company rekindling the classic Judas Priest sound in a somewhat more conservative fashion compared to said band’s latest and 2018 powerhouse entry “Firepower”, by presenting a sort of road not taken scenario where Owen’s vocals met with a sonic template more akin to the one that typified the early to mid-80s approach of “Screaming For Vengeance” and “Defenders Of The Faith”.
True to form, this quintet’s second studio stint dubbed “The Sinner Rides Again,” an apt tribute to one of Priest’s seminal opuses to be sure, further tightens the few loose ends that dogged the debut and presents a truly formidable collection of old school heavy metal thunder with a modern coat of paint. The dueling guitar assault laid down by K.K. and fellow shred extraordinaire A.J. Mills rivals the frenetic character that often came with the more explosive entries of “Painkiller”, while the riff work encompassed both the harmonically rich components of the early 80s and the biting, almost thrash-like quality of the tail-end of said decade.
Combined with a furious battery out of drummer Sean Elg and a steady yet harrowing bass presence courtesy of Tony Newton, the wall of sound that is erected is unmistakably modern and could stand as any one of a number of recent outings with Owens’ vocals at the helm, though becoming something far more distinctive when blended with that classic, old school Priest approach to songwriting. Likewise, Owen’s vocals come packed full of that same level of grit, edge and kinetic fire that he’s been bringing to the table ever since his early days with Winter’s Bane, to the point where one has to question if the man every truly ages.
Those who have been craving more of that high octane, all speed and no compromises approach to heavy metal that was on full display via “Firepower“ and don’t want to wait a few more years for an eventual sequel will find plenty to satiate their hunger here. Fast paced thrill rides like the opening foray “Sons Of The Sentinel” and “Reap The Whirlwind” push the pedal to the metal with reckless abandon, all the while sporting a classic, late 70s to early 80s inspired riffing assault that has been injected with a nastily distorted gloss that makes every note hit as hard for a 2023 audience as “Sin After Sin” did back in 1977.
The guitar soloing is notably cleaner and more precise relative to what graced much of “Sermons Of The Sinner“, but often leans towards the more chaotic side of classic heavy metal shred, chock full of rapid fire licks and frequent whammy bar noise. Darker speed anthems like the notably concise crusher “Strike Of The Viper” and the more elaborate banger “Pledge Your Souls” go a bit heavier and see Ripper’s pipes get a bit dirtier, becoming a bit more reminiscent of the modern nods to the Priest formula normally heard out of the likes of Primal Fear, though are not still mindful to throw in the obligatory hooks and melodic guitar glory that gives this style its triumphant air.
Though there is no shortage of high impact mayhem to be found here, what truly sells this album and puts it in territory that is a cut above the rest is the masterful songwriting and execution of ideas that permeates nearly every moment of it. The promotional single and ultra-catchy entry “One More Shot At Glory” has all the makings of a modern heavy metal classic, mixing an infectious to the point of iconic chorus hook with a series of telegraphed twists and turns the marries Priest’s swifter elements with those occasionally epic moments, complete with an auspicious bass intro and generally animated overall performance out of Newton and a tasteful blend of keyboards to further augment an already massive sound.
By contrast, the grim atmosphere established on the semi-ballad entry “Keeper Of The Graves” all but transports the listener back to the haunting realm of 80s heavy metal atmosphere building meshed with punchy metallic power. One would also be remiss not to take note of the harrowing journey from a serene clean guitar intro to a biting, mid-paced thrasher of a beast that is the title entry “The Sinner Rides Again”. There are just no real weak links to be found in this newly formed metallic chain at any point of its 40 minute run.
This doesn’t quite get to the point of outclassing the pummeling brilliance that was Judas Priest’s “Firepower”, but it can definitely stand toe to toe with it, and also arguably presents the first truly great showing by an arguable incarnation of Judas Priest with Owens at the helm. While it is fairly short in duration and opts to keep things more on the compact side in terms of songwriting, there are a lot of layers to the album that will make it a compelling listen even after the early euphoria it is sure to bring the first few times through wears off.
Much like the rest of the original membership that made Judas Priest the name that it has been and helped to pioneer the heavy metal style, K.K. is an artist that has no shortage of staying power, and with further refinement his version of the Priest sound could potentially surpass the outfit still holding the original moniker. Those who originally fell in love with the sonic barrage of “Defenders Of The Faith” and newer trustees of the traditional heavy metal art form alike, will not want to miss this one.
Released By: Napalm Records
Release Date: September 29th, 2023
Genre: Heavy Metal
- Tim “Ripper” Owens / Lead vocals
- K.K. Downing / Guitars
- A.J. Mills / Guitar
- ITony Newton / Bass
- Sean Elg / Drums
“The Sinner Rides Again” Track-Listing:
- Sons Of The Sentinel
- Strike Of The Viper
- Reap The Whirlwind
- One More Shot At Glory
- Hymn 66
- The Sinner Rides Again
- Keeper Of The Graves
- Pledge Your Souls
- Wash Away Your Sins
Order “The Sinner Rides Again” HERE.
Firing on all metallic cylinders and proving to be a bit more prolific than his former band mates, K.K. Downing and his flock of professional sonic slayers have unleashed a sophomore volley of explosive anthems reminiscent of the glory days of heavy metal