Live Review: KK’s Priest – Manchester

Live Review: KK's Priest - O2 Ritz, Manchester
11th October 2023
Support: Paul Di'Anno, Burning Witches
Words: Dan Barnes
Photos: Scott Clarke

It’s a bit like turning the clock back to the 1980 British Steel tour, when a Di’Anno-fronted Iron Maiden supported a Downing-featuring Judas Priest. Yet plenty of water has flowed under the proverbial since those days and the Priests, Killers and Witches tour make its stop in Manchester on a rainy Wednesday evening.

The stage at the Ritz isn’t the biggest platform in town and much of the floor space is taken up by Priest’s drum riser set-up. To their credit, Swiss band, Burning Witches are afforded little space but make us of what they have by being flanked with artwork associates with their new record, this years’ The Dark Tower. When you’ve been tasked with opening such a momentous show the only real option is to take the bull by the horns and try to beat the Priest and the Killer at their own game.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

That’s precisely what the five ladies of Burning Witches did by serving up a five-song starter of blistering heavy metal; no longer can it be debated – if ever it was – that the ability to ROCK!!! is manifest in the Y-chromosome. Fat bass drums and howling guitars set the scene for the evening as vocalist, Laura Guldemond screams her way through a selection of the band’s back catalogue. We Stand As One is a bit Manowar in style at times and featuring all of the excesses of the genre; The Dark Tower slows things down a scootch and is bleaker in its tone, whereas the band’s signature self-titled song is right out of the Doro playbook, fully of chantable lines and driving beats. I’ll go so far as to say Burning Witches would go down a storm at Catton Park, being the meat and drink of what Bloodstock is built upon.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

There’s a palpable feeling that redemption starts here for Paul Di’Anno and that the misfortune surrounding the former Maiden lead singer – some self-inflicted, some not – should be put away and he be celebrated for his contribution to musical history. Confined to a wheelchair, Paul is pushed up a ramp at the side of the stage as The Ides of March plays over the PA. Not an auspicious start to the set, but what follows is sheer class from the big man and his band.

On such a night why wouldn’t his set be wall to wall Maiden classics? And as Ides… fades, so begins Wrathchild. Paul’s band is note and tone perfect and he returns the tune to its punk roots. In fact, this is what he does to all nine of the songs on offer, making no bones about doing it and not apologising either. Sanctuary follows, with the Ritz singing back every word, though Paul is in such fine voice tonight that it feels wrong not to listen to his performance.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

He's an affable Cockney chap and can’t resist a friendly gibe at Manchester’s precipitous climate, offing that there should be a sign at the city limits proclaiming “Manchester: Raining since 1543.” He has a tongue-in-cheek dig at the football teams on his way to a fast and furious Purgatory; the power he realises from a seated position during Remember Tomorrow is staggering as is the fierce performance of Killers.

Never thought I’d get to hear the likes of Murders in the Rue Morgue or Phantom of the Opera live, but the renditions aired tonight added even more weight to the album versions. The set ended with Running Free and Paul was wheeled off stage with the hope of a speedy recovery and seeing him on his feet again soon. As I say, a redemptive moment.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

Brobdingnagian drum risers aside, KK’s Priest have their work cut out following Mr Di’Anno but KK and co have the whole of the Judas Priest canon in their arsenal, as well as a couple of albums worth of newbies. I missed the middle part of the Bloodstock performance in August due to other commitments with bHP that day, but tonight they have my undivided attention and manage to blow the roof off the Ritz.

Introduced by a digital character from the Sermons of the Sinner album, the band kick straight into Hellfire Thunderbolt and One More Shot at Glory from the first two KK records. Both are big, bombastic tunes that play right into Ripper’s vocal talents and Mr Downing’s guitar excesses.

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

“What’s my name?” he asks as an intro to the first of the Judas Priest songs for tonight, The Ripper, which still holds up while maintaining the distinctive sound of the Sad Wings of Destiny record from whence it came. Only Reap the Whirlwind, Sermons of the Sinner and Brothers of the Road appear in the main set from the KK’s Priest records; the latter of which comes over a little lighters-in-the-air power ballady following Painkiller’s Hell Patrol.

The Judas Priest numbers are picked to give maximum fury and speed, lining up the likes of Night Crawler, Metal Meltdown and Victim of Changes. We get Burn in Hell from the first Ripper-fronted record, Jugulator, and it would have been nice to hear one or two more from it or Demolition, but that might have meant there wasn’t time for a magnificent Beyond the Realms of Death or a stomping The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Prong Crown).

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

The huge video screen at the back of the stage displays images throughout the performance: sometimes primeval magma flows, sometimes graphics representing the underworld in a PS/2 manner. For Breaking the Law, we get a Union Flag in all its glory, and a singalong that would stir the hearts of every Metal fan in Christendom.

KK and Ripper are joined by lookalike guitarist, AJ Mills, who is given a leading role at times as Mr Downing is content to play rhythm; Tony Newton and Sean Elg lock it down on the bass and drums respectively and bring it all home with the encore of Rise Your Fists and Strike of the Viper.

An evening of great British (and some Swiss) classic Heavy Metal, delivered by some of the main players and founders of the scene. In the cold light of the following day, you wonder to yourself: Did I just see that? You did. And it was good!

Photo Credit: Scott Clarke Photography

All photo credits: Scott Clarke Photography

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