Half of Judas Priest’s legendary guitar duo, KK Downing left the iconic, groundbreaking band in 2011 a few years after releasing the underrated Nostradamus (2008). And after sulking for about a decade he decided to show the world he’s moved on exactly zero bits and put together KK’s Priest to go back to the roots while stroking his own ego, resulting in Sermons of the Sinner; 50 minutes worth of Priest-isms. Such as it is, Sermons of the Sinner ends up a fine album, if not exceptional. Built mainly on your average heavy metal leaning on hard rock, it kind of lacks the charm and electric presence of Glenn Tipton we know Downing’s own past as well as the charismatic bombast of Judas Priest’s last album. There are definitely moments that make you wonder why the hell Downing isn’t in the main act any more. Downing himself of course maintains a central role, and he does certainly pull a few stunts that make you nod along and, but it is AJ Mills (Hostile) who carries the heavy load in the guitars department.
The riffs are tight and Priest-ly, as expected, but they never really feel exceptional – maybe with the exception of that Electric Eye like blast opening up Hellfire Thunderbolt.The best thing Downing did was recruit Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens. Not only does it feel right given the history involved - giving Sermons of the Sinner somewhat of a successor to Demolition (2001) feel - but also Ripper’s vocals have taken on a maturity that go incredibly well with the rooted heavy metal presented here, with less of the ‘90s groove inspired weightiness to go around. He gets to let those high notes loose on the title track, which tries to evoke a Painkiller feel. It kinda lacks the punch and power, though the guitars are some of the best on the album. Legendary Priest drummer Les Binks was also on board, but dropped out in favor of Sean Eig (Nihilist) laying down the drums. There are some truly bigass metal moments on here that evoke that old school, massive Priest feel while feeling sort of fresh and invigorated, but there’s also a couple of stinkers and misguided moments that fall incredibly flat. Raise Your Fists is an ode to arena metal while Brothers of the Road tries to hearken back to the biker imagery but the attempted hard rock stompers meander aimlessly and without any passion.
As if the “I was in Judas Priest” message wasn’t hammered in hard enough, the album closes on Return of the Sentinel, a sequel of sorts to one of Priest’s biggest hits (and of the all time heavy metal anthems) The Sentinel (from Defenders of the Faith (1984)). Ultimately it falls flat, lacking the charm and atmosphere, ending on an overlong acoustic outro. No, the biggest numbers come in the form of Hellfire Thunderbolt opening with a punch of lightning and Sacerdote Y Diablo (cheesy though it is) with its thunderous drums and slithering bass groove. Hail for the Priest coming in near the end and tossing in fleshy riffing and massive atmosphere (seriously, this one is so much closer to The Sentinel), something which the rest of the album sorely lacks but tries to accomplish. Sermons of the Sinner is a perfectly enjoyable album, but given the history its name tries to invoke it falls short. Even with the subpar middle section dragging the score down a notch, it isn’t a bad album by any stretch, but there is also no way a group of newbies could pull this and get away with the publicity and the publicity that KK’s Priest is getting, and there’s really no way this outfit could ever strike down the real Metal Gods.
Standout tracks: Hellfire Thunderbolt, Sacerdote Y Diablo, Hail for the Priest