Review: KK’s Priest/Di’Anno/Burning Witches – SWG3, Glasgow

If used complementary, the phrase “old school” is worn like a badge of honour. For instance, in mob movies, the “old-school” usually thinks they’re better than the younger criminals. In the realms of modern Metal, and the countless offshoots of the genre (which at times becomes pretty damn confusing) “old-school” is the equivalent of Nigel Planer as Den in 1983’s cult-classic TV show ‘Comic Strip Presents Bad News’ pulling the van over to the side of the road – after a 90-minute argument about genres – storming out, and declaring…“I’m not going any further until I hear Alan say that we’re Heavy Metal.” And that’s exactly what the current ‘Priests, Killers & Witches ‘ UK tour offers: an evening of old-school Heavy Metal. Or in this case: HEAVY METAL, all caps. And it sure feels good to step into that time machine and roll back the years to when – as clichéd as it sounds – music was simpler: it was either all-encompassing Heavy Metal or it was not.

As for the tour title itself; “Priests” equates to headliners KK’s Priest, “Killers” to Di’Anno, and “Witches” are none other than Napalm Records signing Burning Witches. And they all play Heavy Metal the way that the Gods of Metal intended it to be played: LOUD.

The addition of Dutch singer Laura Guldemond, and American guitarist Courtney Cox (from The Iron Maidens) means that the Swiss-based Burning Witches are now truly a multinational outfit, and with a work rate to put most to shame the band are touring in support of their excellent new album ‘The Dark Tower’; their first for Napalm Records. And they are not hanging around. They have a job to do and after successfully navigating the assault course of equipment set up at the front of the stage (including old-school fabric gothic castles on either side) they set off at a blistering pace. So much so that after the 9-minute opening salvo of ‘Unleash The Beast’ immediately followed seamlessly by ‘Wings Of Steel’ there is some confusion in the photo pit as to whether or not the band has played 1 or 2 songs and the assembled photographers end up getting to stay in the pit for 4 songs rather than the standard 3.

With the incredible kick drum work of Lala Frischknecht and the ever-reliable bass work from Jeanine Grob powering the band forward, Burning Witches are a blur as they grab with both hands the 30-minute opportunity to impress. The interplay between Courtney Cox and fellow guitarist Romana Kalkuhl is stunning, buzzsaw riffs aplenty, with heaps of bite and multiple solos to drool over. On ‘Lucid Nightmare’, the slower, chugging riffs that are interspersed with breakneck speed, are spectacular and highlight the many classic Metal acts that influence the Witches – maybe even a hint or two of a Slayer influence in there? Laura Guldemond has the full range of vocals on display, with her high-pitched screams particularly impressive, as is her work rate. She simply never stops moving and it’s no surprise that when she disappears during the tail-end of ‘Lucid Nightmare’, she reappears in the pit and climbs the barrier to get in the faces of the front few rows. After an explosive start to the evening and with a considerable impression made, the band made their way to the merch stand to lap up some well-earned praise from a steady line of punters eager to snap up Burning Witches gear and grab the all-important selfie.

There’s no getting away from the fact that it is a shock to the system to see Paul Di’Anno being pushed onto the stage in a wheelchair. After years of ill health, former Iron Maiden vocalist Di’Anno finally underwent long-awaited knee surgery late last year, a surgery that will hopefully go a long way to alleviating the chronic pain that he must have been in. What is obviously helping right now is the huge waves of support and goodwill that greet him at every gig that he plays; “You lot are my rehab” he tells the vociferous crowd towards the end of his enthusiastically received set.

Culled from Di’Anno’s two albums with Maiden: 1980’s groundbreaking self-titled debut, and the immediate follow-up ‘Killers’, the setlist is full of early Iron Maiden classics, many of which the only way to hear them live is by catching an Iron Maiden tribute act, or by going directly to the source: Mr. Paul Andrews AKA Paul Di’Anno. When was the last time that Iron Maiden casually dropped ‘Sanctuary’ into the set? Or ‘Remember Tomorrow’? How about ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’? – all are despatched with ease tonight for Di’Anno has surrounded himself with some decent players (including a bassist that has all the Steve Harris signature moves down to a T). As for the man himself, the voice is in great shape and he is on top form banter-wise (wisely “not going there” when the local football teams become a discussion point during an enforced break in proceedings due to an issue with the drums). The high notes on ‘Remember Tomorrow’ are reached for, and found, although because of the issue with the drums, he has to drop a song from the set and after asking the crowd if they would rather hear the instrumental ‘Transylvania’ or the full-on majesty of ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ the crowd responds in kind with throaty roars for the latter; to which Di’Anno jokes “Fuck, no rest for me then!” Only one song could end the evening and that is of course ‘Running Free’, the perfect song to end an emotional set that had the faces of the crowd hurting from smiling so much. There is a limited edition Di’Anno t-shirt for sale to help pay for the long recovery that Paul Di’Anno faces, stop by the merch stand and check it out.

To Heavy Metal fans, he has had many nicknames over the years: The Leather Messiah, Metal God, and Blonde Bombshell being just a few. But Kenneth Keith Downing Jr will always be known as K. K. Downing – one-half of the ultimate Heavy Metal guitar duo, and a genuine trailblazer; how many Metal guitarists today owe a debt of gratitude to K. K. Downing and his former guitar partner in Judas Priest, Glenn Tipton? It’s immeasurable. Thin Lizzy had the dual melodic guitars, but Priest had the venom, they had the bite, they had Tipton, and they had K. K. Downing. And in line with the opening act Burning Witches and special guests Di’Anno, the headliners play Heavy Metal and boy do they play it well.

K. K. Downing and Tim “Ripper” Owens were always destined to work together again after Rob Halford returned to Judas Priest and Owens had to step aside. The two albums that Priest recorded with Owens during the Ripper era (1997’s ‘Jugulator’, and 2001’s ‘Demolition’) produced some fiery moments, of which ‘Burn In Hell’ is the only one aired tonight (‘Hell Is Home’ sadly missing from the setlist). Instead, the well-paced 16-song setlist is made up of a mixture of Halford-era Priest classics and deep-cuts – the ‘Painkiller’ album is well-represented – and original material from the current Downing/Owens vehicle KK’s Priest. Something for everyone really, and with the strength of the original material, it means that the evening is not simply all about nostalgia.

Production-wise, this is a big show. Great lights, a stage set in two tiers, and a massive LED screen that alternates between old footage of Downing going full-pelt onstage and images set to the music on offer. Once the houselights dim, the screen flickers to life, and each member of the band is introduced onscreen by a gnarly, ghostly figure (animated of course) who cajoles some reaction out of the crowd; especially when K. K.’s name appears. Once the screen fades, the band takes their places and launches into the opening moments of the debut KK’s Priest album ‘Sermons of the Sinner’ in the shape of the short introduction ‘Incarnation’ followed by the bombastic ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’. The sound is immense. It’s always strong in this venue, but tonight it is crystal clear, and every scream that Owens delivers sounds as if it is coming from alongside you. No faffing about, Metal is in the air tonight, and rock-solid bassist Tony Newton is playing a blinder as the band ease into a new track; ‘One More Shot at Glory’ – the first from the cracking new album ‘The Sinner Rides Again’. The first dip into Priest territory comes with Owens asking the crowd “What’s my name?” and of course, the answer comes back with added gusto “RIPPERRRRRRRRRR!”, and the version of ‘The Ripper’ that airs is spinetingling with Owens totally nailing it.

With so much material aired from the seminal ‘Painkiller’ album, KK’s Priest drummer Sean Elg puts in one almighty shift replicating the faster, heavier parts that Priest drummer Scott Travis brought to the band on his first studio album with the Metal Gods. His playing on ‘Night Crawler’, ‘Hell Patrol’, and ‘Metal Meltdown’ is immense, as it is throughout the set, with KK’s original ‘Reap the Whirlwind’ being another memorable moment, as is the hard rock feel of ‘Brothers of the Road’ which has a gorgeous, melodious mid-section from both guitarists. Downing has a great sidekick in AJ Mills and the pair constantly combine to great effect; AJ takes the first solo on ‘Reap the Whirlwind’ with K.K. taking a step back to allow the young “Blonde Bombshell” his moment in the spotlight. As soon as Mills finishes his solo, the pair swap places and Downing effortlessly peels off some stunning guitar licks. Our photographer Dave drops a pearl of wisdom by saying “Only certain people should be allowed to play a Flying V, K.K. Downing is one, and Michael Schenker is the other…”, and yeah, that makes total sense. Two guitarists – one Metal God, one Metal God-in-training – who not only look like they came out of the womb wearing leather trousers but play as good as they look. AJ Mills is a talent to look out for in the coming years.

With the dreaded Sunday curfew looming, the band hit the thrusters for an incredible final 30 minutes or so. Beginning with the Priest-does-Mac classic ‘The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown)’, a riotous version of ‘Breaking the Law’, and a beautiful run-through of ‘Victim of Changes’ (the ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’ album cover is front and centre on the LED screen), KK’s Priest are untouchable. For the encore, and as if to say that they want to stand on their own two feet rather than relying on Priest material, they go with two originals ‘Raise Your Fists’, and ‘Strike of the Viper’, Viper especially is a total banger and a fine way to end 4 hours of high-quality, old-school HEAVY METAL. It’s okay Den, you can get back in the van now.

KK’S PRIEST w/ Paul Di’Anno & Burning Witches across the UK in October:
11.10.23 UK – Manchester / O2 Ritz
12.10.23 UK – London / O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire

KK’S PRIEST live one-offs:
02.-07.03.24 US – Monsters of Rock Cruise

Review – Dave

All live images – Dave Jamieson



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