After announcing his departure from Judas Priest before their Epitaph tour back in 2011 there was always a feeling that K.K. Downing might return to the stage one day when he felt the desire to do so. The past year has seen his Steel Mill venue in Wolverhampton’s old Starworks motor factory go from strength to strength and it now attracts some of the best rock and metal acts to the region. It’s appropriate then that it’s here where he marks his proper return to the stage (following a guest spot with Ross The Boss at Bloodstock back in August).
From the moment you walked in to the venue there was a tangible atmosphere of excitement. This was not going to be just another gig, it was going to be special. The place was absolutely packed, and not just with locals; the event had attracted people from across the globe. Norway, Brazil, Italy, Malta, Finland had all sent their finest for an assembled community to celebrate not just KK’s return, but the metal genre itself with a veritable choice of musicians playing through the evening.
First up was Blaze Bayley who put in an outstanding performance mixing select solo tracks, mostly drawn from his excellent Infinite Entanglement trilogy, with a couple of Iron Maiden classics from his tenure at the helm of the band. He’s out of the starting blocks with the bludgeoning ‘Dark Side Of Black’ with a blistering solo from long term collaborator Chris Appleton. ‘A Thousand Years’ & ‘Dark Energy 256’ follow helping to affirm that Infinite Entanglement will go down as one of Blaze’s finest pieces of work of his varied career. He doesn’t need to work hard to get the crowd participation going. They’re all with him from the off, but a couple of impassioned speeches showing his appreciation of his supporters doesn’t do any harm in encouraging the crowd further.
With Luke Appleton joining in on second guitar towards the end of the set, and along with drummer Martin McNee, Blaze is once again makes full use of the old Fury UK / Absolva lineup. The young band certainly add a vitality to the show the closing two Maiden classics, ‘Man On The Edge’ & ‘Futureal’ are simply magnificient. You couldn’t have asked for a better band to open the night and nobody could have done a better job of it than Blaze Bayley.
The first exclusive of the evening then is Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson. Having recently put out his second book, More Life With Deth, Ellefson is currently playing some select dates around Europe with his band featuring his co-author and business partner Tom Hazeart. It’s a chance to play some tracks from his Sleeping Giants album, billed as a companion release to the aforementioned book, alongside the more obvious Megadeth songs, and ‘Vultures’ and the Ellefson sung ‘If I Were God’ offer something a little different. Ellefson introduces Hazaert as the only person he wanted who could sing the Deth songs. While that may well be up for debate there’s no denying that when they roll out ‘Symphony Of Destruction’ and ‘Peace Sells’ that these are what the crowd want to hear and receive the biggest reception. Hostile’s Jay Mills also joins them for one song in what seems to be a relatively short set.
And so to the main event, and one so understated that we weren’t sure what the band were calling themselves. ‘An Evening with KK Downing & Dave Ellefson’, ‘KK Downing’ or as we’ve decided to go with ‘More Live With Deth’. Whatever the name, the fact that K.K. Downing, Les Binks & Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens were going to be sharing the stage was enough to get this marked on the calendar from the moment it was announced. The addition of Ellefson & Hostile’s AJ Mills was the icing on the cake.
As they take to the stage they receive a roof raising reception before they’ve even played a note. There’s no better way to reciprocate then than to launch off with an electrifying ‘Riding On The Wind’. Fast, heavy and tight it’s the perfect opener and probably not one that many were expecting. Ripper is in particularly fine form hitting all the high notes and proving why he was a more than worthy successor to Halford back in the 90s. The bar has already been set so early on in the set.
‘The Green Manalishi’ & ‘Hell Is Home’ follow in quick succession with the latter accompanied by pyrotechnics that along with the lasers show that both thought and money have been put into the show. The brooding epic ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’, interestingly the only track for which Binks received a writing credit during his time in Priest, is next up and raises the game further still. A true metal classic where yet again Ripper excels himself and Downing & Mills solo’s are sublime, the significant history between the two guitarists no doubt helping in their stage partnering.
Binks comes into his own as the drum rolls and double bass drumming signifies the intro to ‘Exciter’ and it sounds as fresh and explosive as it did the first time you heard it on Unleashed In The East; a monster of a track and proving that with this line up there really is no limit in the songs that they could choose.
‘Metal Gods’, ‘Burn In Hell’ and an exclusive first time live (probably) performance of ‘Before The Dawn’ keep the pace until another highlight in the bone-crunching ‘Between The Hammer And The Anvil’ and ‘Hell Bent For Leather’ leading into main set closer ‘Living After Midnight’.
An encore sees the rest of Ellefson’s band returning to the stage to join in on the call to arms ballad ‘Take On The World’, which Downing confirms that he can only remember playing it before on Top Of The Pops! It’s then left to ‘Breaking The Law’ to close out what has been one of the highlights of this years gigs.
If this ends up as just being a one off, then I feel privileged to have witnessed such a momentous evening. However, I’ve a feeling it won’t be the last time we see K.K. as it was apparent that he enjoyed himself as much as anyone else in attendance. He certainly seems to have rekindled the desire to play the guitar.
Riding on the Wind
The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)
Hell Is Home
Beyond the Realms of Death
Burn in Hell
Before the Dawn
Between the Hammer and the Anvil
Hell Bent for Leather
Living After Midnight
Take On the World
Breaking the Law