Album Review: KK’s Priest – Sermons of the Sinner (EX1 Records)

By: Jesse Striewski

Originally I had debated reviewing a certain other metal album that also came out last week, but swiftly decided I’d rather spend my time on some good, non-preachy metal that’s not actually lead by some delusional, hypocritical tool (sorry, Al). I’m beyond glad I went with KK’s Priests’ Sermons of the Sinner instead, which reaches epic proportions in no time.

When guitarist K.K. Downing originally left Judas Priest in 2011, I was legitimately disappointed; in my book, he was the driving force behind the band, and as irreplaceable as Keith Richards is to The Rolling Stones. But I was glad to hear of this new project of his called KK’s Priest, which also features one time Judas Priest frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals. To say what K.K. has assembled here is a winning combo would be an understatement.

Like the last effort from counterparts Iron Maiden, unrelenting guitar riffs and empowering lyrics are immediately in full swing here, even with album opener “Hellfire Thunderbolt” being one of the weakest numbers throughout. Tracks like “Raise Your Fists,” “Metal Through and Through,” and “All Hail the Priest” reawaken that primal, youthful spirit in a way that only metal truly can.

Is it perfect? No. But Sermons of the Sinner is without a doubt the Judas Priest album I’ve been hoping for for years now. And if the two factions can’t find a way to ever merge forces again, I suppose this really is the next best thing.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Retrospective: 20 Years Since Mark Wahlberg Became a ‘Rock Star’

By: Jesse Striewski

Few fictional ‘rock’ flicks have ever perfectly captured the essence of sex, drugs, and rock and roll as well as 2001’s Rock Star. Tagged with the line “The story of the wanna be, who got to be,” its source inspiration was drawn from the real life fairy tale of Tim “Ripper” Owens, who landed the dream job as frontman for heavy metal legends Judas Priest after being discovered singing the band’s material in a cover band.

Directed by Stephen Herek, the film uses this idea to tell the story of Chris “Izzy” Cole (Mark Wahlberg), who goes from singer for a Steel Dragon cover act, to the real deal almost overnight. He instantly feels all of the highs and lows going from obscurity to the big leagues, with many of his personal relationships ultimately straining as a result, including his romance with girlfriend/manager Emily Poule (Jennifer Aniston).

Having previous experience as lead singer for Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Wahlberg pulls off playing Cole like a pro. He’s surrounded by more ‘real life’ musicians throughout the film, with guitarist Zakk Wylde (Ozzy Osbourne/Black Label Society), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), and drummer Jason Bonham (Led Zeppelin) making up the rest of the lineup of the fictional Steel Dragon.

The author (left) with former Judas Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens in 2019. Owens inspired the plot of Rock Star.

Outside of Steel Dragon, there’s use of many other notable musicians in the film; Slaughter drummer Blas Elias, Alter Bridge frontman Myles Kennedy, and even one time L.A. Guns/future Steel Panther lead singer Ralph Saenz (a.k.a. Michael Star – see photo below) all pop up at one point or another. There’s even an homage of sorts to the 1984 classic This is Spinal Tap, when the band is seen photographed on the same rooftop featured in said film.

Aside from featuring many original songs by the likes of KISS, Motley Crue, and Def Leppard (among many others) throughout, it also contains a number of covers re-imagined as Steel Dragon originals, such as the Steelheart track “We All Die Young.” And while the other members of the fictional outfit perform on these songs, oddly, Wahlberg does not sing on them. Instead the vocal duties are handled by Steelheart vocalist Miljenko Matijevic, and one-time Journey singer Jeff Scott Soto.

Making under $20 million on a $50-plus million dollar budget, Rock Star fell short of making the impression filmmakers had hoped it would; this could likely be attributed to the fact it was released just days before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Still, the film has since maintained a life of its own among fans, and remains a go-to, rags-to-riches rock journey to this day.

Steel Panther performing live in 2013; vocalist Michael Star makes a brief appearance in the film (photo courtesy of the author’s personal collection).

Dio Returns at The Plaza Live in Orlando, FL on 6/1/19 By Jesse Striewski/Photos By Brooke Striewski

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Ever since the Dio Returns tour had first been announced there’s been an abundance of backlash from some fans calling it a ‘cash grab’ (I’d almost guarantee most of those complaining are the same people who went to see Bohemian Rhapsody when it came out last year, too). You can write tours like this off as such (it should also be noted that some of the profits from the tour are allegedly going towards the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund), or you can look at them the way I do; tributes meant to keep the memories alive of legends who rightfully deserve it. Ronnie James Dio was one such icon who I grew up admiring dearly, and unfortunately I was never able to see him perform live before his passing in 2010. The Dio Returns tour gives all those who never saw him the chance to finally experience his music live (and the last time I can remember looking forward to a tour as much as this much was probably when I caught the original lineup of one of Ronnie’s former bands, Black Sabbath, back in 2004).

Essentially, the band itself is one of two current versions of the Dio band that has been going for nearly ten years now (the other being Last in Line, with Vivian Campbell and Vinnie Appice at the helm) called Dio Disciples. This version of the band (which features Dio alumni Craig Goldy, Simon Wright, and Scott Warren) has been performing for years with multiple singers in place of Ronnie, including ex-Judas Priest/Iced Earth vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, and former Lynch Mob singer Oni Logan, who were both there trading off vocal duties (along with live recordings of Ronnie when his hologram was present) when the band came through The Plaza Live in Orlando this past Saturday, June 1.

Jizzy Pearl’s current incarnation of Love/Hate opened the show, and I was actually looking forward to finally catching Pearl live as well after interviewing him for Rewind It Magazine just last year (I found it strange however that none of the material from Pearl’s recent album that I interviewed him for made it into the set list).  At this point, the club was still fairly empty, and the band received only a modest response. But still, they played with all their might on tracks like “Straightjacket,” “Tumbleweed,” “Spinning Wheel,” “Fuel to Run,” “Mary Jane,” and “Wasted in America.” A seemingly set up (and awkward) moment found the band being told to leave the stage before declaring they were doing one more song, which ended up being “Blackout in the Red Room.”

After Pearl’s set, there was a sort of calm before the storm as the crowd sat anxiously to finally see what awaited them (this was only the second night of the tour, after all). It was quickly revealed as Ronnie’s hologram made its introduction by way of “King of Rock and Roll.” From there, it was one amazing moment after another from beginning to end.

A pair of Sabbath-era classics in the form of “Mob Rules” and “Children of the Sea,” sung by Owens and Logan, respectively, followed before Ronnie’s image made its way on the screen again for the classic Dio tracks “The Last in Line” and “Holy Diver.” After Owens belted out one more Dio classic (“Stand Up and Shout”), the stage was cleared for a drum solo by Wright, which was a tribute of sorts to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

A tagged-team rendition of “Don’t Talk to Strangers” by Owens and Logan followed  before more Dio/Rainbow classics began making their way into the set, including “Rainbow in the Dark,” “Egypt (The Chains Are On),” “Gates of Babylon,” and “Invisible” (another duel effort from Owens and Logan). Goldy then treated the crowd to a guitar solo before a couple more Rainbow tracks (“Catch the Rainbow” and “Stargazer”) preceded an unforgettable version of Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell” (which briefly segued into the classic “Man on the Silver Mountain”).

Owens and Logan then took the stage along with Ronnie’s hologram to close out the night on an epic note with “We Rock,” and finally (after a short reprieve) “Neon Knights.” The only thing I might have changed (other than include tracks like “Time to Burn” or anything off the Sacred Heart album in place of some of the other chosen tracks in the set, but that’s just my own personal taste!) would have been to market the tour itself a bit differently; even though the hologram does indeed play a prominent role, there’s so much more to the entire show than just that. Still, every person in attendance that night seemed to be in agreement of just how well-executed this show truly was.

After the show itself, my wife/photographer and I were extremely lucky to be invited backstage, where we were able to briefly meet and talk to every member of the band, as well as Dio’s own former wife, Wendy. It was apparent that this tour was a collective labor of love from all those involved, and the feelings resonating backstage were that of celebration, and triumph. And as far as all the closed-minded critics of the tour go, to quote Aesop; “The ignorant despise what is precious only because they cannot understand it.” I think if Ronnie were still here today, he would fully approve of what is being presented on stage in his honor right now.

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