Review by Pete Finn for MPM
MPM Tog ‘Statler’ Manson and I find ourselves back on familiar ground at Nottingham’s Rock City, for tonight’s overindulgence of Classic Metal.
It promises to be an evening full of some of the monster hits of my youth, delivered with power and venom by KK’s Priest and Paul Di’Anno, also weighing in on this heavyweight card are Burning Witches. This hard-hitting trio are completing a short 5-date “Priests, Killers and Witches UK Tour”.
It’s an early start for tonight’s show, we’re in just in time. The stage looks good with ‘Dark Tower’s’ either side of the drum riser. With three sets of kit on the stage, it’s a bit tight.
Burning Witches is a Swiss heavy/power metal band based in Brugg, Aargau. Originally formed in 2015, this all-female powerhouse quintet’s current line-up consists of founding members Romana Kalkuhl (guitar), Jeanine Grob (bass) and Lala Frischknecht (drums) along with the more recent additions of Laura Guldemond (lead vocals) and The Iron Maidens’ Courtney Cox (guitar), who is depping for Larissa Ernst whilst she is on maternity leave.
They have released 5-studio albums with their self-titled debut released in 2017 and the most recent being 2023’s ‘The Dark Tower’. Their style has been described as reminiscent of Iron Maiden, Alice Cooper, and Judas Priest, so the perfect fit for this triple bill.
Burning Witches make their way out onto the stage, all dressed in black, the only colour coming from the red, yellow, and green guitars, a wave of acknowledgement to the crowd and they start with ‘Unleash the Beast’ from the new ‘The Dark Tower’ album. Frischknecht’s quick-fire drums, a piercing scream and energetic riffs announce their intent.
The fist pumping Guldemond’s vocal is slicing through the wall of sound. They have grabbed Rock City’s attention by the scruff of the neck and are not letting go.
Without pausing and taken from 2020’s ‘Dance with the Devil’ it’s ‘Wings of Steel’. The pace and intensity continue, the rhythm section is shaking the ground as Cox and Kalkuhl are shredding the ears of the Rock City crowd. A truly powerful start.
“Good evening, Rock City, it’s great to be here.” Says a smiling Guldemond before introducing ‘Hexenhammer’ which is the title-track from the 2018 album. It has a dirtier sound, a bit more Black Sabbath, the pace is still quick. Guldemond calls for fist pumps and chants. Rock City obliges. Courtney Cox fires out a squealing solo.
Kalkuhl’s blonde hair struggles to keep up with her as she spins and head bangs while powering out the chords. The heavy riffs are punctuated by seismic beats delivered by Lala Frischknecht and Jeanine Grob, fists are punching the air in time as the crowd join in with ‘Hey, Hey’.
The twin guitar attack supported by Frischknecht’s drum volley signals the start of ‘Lucid Nightmare’ from ‘Dance with the Devil’. Guldemond’s high pitched vocal delivers the message straight between your ears. The tempo is ferocious and relentless. Guldemond climbs down into the pit and sings with the front row. The crowd are loving it.
The final song is the self -titled, title track of their 2017 debut album ‘Burning Witches’. A quick charging tempo propels the wall of sound towards us. Jeanine Grob pounds the bass strings. The band are all head-banging in time, it’s a great spectacle. The band play out to a big finish, they wave and throw picks into the crowd before gathering in front of the Rock City masses for a photograph.
Setlist: Unleash the Beast; Wings of Steel; Hexenhammer; Lucid Nightmare; Burning Witches.
Paul Di’Anno, known for his powerful vocal range and energetic live performances, was the original lead singer for the legendary Iron Maiden, recording their first two albums. Since his departure from the band in 1981, he has continued to pursue his passion for music and has released numerous solo albums. After battling through a number of health issues, including one that currently sees him singing from a wheelchair as he recovers, he performs with his band and continues to captivate audiences with their high-energy shows and traditional heavy metal sound.
Having seen Iron Maiden many times, I never saw Paul Di’Anno sing with them, if fact this will be my first time seeing Di’Anno perform. This is a big tick on my gig bucket list, I’m looking forward to this a lot.
As usual the Rock City crew do an amazing 15-minute changeover, the ‘Dark Tower’ has gone, the screen behind the drums shows an Eddie-esque caricature of Paul Di’Anno with his name emblazoned in red ‘Iron Maiden’ font.
The lights go out, the band make their way out to Iron Maiden’s ‘The Ides of March’. Silhouetted by the stage lights, and seated in his wheelchair is Paul Di’Anno, a quick “Hello” and we’re off.
It’s straight into ‘Wrathchild’ from 1981’s ‘Killers’. The band are tight, Di’Anno is whipping the crowd up into a frenzy, he releases a scream that lifts the nails out the woodwork, before the band drive them back in again. I realise I’m singing along, as are the rest of the Rock City crowd. Di’Anno is grinning, as are we.
From the American version of the self-titled 1980 debut album ‘Iron Maiden’, we now have ‘Sanctuary’. It’s hard, heavy, fast and punky, it sounds amazing. Di’Anno’s voice is incredible, the tingles run down my spine hearing it. The band are ripping through the track, this is high-octane metal.
Di’Anno tells us he’d asked for a radio mic; he’s finding the supplied corded one a problem as the lead keeps getting tangled up with his wheelchair. The iconic riff to ‘Purgatory’ starts, it’s taken from ‘Killers’. Di’Anno’s lyrics are rapid, his voice powerful. Fists are pummelling the air, the tempo changes slick, the pauses give us chance to gather our breath. The two guitarists are wringing the notes from their guitar necks.
From the debut ‘Iron Maiden’ album it’s ‘Remember Tomorrow’. Di’Anno wrote this for his late Grandfather, but dedicates it to his friend, former Iron Maiden band mate Clive Burr who is sadly no longer with us. It’s slower and full of emotion, both sung and played with passion. We’re treated to two superb guitar solos. Rock City enjoyed that one a lot.
One of my early Iron Maiden memories, courtesy of the ‘Axe Attack’ compilations is ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ from ‘Killers’. A huge cheer goes up as it starts. It’s heavy and frantic, Rock City have taken on lead vocals, the swift drumbeats are tying the track together, the band sound fantastic. The crowd are clapping and singing, Di’Anno cups his ear, enticing Rock City to go louder.
The bass begins to rumble and growl, Di’Anno screams, the crowd start to clap, the drums roll and the guitars pick up the tempo, it’s the title track to 1981’s ‘Killers’. Hands fly over the fret board as we have a tag-team of guitar solos. It’s classic high energy metal, and the Rock City crowd are lapping it up.
The soundtrack to ‘That’ energy drink starts, we know it as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ from ‘Iron Maiden’. The shivers go down my spine again. The crowd are chanting the lyrics with Di’Anno, the guitarists line up across the front of the stage, feet up on the monitors. Di’Anno gets the crowd clapping, the atmosphere is electric.
Paul Di’Anno thanks everyone for coming to see him and the band, he apologises about battling with his mic (although it didn’t spoil the crowds enjoyment). The final track from a thoroughly enjoyable set, is the classic ‘Running Free’ from ‘Iron Maiden’. We have pounding drums, bass strings are being slapped, guitars are squealing, Rock City is bouncing. Di’Anno’s high velocity lyrics encourage the fists to move faster. The band smile and wave as they leave the stage, the crowd are clapping with true appreciation, and start chanting “Paul, Paul” as Di’Anno departs.
Apologies of my own, as I was unable to get the names of the band members tonight, they weren’t mentioned during the show, or on any of the social media posts, which is a shame as they were excellent, and well worthy of a name check.
Setlist: Wrathchild; Sanctuary; Purgatory; Remember Tomorrow; Murders in the Rue Morgue; Killers; Phantom of the Opera; Running Free.
Although it’s been nearly 10 years since guitarist and songwriter KK Downing departed Judas Priest, the famous band he co-founded and played with for 40 years, he was never really going to retire. He opened one of my favourite live venues, KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton, but performing is in his DNA, and so in 2020 KK’s Priest was formed by Downing, along with former Judas Priest vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, guitarist A.J. Mills, bassist Tony Newton and drummer Sean Elg, he replaced another previous Priest member, Les Binks who had suffered a wrist injury.
The band takes inspiration from the classic years of Judas Priest, delivering a high-energy sound that combines traditional metal influences with modern production techniques. The band’s debut album, ‘Sermons of the Sinner’, was released in August 2021, and features ten new tracks that showcase the band’s power and intensity. Featuring a mix of hard-hitting riffs, anthemic choruses, and soaring solos, KK’s Priest has quickly become one of the most exciting new bands in metal. The band have continued in that vein, with the recent arrival of their follow-up album ‘The Sinner Rides Again’ which was released at the end of September.
Smoke covers the stage, the house lights go out, on the screens behind, Deimos is introducing clips of the band members.
The stage is glowing red, ‘The Incarnation’ the start of the ‘Sermons of the Sinner’ album is played over the P.A. KK Downing appears on stage and starts riffing, the rest of the band then appear, a scream from Owens who’s wearing a pair of Aviators and a cap, it’s ‘Hellfire Thunderbolt’ from the debut album. Downing with a black ‘V’ down low fires out the solo. Owens encourages Rock City’s participation. This is an ‘All guns blazing’ start.
The Rock City crowd let out a huge cheer and it’s straight into ‘One More Shot at Glory’ from the new ‘The Sinner Rides Again’ album. Owens’ vocal is slower, almost chanting, the beats hard and steady. Owens is conducting the Rock City backing band, the tempo increases as Downing plays his solo. Elg is up off his stool, his drumbeat is shaking the foundations. Owens is shadow-boxing up on the drum-riser. We close with a huge “Ripper” scream.
“What’s my name? What’s my name?” demands Owens. It’s time for something a bit older, ‘The Ripper’ is from the second Judas Priest album ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’, it was released in 1976. The screens displaying a foggy and dark ‘Whitechapel street’. This is slow, deliberate, and powerful. Downing and Mills’ twin guitar riff has the crowd clapping. Tony Newton is up on the riser beating his bass strings.
“Ripper” Owens introduces ‘Reap the Whirlwind’ from ‘The Sinner Rides Again’. It’s fast and furious, the energy is incredible. Owens voice scything though the smoke, Downing comes to the stage edge, hunched over his guitar his fingers flying over the strings, we’re mesmerised. Owens holds the final note as the track closes.
We head back into KK Downing’s past for ‘Night Crawler’ from ‘Painkiller’ released by Judas Priest in 1990. Owens is speaking the lyrics; Rock City is on backing vocals. The band are criss-crossing the stage as Owens get the crowd chanting ‘Hey, Hey’, as he points his mic towards them, before delivering his soliloquy.
It’s the title-track of the debut album, ‘Sermons of the Sinner’, Sean Elg’s drum volley gets the track moving at pace, going up a couple of octaves “Ripper” is belting out the lyrics against a backdrop of razor-sharp guitar riffs. Newton’s bass is stomping on anything in its path. The tempo briefly slows, allowing Owens to demonstrate his vocal control. A full-on track.
The stage turns red, fire is depicted on the screens around the stage, Newton’s bass provides a steady beat for ‘Burn in Hell’ from Judas Priest’s 1997 album ‘Jugulator’, which was Priest’s first single with Owens. The track starts slowly, building the atmosphere with a dirty stoner growl. The Rock City crowd sing the chorus.
KK Downing plays the opening notes to ‘Beyond the Realms of Death’ released on Judas Priest’s ‘Stained Class’ from 1978. The crowd under Owens’ direction start to clap. This is a lot slower almost a ballad, then it explodes in your face.
The screens are taking us on a journey through a swirling galaxy and extraterrestrial landscapes. The arms are swaying inside Rock City. AJ Mills captivates the crowd with his solo. Downing then adds the second solo of the track as the pair “Rock Out” together, Newton has his bass down low pointing it’s head to the sky. The performance is hypnotic, the performance is electric. A huge cheer and thunderous claps show how much Rock City enjoyed it.
‘Hell Patrol’ takes us back to Judas Priest’s ‘Painkiller’. The guitarists are up on the drum riser as the riffs fill the hall. Armies of robots are covering the screens. Owens vocal is crystal clear as he leads the charge, Rock City join in with a chorus of ‘Woah’s’. KK Downing arches his back as he launches the solo. Fists from the crowd punch the air.
‘Sermons of the Sinner’ provides ‘Brothers of the Road’, crunching guitars and a steady beat compliment Owens lyrics. The driving tempo has the arms waving and heads nodding. Downing and Mills either side of the drums are powering riffs.
Owens asks “Do you like heavy metal? Do you like metal?” before getting the crowd to join in with a “Metal, Metal” sing back. AJ Mills is wielding his rather striking blood red ‘V’, his strings squeal the intro to ‘Metal Meltdown’ from ‘Painkiller’. “Ripper” is prowling the stage firing out short burst of lyrics, this morphs into chanting as the pace increases, before finishing the track with a guttural scream.
“Are you ready to sing?” Owens poses the question. The green stage lighting and the instantly recognisable riff means it’s ‘The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown)’, originally a 1970 Fleetwood Mac single, then Judas Priest’s covered it on their 1979 album ‘Hell Bent for Leather’. Owens is at the stage edge delivering the vocal as the guitars form a line along the stage behind him. AJ Mills, leaning back plays the solo. Owens encourages the crowd to sing.
The classic ‘Breaking the Law’ from Judas Priest’s legendary 1980 album ‘British Steel’ is next. The stage is lit by pulsating red and blue lights. Rock City takes over lead vocals as the chugging riff has the hall bouncing. Owens’ scream cuts through the wall of noise. The atmosphere is off the scale as the crowd goes mental.
The final song of this impressive set is ‘Victim of Changes’ from Judas Priest’s ‘Sad Wings of Destiny’. It’s hard, heavy and dirty, it sounds wonderful. “Ripper” Owens’ vocal is tearing Rock City apart. The band are marching through the debris with purpose. KK Downing at the front, leading the way with his solo. Sean Elg signals for some clapping. Owens holds a huge scream as the track closes. The band wave and bow before leaving the stage.
It’s not long before they return. “Ripper” Owens is centre stage, he screams at the Rock City crowd to “Raise Your Fists”, from ‘Sermons of the Sinner’ it’s ‘Raise Your Fists’. The charging beat has the crowd jumping. Owens points his mic to the crowd, who take the hint and sing along, KK joins in with a solo, his initialled guitar strap glittering in the lights. An Owens scream brings the track to a close.
Owens thanks the crowd before introducing ‘Strike of the Viper’ from ‘The Sinner Rides Again’. It’s fast and heavy, riffs aplenty, it’s suitably filled with venom. A fast and frantic way to end a superb show. The band take their well-deserved applause and in turn thank those inside Rock City for their participation.
Setlist: Hellfire Thunderbolt; One More Shot at Glory; The Ripper; Reap the Whirlwind; Night Crawler; Sermons of the Sinner; Burn in Hell; Beyond the Realms of Death; Hell Patrol; Brothers of the Road; Metal Meltdown; The Green Manalishi (With the Two Prong Crown); Breaking the Law; Victim of Changes; Raise Your Fists; Strike of the Viper.
Tonight, has been a superb cocktail of classic metal, with a chaser of new metal too. I’ve really enjoyed seeing the bands, and we all hope it’s not too long before we see Paul Di’Anno up on his feet again. Finally, we wish KK Downing an early “Happy Birthday” for 27th October, suitably, it will be a pyro spectacular with 72 candles on the cake.
Photography by Manny Manson for MPM