Noisey Vs. MetalSucks: No K.K. Downing = No Judas Priest
Welcome to Noisey Vs. MetalSucks, a bi-weekly column in which the staff of Noisey and the staff of MetalSucks will engage in vigorous academic debate concerning some of extreme music’s most relevant topics of the day. For this week’s edition, MetalSucks’ own Axl Rosenberg does battle with Noisey’s Jon Wiederhorn on the subject of whether or not Judas Priest should soldier on without guitarist K.K. Downing. Read Axl’s position below, then head over to Noisey to check out Jon’s counter-argument. Enjoy!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: some band members, love though we fans may, are ultimately expendable, and some are not. It doesn’t really matter how many line-up changes bands like Megadeth, Arsis, and Darkest Hour have been through, because ultimately, the member or members who have really made the band what it is remain.
On the other hand, the idea of Judas Priest without K.K. Downing is as unfathomable as the idea of Slayer without Jeff Hanneman.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that even in the post-Downing era, Priest’s entire setlist save for one cover song consists of music for which Downing received a writing credit. Downing was an essential contributor to any Priest hit, including the many which have entered mainstream consciousness (Judas Priest are one of the rare metal bands with whom even your grandmother is familiar). And at least one Halford-less-but-not-Downing-free Priest album, 1997’s Jugulator, is actually pretty damned good, and totally Priest-y. Which suggests, yet again, that Downing was an essential cog in this machine. It’s very, VERY hard to imagine the band ever writing a good Priest album without him.
And maybe the fact that Downing played so prominent a role in the creation of Judas Priest’s music for forty fucking years somehow doesn’t matter to you. Maybe you think that his replacement, Richie Faulkner — whose most prominent credits to date are working with the actor Christopher Lee and Steve Harris’ daughter — can write riffs as well as Downing can. (I’ve heard no evidence of that, but for the sake of argument…) Or maybe your attitude is, “Oh, Nostradamus sucked anyway. As long as the band tours and plays their old shit, I don’t care!” But even just as a nostalgic legacy act, Priest are fundamentally lacking without Downing, who was one-half of one of metal’s most revered guitar duos ever. People pay to see Downing and Tipton, not Faulkner and Tipton. I’m sure Faulkner is, on a technical level, a perfectly fine musician, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has nothing to do with Priest’s incredible legacy. Going to see Faulkner and Tipton is the equivalent of requesting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and being given a peanut brittle and jelly sandwich. Okay, it might not be disgusting or whatever, but it’s not what you wanted, it’s not what you asked for it, it’s not the snack that has been making people happy for as long as anyone in modern society can remember. It’s a bait-and-switch, and it’s lousy.
The last time I saw Judas Priest live, they were touring with
Black Sabbath Heaven and Hell. They sounded GREAT, and their setlist was stellar. I’m perfectly happy to continue to blast British Steel and Painkiller, and to remember the band, all key members present, kicking ass the way ass was meant to be kicked. I don’t need a new Priest album so badly that I’m willing to accept an imitation; I’m not desperate enough to pay to see a cover band performing “Breaking the Law.” Judas Priest had a great run, but they’re dead now.