By Sam Graham
“A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” Robert Heinlein
Every metaller worth his salt knows who Judas Priest are, even if he/she doesn’t like them. Throughout the decades, they’ve gone through lawsuits, line-up changes, the event that I like to call The Return of The Halford and just recently, a split just as earth-shattering when guitarist K.K Downing walked out during what was announced as their last ever world tour. Sad times.
In 1977 however, Judas Priest were still hot, young, not yet sued and releasing this, their third studio album: Sin After Sin.
For those of you who aren’t very Priest-literate, there are two sides to Judas Priest and while it doesn’t exactly split the fans, everybody has their favourite. There’s 70’s Priest and there’s 80 and onwards Priest (for the sake of the review, we’ll pretend 1996-2003 never happened). For its time, 70’s Priest was pretty heavy, blues-based metal, however when the 80’s hit they turned it up a notch and became more technical and flashy. With that being said, Sin After Sin is firmly cemented in that bluesy heavy rock style.
All Judas Priest albums open with a headbanger and Sinner is no exception. The simplistic rhythm section greatly compliments Halford’s snarling verses and the high-pitched chorus’, intermingled with licks from both guitarists Tipton and Downing to add some flair. The song then busts into a harmony, a solo, then a slow break-down followed by another solo that reminds me of Iron Maiden’s self-titled debut. It’s fast-paced and designed to kick the album off to a good start, and it does just that.
Next comes Priest’s cover of Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust. It’s worth a mention, because while the original is a sort of hippy-ish folk song, Priest’s version sounds (strangely enough) a little bit disco. The song is brilliant and quickly gets over the initial disco-ness with both the vocals and lead-guitars working to keep it within the realms of rock. It’s one of the album’s stand-out songs.
The sombre one of the album comes in the form of Last Rose of Summer. A song which starts with someJimi Hendrix-style guitar and uses the eponymous rose as a memory for what once was and a reminder of what will be again. It’s a warming song and it’s good to hear the rest of the band take a step back as to not overpower the song. This one is really carried by Rob Halford.
To counteract the hopeful Last Rose of Summer, Sin after Sin’s penultimate song, entitled Here Come the Tears is a melancholy piece about a lonely man who lived a lonely life and is now dying a lonely death. It’s a sad song that’s misery is accentuated by the low-pitched piano and the almost Spanish-sounding acoustic guitar. During the chorus it becomes heavier and Halford wails the character’s depression and fury out at the listener. The solos that then follow are drawn out, featuring less notes; instead, long, almost wailing bends and a haunting repetition of the song’s title in the background.
After Here Comes the Tears begins the album’s final song (unless you have the remastered version). The original and debatably the best: Dissident Aggressor. This song is by far the most rocking on the album. It’s all riff and it’s hard not to get sucked in by it. Even right now, as I write this, it’s hard not to head bang along to it. For those of you who don’t know Priest very well, you may have heard Slayer’s cover of it on their 1988 album South of Heaven. While Slayer provided a faithful cover, they did omit the ear-splitting screech at the very beginning of the song. Not surprising really though as while vocalist Tom Arayashowed off his impressive range at the beginning of Angel of Death, there’s no shame in admitting he can’t match the ridiculous range of Halford.
If you have the remastered version of this album, the next song, a cover of Race With the Devilby The Gunhas by far the most epic build up heard on the album, with a vocal pattern to the verses that are frankly, just so cool. It’s very close to the original and it slots into Judas Priest’s sound perfectly. It’s a welcomed addition to the album.
As a whole album, Sin After Sin, in my opinion, is the best of their 70’s era. Sure, everyone knows ofBritish Steel (1980), but British Steel is to Judas Priest like The Black Album (1991) is to Metallica: Commercially successful, but not necessarily their best. It features less throw-away songs than Stained Class (1978) and has more stand-outs than Sad Wings of Destiny(1976). The songs are simple and those few stand-out songs are the simplest, which gives room for more emotiveness in the song writing.
Has this album stood the test of time? Well, if you prefer Judas Priest from Screaming for Vengeance(1982) onwards then it would be understandable if you didn’t like this album, but the general consensus is that unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have. For the casual rocker, Judas Priest have two worthwhile albums:British Steel and Painkiller (1990) which are, according to a great many, their undisputed masterpieces. But that doesn’t mean the rest should be forgotten.
Perhaps it could be because while the songs are as clear and crisp as you can get considering it was made 33 years ago, it does sound dated and very 70’s, like any other rock band from that period:Sabbath, Sweet, Slade, you name it. It’s hard to describe, but listen to the sound of Sinner, then listen to Rock Hard, Ride Free from Defenders of the Faith (1984) and you should get the idea.
For the casual Priest fans, this one would probably be looked over in favour of British Steel orPainkiller, or at the lesser extent, Ram it Down (1988) or Killing Machine (1978) but for those willing to look a little deeper, they will find rock-gold on Sin After Sin. For the die-hard Priest fans, you will probably already have this in your collection and it would naturally spring to mind when deciding what Priest to listen to.
Devil-Horn Rating: \m/ \m/ \m/ \n