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Everybody knows that Judas Priest was the catalyst for millions, if not billions of metal bands that were to follow them. They defined the aggression that followed the heaviness, and were basically the very first bricks laid after the cornerstone, said cornerstone being Black Sabbath. They were still refining themselves in the mid 1970's, however, and even on their third release, "Sin After Sin", there remains some pieces of their "Rocka Rolla" days. Nevertheless, the album still soars with hints of the band's more powerful direction in the future.
The album opens with what I consider to by my favorite track, "Sinner". The reason being that it's just as fast-paced as "Tyrant" on the previous album, and has more licks to get behind. Like the long songs on "Sad Wings of Destiny", it also seems a little progressive, as it consists of more than just the standard two or three verses found in "Tyrant". It even slows down near the end, but that doesn't mean that the entire song is ruined by any means. It just demonstrates the band's experimental style that was going on at the time of the album's release. One song that doesn't do much with experimentation, however, would be the classic, "Dissident Aggressor". It's pretty much crunching and powerful the whole song through, not much more than just mostly aggression. It is kinda slow during the verses, but the song barely lasts more than three minutes - hardly a typical 70's progressive rock song, if you'd ask me.
Remember, this is the 70's, and heavy metal was still in its embryonic stages. As such, there's songs on "Sin After Sin" that borderline hard rock, 'cos that's what dominated the airwaves around that time. "Last Rose of Summer" is anything but hard, and hardly anything that anybody'd expect from Judas Priest. Simply put, it's basically a 70's hard rock ballad that sounds exactly like something Bad Company would cough up. Unless you don't really appreciate classic rock much, I really wouldn't consider "Last Rose of Summer" to be that bad of a song. Although it's considered another ballad, "Here come the Tears" is a potential candidate for a good song. It's harder, more metal-based, despite being at a plodding pace, not to mention Rob Halford's varying vocal range, from his signature high notes, to a sobering, baritone/bass that comes during the chorus. That song alone shows just how talented Rob Halford is when singing. It proves that he's capable of more than just his metal screams to convey one song's anger. He can also convey the sorrow of another.
Did you know that "Diamonds and Rust" was originally a song written and performed by Joan Baez, the female equivalent of Bob Dylan? I'm sure you do, since you've most likely read the album's notes on this website. We all know that Baez never really used electric guitars, so would a Judas Priest version of "Diamonds and Rust" be the 70's equivalent of the band's ill-conceived cover of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode" on their "Ram it Down" album in the 80's? Not so fast! The band took "Diamonds and Rust" and made it their own thing. They've introduced the heavy guitars that made them famous, sped up the tempo, and otherwise made the song more aggressive in a sense. For this reason, if you listened to this song before the original, you'd find it hard to believe that it's actually a cover! They've taken what's a folk song, and turned it into a hard rock/heavy metal song, and that's covering a song done right.
Even as a more experimental effort, it still carries quite a few good songs. It might not be what we'd all expect Priest to be, but hey, this was only their third album, and the raging speed of "Exciter" would come much later. Even with that being said, there's quite a bit of heaviness to be found on "Sin After Sin". It may be a product of its time, but it's still got what Priest would do plenty of in the decades to come soon after.
This album sits in-between Sad Wings of Destiny and Stained Class. I can count on one hand the albums more influential to metal. The number of albums better is similar in scarcity. Sin After Sin is not as great as those two, but it is still amongst the very best Priest ever mustered. Most of the contributors are in good form for this, the songwriting is pretty good, and there are some classics on here.
The guitarists on here are superb. The riffing on the non-ballads is very good. It does have a hard-rock vibe as often as not, but the songs themselves are pretty definitely metal. The soloing on here is worth noting. This is Priest's first album to have their high-end oriented sound, so their famous piercing, screaming guitar leads are on full-strength here. The solos on Sinner, Starbreaker, and Dissident Aggressor immediately come to mind. The first and last also showcase another aspect. Downing was the first metal guitarist to specialize in atonal whammy-abuse solos. Many hate this kind of soloing, but it is at least interesting to see it's origins.
The drumming, is one of Priest's first good ones. The session drummer, Simon Phillips, was very technical for the time. He shows good use of the double-bass for a drummer of this time period, and he has been cited by many metal drummers as inspirational. Due to prior commitments, he declined to join Priest, but his replacement was even better. Ian isn't really special on this one. I would say that this is the first Priest album where Ian isn't really contributing. He can be heard, barely, but he does much less of interest compared to Sad Wings.
Some have argued that this is Halford's best outing, and it is very possible. Halford's vocals in his prime were something. The range, vocal control, and consistency are pretty much the pinnacle for a clean metal vocalist. Dio and Dickinson can take him for power, but that is all. As far as rock vocalists go, Freddie Mercury and maybe Ian Gillan could match him. This is where Halford first really milked his lower pitch for an album, but there's still plenty of high notes. Lyrically, this is one of Priest's better albums. Sinner, Call For the Priest, and Dissident Aggressor would be well-written metal songs in any era.
I touched upon the production earlier, it is higher pitched. It was apparently state-of-the-art for the time. I don't feel that it serves the music very well. It's more fitting than the debut, but the adjacent albums used their weaker production to invoke very heavy atmospheres. This can't do that. Also, for being big, it's kind of thin at times. I'm not sure how, but it sounds like the studio just inflated the sound like a balloon. If they wanted it louder, I would have rather them simply double-tracked or something. One thing for it's atmosphere, it has a very Gothic feel. The mausoleum on the front and the very depressing songs give it a depressed feel at times. I would rather a heavy feel, but this is rather unique in their catalog.
All in all, this is a pretty good effort. This isn't as good as the adjoining masterpieces, or Painkiller later, but this is still better than their 80's albums. Nothing troughs as badly as Take These Chains, United, or the goofy duo that ends Defenders. This also contains much of Priest's 70's aura. It is hard to put into words, but there is an art to what Priest did around this time. They took the dull, thudding instrument that Sabbath had forged, and they forged it into a sharp-edged rapier. This feel doesn't get to shine as well here, but it is still unmistakable. This is recommended to all fans of early metal and hard-rock.
Sad Wings Of Destiny already featured a peculiar sound, distinct to most of 70’s hard rock music around, totally pioneer and influential for the upcoming British wave. However, you could still notice some of the usual clichés of those times; the band was still developing its identity, experimenting with pianos, ballads (“Epitaph”, etc.) and other disposable elements they had to get rid of if they didn’t want to be another predictable rock dinosaur. The following release meant a step forward for the consolidation and achievement of the definitive classic Priest sound, though it was still inevitably plenty of common characteristics of the music of that time. Although some of these tunes certainly showed a new methodology most of NWOBHM would later emulate.
The opening title-track itself meant a huge improvement from the topical early Priest nature, a composition whose tempo gets fast and loose, defined by a rich variety of riffs with those bridges, breaks and straightforward aggression denying uniformity to reach a fine level of technique. Actually that middle-solo is kinda noisy and inconsistent with K.K. going nuts, though the rest of the song execution is pretty disciplined and accurate. The excellence of Downing & Tipton’s riffing becomes soon notable, their lines so lethal and ideally developed during the cut, also constructing competent bases for “Dissident Aggressor” or “Starbreaker”, once again completely guitar-based but giving Halford’s insistent verses much attention. The tempo gets quieter on those, weightier and calmed, more traditional, making riffs gain intensity and presence, undoubtedly lacking the originality and inventive of the rapid tunes. “Raw Deal” is one of those surprising numbers of the pack, peaceful and casual at first, getting so frantic and raw in its final part, defining the essence of speed metal with that mighty double bass-drum rhythm of Mr. Phillips. Speed is a vital element on “Call For The Priest” as well, a much heavier violent title, combining that vicious rampant riff with Rob’s harmony vocals so stratospheric and vivid, like the sound of a church choir on a Sunday morning performance. So both pioneer songs keep a reasonable balance between sonic violence and sophistication, arrangements in fact are generally clean and vocals mellow and refined, making them distinguished and energetic at the same time. Melody is always there, noticeable and present during most of the record but particularly indispensable on both ballads “Last Rose Of Summer” and “Here Come The Tears”, the first one quite repetitive and vain, the second truly emotional and dramatic including one of Rob’s most memorable performances.
Priest are putting bigger emphasis on riffs and velocity, unconsciously setting the rules of a new level, a new genre in case you don’t interpret heavy metal as hard rock’s following incarnation, a pioneer pattern that made their music so fresh, vibrant and different from most of bluesy rock groups, which were getting mediocre by the end of the decade. These guys managed to maintain here certain progression and some trace of blues/jazz inspiration combined with straighter riffs and rapid rhythms, so they’re still going through a transitory phase between the classic and the new style. Later they’d reduce difficulty and play it even faster, simpler and more direct, getting rid of the 70’s schemes completely. In this album, the configuration of the cuts is mostly easy in comparison with the symphonic rock stuff of other British acts, yet meticulous, elaborated and advanced in contrast with what they would do in the 80’s. Musically this material is rich, diverse and melodic, characteristics they would usually deny later, making this early stuff unique and special. They’re making use of acoustic guitars on those ballads, some keyboards and tenderness which would get tenuous shortly afterwards to fit the new decade trends. Although among all this sophistication, aggression and velocity can be found also. Those pioneer speed metal tempos and double bass-drum kicks weren’t new by 1977 (remember Deep Purple’s 1971 “Fireball”? Curiously Roger Glover produced this), though the greater attention Priest put on them made those elements more notable, designing the nature of their music and showing possibilities no one else explored before. Not only speed is admirable, K.K. & Glenn’s exquisite riffing made a different from the rest too, more solid, convincingly constructed and developed, becoming the leading force of the band, pushing away slowly the typical bluesy nature everybody else was stuck on.
Sin After Sin was indispensable for the evolution of the genre, it meant the beginning of a new era for Priest, who were no longer the unfocused humble group that recorded Rocka Rolla. Still there are some old-fashioned clichés, cheesy romance and bluesy riffs left but aggression, velocity and intensity became noticeable stable characteristics of their music here. So this is one of the heaviest hard rock albums of the 70’s, one of the most unfairly ignored works of Halford and co., in contrast with the hugely popular 80’s material. It’s obvious their early albums haven’t been heard enough and should get much more recognition. Sad most of fans only remember the Joan Baez cover...
Sometime back, during my quest to seek out the earlier works of Judas Priest, I had skipped over this album in favor of it's successor, "Stained Class". Which is disappointing, not only because this album is crucial (from the metal critic and historian's point of view) in seeing the transition Priest made to that album, but because this album immediately kicks your ass less than 10 seconds in, and continues to do so with minimal reprieve. Probably their heaviest album up to that point, "Sin After Sin" shows a band who is growing closer to discovering their identity as a band. The heavy songs are heavier, faster and more frenetic than before, and Rob Halford's voice soars over the songs, like an opera singer for a hellish orchestra.
Although every track has it's own highlights, there are a few tracks in particular that I feel deserve notice, since they show the musical progress Judas Priest has made, and since they continue to influence heavy metal to this day. Mid-way through the album, we are hit with "Let us Prey/Call for the Priest", which mixes the prog elements that we've come to expect from Priest's previous albums with the up tempo metal attack of the rest of the album, almost helping to invent the idea of prog metal. The song also contains a duel guitar solo that predates Iron Maiden's albums by three years. "Here Come the Tears" is one of two ballads on the album, but I mention this over the excellent "Last Rose of Summer" (a song with a watery guitar tone and soulful melody that sounds as if it could have influenced Pearl Jam, of all bands) because it grows closer to what Judas Priest would accomplish with "Beyond the Realms of Death" in terms of mixing melancholy with metal. Of course, there is "Dissident Aggressor", the epic finale of the album, where Rob's falsetto reaches unprecedented heights and the guitar attack sounds like a precursor to the thrash metal that dominated the 80s (no wonder Slayer covered it!). The closest thing to a "commercial" song on this album, even more so than "Last Rose of Summer" is the Joan Baez cover "Diamonds and Rust". With remarkably calm guitars and a rhythm line that brings Heart to mind, the song seems a prediction of Priest's more commercial work in the 80s, as well as much of the commercial metal in the 80s in general.
Although those songs deserve note because of the influence I feel they had on heavy metal (as well as rock in general), this isn't to discredit the rest of the album, especially the ripping opener "Sinner" that feels like the logical realization of the "Born to Be Wild" riff. I also can't help but pass up the hard rocking "Raw Deal" if mainly for the innuendo in the lyrics: "All eyes hit me as I walked into the bar/ Ad seeing other guys were fooling with the denim dudes". Though the reference to gay culture should now be blatant to anyone familiar with Judas Priest's career, it wouldn't have been as obvious then, when leather gay bars were still in the shadows of society, and such a reference would be an esoteric in joke. So I have to admire that, even when Rob Halford was "in the closet", he still left subtle hints to his sexuality with only a wink and smile to any possibly knowing fans (though the line "The true freedom of expression I demand is human rights" should have been a no brainer even then).
Released in 1977, the year punk rock was king, the speed of the songs on the album seem like Priest's answer to bands like the Sex Pistols, and some of the songs are still fast and heavy enough to go up against today's metal. The progressive elements feel better integrated into the album than their previous two efforts, and Judas Priest now have their own identity as a band separate from the rest of the crowd at the time.
The 70's was a time a major classics for then fresh band Judas Priest. They had the grand metal milestone "Sad Wings of Destiny" under their belts, and would soon the birth the fearsomely fast and dark "Stained Class" and the rambunctious, condensed "Hell-Bent For Leather". But in 1977, the band (under new label Columbia) put out this odd offering, the cooly-titled "Sin After Sin". To say this sucker is inconsistent would be an understatement, going back and forth between moody love ballads to bouncy mid-paced stompers to all-out brutal speeders. Fans oft consider it to be a bonafide classic, but I don't know.
There is a timeless feel to it, though still rooted in the 70's in a nostalgic manner. The performance of the bandmates are top-notch. Halford's voice is as golden as ever, his range across the boards from mournful hums on "Last Rose of Summer" to ear-piecing death shrieks on "Dissident Aggressor". Tipton and Downing lead on strong with a number of riff-happy leads; while I'm not huge on the album as a whole, it does feature some of the greatest solos of these guys, whom weren't quite yet fully at their dueling stages. Ian Hill's bass is quite solid and fairly audible in the mix. He has a few nifty fill moments and keeps an especially solid rhythm in numbers like "Raw Deal" or "Sinner". Then we have one-time Priest drummer Simon Phillips. Too bad he popped up just once, because the guy's one of this album's fucking highlights. His range is astounding, allowing for diverse speed and sound to the songs. His fills are vicious, his solos killer, his contributions unforgotten.
There's only eight songs on ere, amazingly adding up to forty minutes. The "weaker" moments, as they are, are the sappy slow ones. "Last Rose of Summer" is barely a Priest song in any guise, staying mellow and even boring in its near six minute run-time. "Here Come The Tears" is in a similar vein, but more condensed with a bit more attitude; Halford's vox and Hill's bass shine nicely here. "Starbreaker" fares a bit better with its bouncy, bluesy riffage but comes off a little unmemorable after the fact, as does the pedestrian and frankly kind of annoying cover Joan Baez's "Diamonds And Rust". "Raw Deal" is fairly solid; it has a raw (duh) guitars assault and cool vocals, but the middle solo goes on for a bit too long. This leaves us with three songs. Opener "Sinner" is absolutely cool, armed with a sharp, bouncy main riff, some of Halford's most diverse singing on the album, wicked drumming and a moody solo that offsets the rest of the song. "Let us Prey/Call For The Priest" is even better, somewhat eliminating the former song's bluesiness. It starts with a sort of Queen-like intro (Call For The Priest) and after a short, quiet buildup, we crash headfirst into the album's fastest, best track, coming quick with Phillip's best drumming and the best solo on the album, a truly spirited tour-de-force from Tipton and Downing. Closing things up is what was probably the heaviest song in the world at the time, "Dissident Aggressor". Odd sound effects give way to quiet but heavy guitar plinking and some cymbal taps, then one of Halford's highest screams ever; it's almost inhuman. Wash it down with brutal riffage and highly aggressive vocal shouting.
Overall, I don't find it to be a true classic. While the band's performance is top fucking notch, the highly unusual inconstancy of the song selection is very off-putting, going from heavy as fuck to quiet and lightweight whenever it wants. There are some okay moments, and the last three songs I mentioned are fucking fantastic, but I find this one to be a little overblown. Don't listen to it expecting heavy metal band Judas Priest; expect a more "I'm not quite sure where we're going with this" Judas Priest, and hopefully maybe you'll like it more than me.
Freed from Gull Records and with a new confidence about them following the success of Sad Wings of Destiny, Judas Priest brought a follow-up to the table that was almost as mighty as its illustrious predecessor. With fast-paced songs like Sinner and Starbreaker consolidating the outlaw biker image the band were beginning to cultivate, the blueprint for later albums such as Killing Machine and British Steel began to take shape. Meanwhile, slower, doomier songs like Here Come the Tears or Let Us Prey/Call For the Priest proving once again that Priest could move from quiet moments of reflection to raucous cries of despair as on Dreamer Deceiver/Deceiver on the previous disc.
Unlike Sad Wings, however, Sin After Sin isn't an absolutely perfect album. The end of the side presents the unwelcome spectacle of Priest turning their hand to romantic soft rock in the form of The Last Rose of Summer. It's not incompetently done soft rock if you like that sort of thing, but it's hard to deny that it feels ludicrously out of context; it just doesn't fit on the same album as Raw Deal, for goodness sake.
Still, other experiments on the band's part are more successful. Their first cover version, Diamonds and Rust, takes a Joan Baez folk rock tune and turns it into an emotionally powerful metal anthem whilst album closer Dissident Aggressor might just be the angriest thing the band had produced up to that point. Close to perfection, but kept away from it by a flower of all things. Kind of a shame when you think about it, but the album's merits more than overpower its flaws.
Though many would argue Judas Priest had begun to stagnate in the 80s, content with party rock albums like Turbo or Ram It Down, there was a day when they were far ahead of the pack. With Sin After Sin, the band's 3rd album, they were already crafting the caliber of hard rocking chorus parts that many bands today (32 years after the fact) still cannot mimic. Certainly, the tinny popping drum cadence lodges this record firmly in the 70s, but it is a beast while nary a weak track to be found, and one of the band's greatest albums, which I look back upon with only fondness.
When you open a record with the unforgettable "Sinner" and Rob's clinically excellent, surgical vocals, you cannot fail. The Joan Baez cover "Diamonds and Rust" is melodic and soothing, each line delivered with clarity, the guitars and bass plodding gently below as Halford delivers you into the sky. "Starbreaker" delivers AGAIN, with beautiful vocals and a primal, shuffling beat, plus the immortal hand clap! Even when Sin After Sin steers into balladic territory with the "Last Rose of Summer", it does not falter, though I'd say it's one of the least interesting tracks on the album. "Let Us Prey", "Call for the Priest/Raw Deal" and the amazing "Dissident Aggressor" truly round out the album and bestow it unto history as one of the best Priest would ever record, a worthy prototype and inspiration to so many bands to come.
The production was top notch, the lyrics well written and even 'hip' (for Priest), and the songs were carefully balanced and crafted to provide an entertaining experience. This was when the concept of the 'album' reigned supreme. Whether you listen to this on crackling vinyl to wax nostalgic about your not so innocent youth, or discovering it for the first time, you can begin to understand why this band made such a huge splash, a splash that has yet to dissipate.
Highlights: almost every song on this fucking record, now run along!
From the opening riffs of "Sinner," you know you are in for a hell of a ride on this classic Judas Priest album. The dual guitar attack of Tipton and Downing is in full gear from the get go, and Halford's vocals have a great edge to them. Then the screams of "Sinner!" combine with the blistering guitar solos, and we are rolling.
I have to admit, when I saw Joan Baez's name on the credits for "Diamonds and Rust," I thought, "Waitaminit, this is a metal album, right?" But this track is superb. Baez's lyrics and melodies fit the rhythmic drive of Priest's metal beautifully, and Rob Halford has rarely sounded better.
Hats off to Roger Glover's excellent production skills. This album sounds so clear and powerful througout, it's amazing to consider that this was recorded in 1977. Glover's ear is put to good use, and he brings out the best in the band throughout the album. I've always admired his abilities in Deep Purple, both as bass player and producer, and this product just increases my admiration.
I think the greatest surprise for me on the record is the laid back grooviness of "Last Rose of Summer." It's definitely not the kind of sound one generally associates with the legendary metal brashness of this band, but it's really a nice track. I think it's no shame when a metal band can lay it back, and the playing and singing on this track show a tremendous sensitivity. Anyway, heavy metal was just in its young years in these days, and a band like Judas Priest could afford to explore their soft and hard sides, as they do to great effect on this album.
I have read reviews of Sin After Sin that speak of Queen's influence, and I definitely heard that influence on the opening of " Let Us Prey/ Call for the Priest." In fact, as I listened to this bit, I found myself thinking of Queen's early track "Great King Rat." It's not the same style, exactly, but there are similarities in the overall sound of production: the layers of guitars, the upbeat drum pattern, and even Halford's vocal is reminiscent of Freddie Mercury. Fun track...
Although Judas Priest had not yet ascended to the prominence they would attain in the eighties, this album definitely laid the foundation for what they would later achieve. I'm not even sure they were strictly a heavy metal band at this point in their development, but regardless, this album is a hell of a good time, and is a great example of early heavy metal style. From beginning to end, it's a rock and roll treat.
The trouble with Judas Priest has always been their inconsistentcy, and this album is no doubt one shining example of that. If some of the filler tracks had been pruned off, this would have been the album that Stained Class is (namely, the first "true" metal album). It sounds as if they wanted to make Sad Wings Part II as well as a commercial rock album at the same time, and it can come off as plain goofy in parts (namely the first 4 minutes of Raw Deal and the ballads). These songs' placements in the tracklist just kill the feel of the album, and really do it a disservice, which is unfortunate.
It's obvious that Priest can't do wrong when they crank the metronome up and just play fast on 10, like on Painkiller. The good ol' speed metal tracks on Sin After Sin are all incredible, and highly worthy. Let Us Prey/Call For The Priest is easily the standout, and still possibly the fastest song they've ever done (280 BPM), all while maintaining an excellent sense of songwriting and melody; the riffs and solos are both phenomenal. This is also the first Priest song with a true guitar duel (Tyrant seems a bit underdeveloped, and only has 3 solos) and also a killer harmony section. It's a shame this song hasn't been played live in the past...28 years or so. Hearing that organ melody as opposed to The Hellion open their live set would definitely be a welcomed change.
Starbreaker, Sinner, and Diamonds And Rust are no slouches either, though Starbreaker is the weakest of the three. All are packed with yummy riffy goodness, and again, Priest's sense of melody at this time was impeccable. Halford is spot on here, and really never screams for the sake of screaming, which plagues a majority of their post British Steel output.
The album's closer, Dissident Aggressor, has to be the heaviest song ever released for its time. After a few seconds of some pick scrapes and triplet-eighths guitar strumming, the most intense scream Rob has ever unleashed arrives. It's almost inhuman sounding (actually, it sounds pitch-shifted...or his boyfriend at the time was a bit too aggressive the night before...but who cares!), and the song never lets up after that. The riff set is punishing, crushing, and all the while, clear and melodic. Slayer had 9 years to think of a way to make this song heavier, and even they failed; that truely is a testament to this song's place as the first "extreme" metal song, blending Deep Purple's speed and aggression and Black Sabbath's bludgeoning and heaviness in a mix that not even Priest has managed to recreate (though Slayer is still trying to recreate the hurricane/cat-in-a-fan sound of the solo). For 1977, it would have scared the shit out of someone, like The Excorcist of metal. In 1987, it was still heavy as fuck. In 1997, it was still heavy as fuck. It's safe to assume that it will still be heavy as fuck in 2007.
The musicianship here (save the ever-inaudible Ian Hill, poor bloke) is superb. It's a shame Simon Phillips couldn't stay on as part of the Priest lineup, especially comparing him to mediocre drummer extrodinairre Dave Holland. The drum sound on this album is second to none in the Priest catalog. Glenn and KK really stepped up the riffage here, too, creating a highly varied musical feel with (I mention it again) a killer ear for melody, and their guitar tone is clear, bright, and heavy. Halford is also at his vocal peak (let the phlegm-filled scream in Metal Meltdown be evidence that he has been sliding down hill since this album), using his full range as needed. A very underrated slab of 70s metal.
Priest, at first glance, seems to be a band of even numbers (the same way Star Trek is I guess). Basically, here's a simplified look at how many Priest fans feel about the catalogue. Rocka Rolla isn't too popular. Sad Wings of Destiny is the near unanimous choice of the classic Priest-heads. Sin After Sin is considered just too odd, not nearly as good as the rest of their stuff. Stained Class is another masterwork. Hell Bent for Leather/Killing Machine is too funky, too much of a change. British Steel is a classic. Point of Entry was a disappointment. Screaming for Vengeance is the best Priest record. Defenders, while good, was a step down... and then the band sucked until Painkiller.
That's a good description of how many view Priest's catalogue. That doesn't mean it's right at all. In fact, in my opinion it's almost totally wrong. The first big wallop to the party line is the fact that Sin After Sin is not only better than anything Priest released after 1979, it's also one of the greatest albums anyone ever released, period. This is a Priest stupefyingly beyond the pale, crafting an album full of experimentation and bold intelligence that puts to shame the claim that metal cannot play in the same league as the mad geniuses of rock royalty.
True, Sin After Sin does not come down and redefine music in the way Sad Wings did, but really it could've had people decided to follow the path Priest was meandering down. The album is no less innovative than it's predecessor, but it's like the world was too busy trying to be like Sad Wings to even try to master the almost magical profundity barely contained on this little compact disc (or at the time, considerably larger black vinyl). Sadly, yet also fortuitously, Priest was literally starving, and couldn't afford to continue on in a direction that wasn't getting any attention. Therefore, the band would continue on in a mesmerizing (and virtuosic) series of massive stylistic shifts, the band moving on to futuristic uber-technical masterworks on Stained Class. This band literally went through ELEVEN big changes in a row, ending at Ram it Down.
The first big move was acquiring the inhumanly talented Simon Phillips on drums. This guy is seriously the most unique metal drummer since Bill Ward (in a totally different way), from the bouncy clapping drum rolls on "Starbreaker" to the amazingly textured cymbal-wash opening "Raw Deal". The guy manages to make cymbals of all things beautiful and eye-opening. It's true, the guy's odd style is a little distracting at times, but Sin After Sin wouldn't be Sin After Sin without it.
Judas Priest may have made a name for themselves with one-dimensional hits like "You Got Another Thing Coming" and "Breakin' the Law", but this record more than any other shows them literally doing 180 turns song in and song out. It may be disconcerting for some, but to me it's like finding a gold mine, and then discovering it's also an oil well, a diamond deposit, and home of the finest steak house in the greater Harrow area. If the album was simply bi-polar and full of schisms between the tracks, I would not be so kind, but they do every style better than any influence you might find, and more often than not are inventing a whole new sub-genre that none who followed could touch.
Opener "Sinner" sounds both newer and older (it's the guitar style I think) than the stuff on Sad Wings, an epic as unlike "Victim of Changes" as musically possible, maze-like and full of interesting production choices, most notably the OutKast-style repetition of the "god of the devils" line (check out "Hey Ya" if you can stomach it, the "shake it" bit). The solos are hot, Rob Halford electric (change those adjectives around and my review might come off as a little less innocent), Simon Phillips Simon Phillips-like.
I think "Diamonds and Rust" may be the best example of metallizing a non-metal song as of 1977, and perhaps the first commercially successful one (on a very small level) as it soon became the 'drug of choice' for metal acts looking for an in on the business (Anthrax = "I'm Eighteen", Heathen - "Set Me Free"). It's also solidly thrashy riff-wise and features a brilliantly sombre Halford performance, the melancholic lyrics perhaps actually revealing his under-utilized talent at singing lyrics that don't involve forced oral sex or winged saviours from out the sky.
"Starbreaker" belies the cold reputation of early Priest, the song finding grooves more easily than temporally-adjacent KISS and rocking out measured and headbang happy. Priest always had non-sense lyrics at times (later: all the time) and "Starbreaker" is no exception, the song apparently about some sort of interstellar ladies man come to spread his alien seed around the same cycle on which Haley's Comet swings by. Seriously, practically all of the references to 'paradise' and 'star voyage[s] to a new world' could easily be taken as euphemisms. In any case, the song as a sweet break ('Starbreaker lead us on, and on, oooon....') and an even sweeter solo, one of my favourites out of a catalogue wherein nearly every solo is pure gold.
Now, naysayers be damned, I like "Last Rose of Summer". It isn't like we're trying to challenge Altars of Madness of Necroticism here, it's a ballad in the trippy, dippy 70's style. Rob is alarmingly warm and gentle here, elegant phrasing and some delicate shading making it a good song to quiet those who write him off as a guy who just screams his head off. And for the Painkiller kids in the family, a song to hide in the closet and deny 'til the end of time. I'm not sure what the deal is with the background vocals are on about because they get creepy after a while, but otherwise Rob is a perfect ten and Simon's soft drumming chops (not to mention Tipton and Downing's melodic leads) get some nice exercise before the next onslaught.
"Let Us Prey" is a brilliantly church-y intro, organ-like lead guitars and Halford's out of this world wail introducing us to Priest's most Purple song, and also the song in which Priest proves that in general, they're way better than Purple ever was. This is an update on Purple speedsters like "Fireball", "Speed King", "Highway Star", and "Demon's Eye", that old guitar style very similar save for the fact Priest is playing at such unhealthy speeds that often you can't tell. Here the writers are obviously a little upset with the media who panned Priest's early records and ignored the hell out of the brand new ideas served up on the preceding platters. At least they don't chew out magazines by name the way Axl Rose did in musical form. Priest busts out a fiery lead duel that shames anything Purple ever did (well, maybe not "Pictures of Home"), Halford pronouncing from his high-upon-high metal god throne, Phillips in the boiler room playing some super-fast fills and jamming in as many sounds as possible into the standard fast-drum style. I just wish I had something to say about poor Ian Hill.
Yet another total switch-up. Virtually nobody remembers that Priest used to be pretty damn funky, tracks like this and later "Killing Machine" and "Burnin' Up" grooving (in the true, general music definition of that term) like no other metal band before or since. This is Purple's hackneyed white funk (and God forbid, Zeppelin's horrific white reggae) done right, Rob Halford giving us a tour of a gay bar... errr, western saloon (I'm sorry, but read the lyrics) while the band cruises by in a bouncing low-rider. Furthermore, the song contains what I consider to be one of the first mosh breaks, the basic blueprint for any number of neck-snapping Anthrax/Pantera breakdowns, as well as one of the most dramatic ride-outs in rock history. Have I mentioned that Rob Halford is the most amazing singer in all of metal?
Next, another ballad yet in no way similar to "Last Rose". This is the type of dripping sorrow that you can share with your snarling denim 'n' leather buddies. It's slow, gothic, almost like a psyched-out alternate universe version of The Gathering. Rob is so reserved on the first part of the song, Ian Hill droopy and mercurial (Yes!), Phillips acting texture and feel through sparse drums... and then the more brisk acoustic guitar moves in. Really, this is the most "Victims"-style song on the album, sorrow and resentment mixing as the song gradually builds. The crunching guitars supporting operatic wails in the heavy part of the song are perfect, this highly melodic doom feel permeating your innards, the loss implied expressed so perfectly that the only comparison at the time was the emotional connection of terror in "Black Sabbath". The final 'here come the tears' are so eerie because it sounds like Rob is singing 'land of the dead' which is so appropriate for the crashing epic finale of the song.
And now for something completely different.
Goofy little drum fills, sound effects, unidentifiable instrumentation, a build up to.... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Is that even human?! On a pair of headphones that noise is so high-register that your eardrums feel like bursting. Hell, it's enough to blind you for a moment to the incredibly heavy riffs being pounded into your skull. Like nothing else, operating on a level nobody else was even thinking about, "Dissident Aggressor" is no less than the most advanced metal written by '77, in fact, heavier and more intense than anything up until around 1980. It's amazingly brief as if this kind of power can't be kept up for long, more metal than Satan lyrics, riffs and sheer mind-melting power that had me literally flattened against the mattress (do most of my listening in bed) with my mouth agape at the damned song. If I'd be walking down the street I may well have fallen over. Then, I ruined by throat snarling along in my best death metal growl. If this song doesn't make your head bang unsafely, you may very well be dead. And the solos, the solos! It literally sounds like Tipton and Downing picked up some forked tridents and started spearing demons and casting them writhing into the light, their death-screams recorded for use in this ultimate plateau of metal power. Really, metal has rarely been better since.
Anything after THAT would be an anti-climax, but the light and loose "Run with the Devil" eases you back into reality with it's catchy, light riffing and solid performances from all involved. After that, a nice live version of "Jawbreaker" (apparently the band didn't perform many of the tracks on this record that weren't already on Unleashed in the East) closes the affair in a fine fashion.
You know it's albums like this that make me embarrassed about the choices Priest made post-79. As good as British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance, and most of all Defenders of the Faith are, they'll never be as flat-out great as this stuff. The creativity was drying up, the brilliance nearly used up, the band destined to a future of ridicule from the lay-man, and to be slotted in behind upstarts like Iron Maiden in the great metal sweepstakes. Still, we should bow toward the undeniable genius that Priest once had and, if a miracle happens, may yet regain. Sin After Sin, the most experimental Priest record and ultimately one of the most satisfying.
Stand-Outs: "Dissident Aggressor", "Starbreaker", "Here Come the Tears"... okay, that's virtually random. Any track would do.