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Sin After Sin is often considered, justly or otherwise, “the bastard son of ‘70s Priest.” This description causes a bit of confusion regarding the quality of said album, although the truth of the matter is that this probably comes in second place out of that era, trailing Sad Wings of Destiny but preceding Stained Class. Inferiority used in conjunction with Judas Priest’s tertiary album constitutes a fundamental injustice in the realm of metal, the reason simply being that Sin After Sin contains quite a few classics in its midst.
Well, maybe it’s not that simple. All things considered, other aspects of the album contribute to the slab of metal mastery Priest managed to output at this phase in their career. First and foremost, the addition of Simon Phillips on drums after Alan Moore’s departure ultimately benefited the band; Moore, while excellent at the heavily blues-oriented material he played on, is easily beaten out by Phillips when it comes to classic heavy metal drum beats. Honestly, he’s a beast at that set, brutalizing the instrument in a way only capable of being surpassed by thrash or black metal consta-blasting. It’s a shame he was only a session drummer – he’s easily the best instrumentalist on the album.
Secondly, the production has improved. Replacing the laid-back and more subdued production on Sad Wings of Destiny, this album’s sounds more “metallic” and overall punchier. As such, those songs that attempt heavy metal monstrousness generally succeed.
Finally, variety abounds. For every screaming beast there is a brooder or something more sentimental. Whereas Rocka Rolla was basically blues rock in its basic form and Sad Wings of Destiny generally consisted of screeching predators, Sin After Sin blends both and adds a bit of surprise into the mix.
Songs such as “Sinner” and “Dissident Aggressor” mesmerize and brutalize simultaneously with Halford’s inimitable screams and wails, particularly high-register and sometimes downright evil (especially in the case of the latter) on this specific album. His vocal prowess is matched by Tipton’s and Downing’s frenzied, vaguely unnerving soloing that somehow manages majesty and flow amidst its mania, coupled with their classic metal riffs, most recognizable in the first track’s opening section. Ian Hill generally just sits in the background, but he never shined until Killing Machine anyway.
The speedy, more schizophrenic parts of the album meet their mid-climax in “Last Rites / Call for the Priest.” It opens up posing as a quiet, calm piece with its church organ intro, but it’s evident there’s something not quite right – there’s something ominous building up in the background. And after Halford’s dark, deathly moan, it finally erupts. Frenzy, mania, schizophrenia; “Call for the Priest” contains it all. As a whole, this song constitutes an amalgamation of everything Sin After Sin stands for: violence versus calm, insanity against relaxation … it goes on and on and on.
Meanwhile, the ballads – “Here Come the Tears” and “Last Rose of Summer” – exemplify the sentimentality and moodiness with which Priest can so effectively influence their audience. But they are far from similar. The latter causes a feeling of serenity and splendor, carrying a generally positive message through its consonant nature and effectively being soft and somewhat quiet without ever transgressing into “floweriness.” The first does completely the opposite – it induces sensations of loneliness, depression, and misfortune in the listener, which it accomplishes via its use of acoustic guitar and dark piano chords.
And the surprise? That would be “Raw Deal.” This was the first effective pairing of heavy metal with blues-funk, something Priest would experiment with (and mostly succeed at) on Killing Machine. In fact, there’s a logical progression. “Raw Deal” opened the doors, while “White Heat, Red Hot” carried it further on Stained Class, an album that actually contained subtle hints of the style throughout various segments of most of its songs. And then came album number five, where all these subtleties emerged from the background and progressed into something more substantial. “Raw Deal” isn’t just about the funk, though. Trademark elements of Priest’s sound permeate its tough exterior, such as Halford’s various growls and shrieks throughout the song, as well as typically classic Downing / Tipton riffing and soloing.
So, yes, Sin After Sin certainly is an oddball, but in no way can that be considered a flaw. It makes for a much more engrossing experience overall, and several of the later albums Priest released – meaning the acclaimed ones, of course – would not have come about if the band hadn’t experimented a bit here. That means no Stained Class, no Killing Machine, and probably no Defenders of the Faith. Take that as you will.