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So Good, it's Practically a Sin - 90%

Superchard, April 6th, 2019

One word: overshadowed. It's the first word that comes to mind when coming up with thoughts associated with Judas Priest's third album, Sin After Sin. To be fair it always gets mentioned as one of their best albums, but I think we all pretty well know that the consensus seems to be that Sad Wings of Destiny trumps it in every respect and that this album only continues what that album set the groundwork for. Half true by my estimation, sure Judas Priest got harder, faster, heavier... but even mellower and cooler by the same token on Sin After Sin that makes for an icy/hot listening experience. Half you guys that have heard the record know exactly what I'm talking about while the other half of you are convinced I have synesthesia at this point, but seriously I feel as though Judas Priest accomplished some pretty amazing feats by their third record.

You know what the band sound like here? They sound like they were going by their own rules at this point. It's a little bit of a confused album in some respects, sure there's a cover... but it's a Joan Baez cover. Sure there's the obligatory ballad that sets Sin After Sin appropriately within the decade it was released, but it's an off-kilter mellow blues rock atmosphere with some oblong song writing. Halfway through and there ain't much going on other than the band chasing their own tale, going in circles with Halford repeatedly singing "the last rose of summer" for two and a half minutes. It really doesn't make for good songwriting for this particular track's case, but like I said, you certainly get the sense that Judas Priest weren't even really sure what they were doing. Not to the degree that they become totally incompetent, but almost as though they were being pulled in a lot of different directions on every song. "Last Rose of Summer"? Kind of a Zeppelin tune with Halford even doing his best Robert Plant impression as they fade out, ripped straight from "When the Levee Breaks".

Uncertainty in music making can lead to a number of different outcomes generally perceived as either really, really bad, or it can lead down a path of originality and awe. While many listeners seem fairly content to write off Sin After Sin as a good, but not great record, only one question comes to mind. "Are we listening to the same fucking album?" I know a lot of listeners are coming hot off the heels of the spectacle that Sad Wings of Destiny brought with it, I totally get it. I'm too young to have experienced that album in 1976, but when Rob shrieks "whiskey woman, don't you know that you are driving me insane", I got the impression that crowds would gaze at the band mouths wide open like the scene in Back to the Future when Marty plays rock n' roll to a totally unsuspecting crowd. That's a tough act to follow, but I'm going to be that guy and say that Judas Priest really did outdo themselves. There may not be anything as long-winded as "Victim of Changes" here, but each individual track here actually feels fully realized, whereas on Sad Wings of Destiny there was a healthy helping of tracks that didn't even hit the three minute mark.

But for as heavy as the album that proceeded this was, you really have to look at Sin After Sin objectively at some point. What about "Dissident Aggressor", "Raw Deal", and especially "Let us Prey/Call the Priest". The latter of which is basically the precursor to the title track from Screaming for Vengeance, an album that wouldn't come out until Judas Priest were five more records down the line in 1982, and we all know how much love that album got for being as hard and heavy as it was. Maybe you're unconvinced, maybe you think "so what if this album established a basis for Judas Priest's iconic speed metal riffage? Screaming for Vengeance was a no (mostly) no bullshit rock n' roll album that raised hell more consistently than this did". To which I suppose I'd agree, but one thing I can say for Sin After Sin is that it sounds a bit more organic, and I personally find they do it better here. Martin Popoff, an infamous music journalist would comment many times how he loved this one little embellishment they threw in on "Screaming for Vengeance" that's midway through the song where everything but the guitar cuts out for just a moment, and how he was disappointed that there weren't more emphasis on the minute sparks of brilliance like that one moment. This album, at least for me is the antithesis of what he was talking about in regards to that album.

Take for example the literally out of control guitar solo to "Dissident Aggressor", that once again takes things to an entirely new level that would've had listeners from 1977 questioning whether Judas Priest were from the same planet as them. The use of piano on "Here Come the Tears" is small, but just enough to shift the mood from tear jerker breakup ballad to something way more morose; deathly and grimly theatrical even... and you know what? I'm partial to the additional cover of Gun's "Race with the Devil", which happens to be one of my favorite hard rock songs of all time, so of course I'm going to love it here as well. If you ask me, perhaps "Yellow Cab Man" by the same band would've suited the more mellow mood of this album, but shit... I ain't complaining. Here I am saying this when usually I find that covers actually detract from an album. "Race with the Devil" is technically not apart of the vanilla release, added in much later in reissues, but they do make "Diamonds and Rust" their own here, it's certainly not the acoustic folk song it originally was. The only thing that I can say is the studio version of the cover just isn't as emotionally gripping as the live rendition they'd pull off much later, they would really go on to perfect the song much later. By comparison, this version is pretty vanilla.

Anyway, I find what Judas Priest pull off here is pretty spectacular. Somehow taking rock n' roll and performing it with a modicum of chill probably sounds terrible on paper to a lot of people, but give a track like "Starbreaker" a shot and I think you'll see what I mean. It's not as though they're compromising their identity as they would on later releases like British Steel or Point of Entry so much as they're really incorporating something fresh and new into what they've already got. For that, I absolutely love this album and am thankful it's not just a rehash of what the guys were already obviously comfortable with. Halford especially experiments with vocal melodies and technique here, right from the opening track when the bridge comes in as Halford permissively utters "god of the devil" with heavy reverb; at other times creating this epic, celestial realm through the use of melodies that take some real effort to pull off that plays into Tipton and Downing's dual leads and acoustic passages. The result is tremendously beautiful. The result is Sin After Sin.

Superchard gets super hard for:
Sinner
Let us Prey/Call the Priest
Here Come the Tears