Judas Priest – Sin After Sin (1977)
- ’70s Priest is the best Priest.
- Judas Priest usually has trouble with filler on their albums.
Sin After Sin is the band’s 3rd album, and it’s arguably their celebration of how they escaped the evil, nasty Gull Records. It’s indisputably an early arrival to the field of heavy metal, but Priest retains much of their folk/blues influences, albeit often filtered through more guitar distortion and power chords than their contemporaries. Rob Halford’s trademark screams also differentiate this from most of the rock music of the time, but if you ask me, Judas Priest didn’t really settle on heavy metal as their main genre until Stained Class (which came immediately after this album).
Despite genre-mixing and gradual evolution towards a ‘signature’ sound, Sin After Sin‘s variety may be more attributable to the varying role of its primary songwriters. On this album, at least, it appears that one of the guitarists – specifically K.K Downing was pushing the metallic aspects of Judas Priest’ sound – the songs on which he has credits (“Starbreaker”, “Call for the Priest”, “Dissident Aggressor”) are the most aggressive and ‘heavy’ of the group. When the band wrote without him, it resulted in (with the exception of the lead-in track) lighter fare. Given that this correlation isn’t as strong in the rest of the band’s early discography, I’m inclined to think this is a coincidence, perhaps a result of Downing show elevated interest in the growing British metal scene or something similar.
Regardless of how this sound was achieved, Sin After Sin is definitely a “transitional” album, and its songs tend to reflect common strengths and weaknesses within the genres Judas Priest are straddling. The aforementioned “Call for the Priest” is a bona fide early speed metal song for whatever reason – it generally benefits from the occasional bits of progressive rock in Priest’s legacy, but the band has some trouble gluing sections together where on more genre-consistent songs they did not. Luckily, the songs here aren’t repetitive, but some of them are overextended, in that youthful “need to make something epic but can’t quite get there” way. Arguably, that’s preferable to latter day Priest, which often played it safe, and risked repetition and tedium. However, the best songs on here, oddly enough, are the covers – “Diamonds and Rust” amps up the original rather nicely due to early Priest’s familiarity with the folk tropes, but “Race with the Devil” (included on reissues) basically prototypes Priest’s later sound while still sounding refreshing due to Gun’s different songwriting methods.
With all of this in mind, I could argue that Sin After Sin showcases a band that’s found its identity, even if their sound wasn’t quite formalized yet and their ‘leather rebel’ imagery was still perhaps in the future. The years of practice that lead up to this point gave us a band that could comfortably take sounds they enjoyed and recontextualize them into their own evolving style. However, it’d take them another album or two to figure out what that style was…
Highlights: “Diamonds and Rust”, “Starbreaker”, “Call for the Priest”, “Raw Deal”