Stab! Bawl! Punch! Crawl!
Hooks to my brain are well in
Stab! Bawl! Punch! Crawl!
I know what I am, I’m Berlin
Here’s one I haven’t listened to nearly enough, Judas priest Sin After Sin. For me it marks a really interesting point in both their and heavy metal’s evolution, the point at which blues rock influences started to go out of the window at the expense of something altogether more Teutonic and classical-influenced. But more of my genius insight later.
Judas Priest had to decide in 1976 whether to push on, or push-off. Music wasn’t paying, their drummer, literally, wasn’t up to speed and their label just didn’t have the clout they needed to break on through to the other side. Enter CBS, 19 year-old session drummer Simon Phillips and a few months later, enter Sin After Sin. If this was a make or break effort for the band it doesn’t sound like it, it sounds confident and assured – why wouldn’t people buy this?
Well, pants cover aside, that is. Having a MSc in Triviality from the University of Narnia I think the cover I the reason I haven’t really given Sin After Sin the time it probably merited. Okay I like gothic script, that can stay. But come on! That gloomy, water-locked mausoleum, with what looks like an unfinished doodle of a naked chick in heels* to the right and the Sub Mariner on the left? The back cover picture of a highly unconvincing foregrounded skull is worse. To my 21st century peepers it all looks a bit like the setting for a frustratingly low-key side quest in Skyrim. I’d have gone for something a bit less gothic and a bit more visceral myself – maybe bikini clad chicks, a big plate of chips and pints of beer?
Opener ‘Sinner’ is a great track, 6:43 of aggressive boogie. Listening to this track makes me feel like a 9′ tall heavily bearded Hells Angel, my long mane flowing in the wind as I burn down the highway on a bike burning bright with hellfire on my way to a fight against insurmountable odds – rather than the sad little dweeb I really am. Surely that’s the whole point of heavy metal? well it was what got me into it.
Sinner rider, rides in with the storm
The devil rides beside him
The devil is his god, God help you mourn
I like the progressive elements in this track, it has definite sections and movements, as well as some great instrumental interplay and kick ass soloing. We’re not quite in pure burnished metal territory yet though, you can still hear the blues roots showing through faintly in the background – despite Halford’s full-on metallic wailing.
Second track ‘Diamonds And Rust’ is such an odd, inspired choice of cover and this reading of Joan Baez’s dissection of Dylan is perfect. I love the way Rob Halford sings this track, he reins in the lung power and concentrates on the phrasing to devastating effect. I have a chum who prizes the original above all other songs, me, I prefer this one. Joan Baez really should have used double-bass drums more often in her own work I say and she could definitely have benefitted from having a spiky goblin mascot to put on her sweary T-shirts – ‘We Shall Over-Fukin’-Come’ anyone? All things considered Saxon really should have covered her ‘Sweet Sir Galahad’ on their Crusader album too. Maybe I should become her manager and re-launch her as ‘the original iron maiden’.
‘Starbreaker’ bores me I’m afraid, great title aside, apart from a little twin guitar magic late on but I am a bit of a sucker for the gothy ballad ‘Last Rose Of Summer’. Again I really like the way Rob Halford sings it in a lower register and although the imagery seems to have been lifted straight from an overly bookish 15 year-olds’ book of poems about why Amy Greenside in Form 7G should fancy him for ever, it has a certain unsophisticated charm, especially the bit where Halford does his best Robert Plant impression whilst singing the phrase ‘Last rose of summer’ 19 times straight.
‘Let Us Prey / Call For The Priest’ starts out sounding like Genesis and ends up sounding like the blueprint for prime Iron Maiden. For me this is where Judas Priest start to shuck away from a more blues-based heaviness into new cleaner more metallic territory, with some added Queen vocal harmonies on the side. This is a real departure for them and for the genre.
‘Raw Deal’ up next is on one hand a typical heavy brawling tune, but interesting in light of Rob Halford’s later disclosures about his sexuality I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to read it as a call to action of a very different kind, including a statement that ‘the true free expression I demand is human rights’ and name checks Fire Island. ‘Here Come The Tears’ is a sort of ballad, albeit a far more operatic one – it borrows heavily from Deep Purple’s ‘A Child In Time’, but I don’t care. It’s big, dramatic, impassioned and above all else – LOUD!!
Closing Sin After Sin was Judas Priest’s most metallic track to date and a real metal classic that stands the test today, ‘Dissident Aggressor’. The rhythm section is as tight as a gnat’s chuff throughout and the guitaring is, as always, superb, when Halford comes in over the top giving it everything then no-one stands a chance. Christ knows what the lyrics mean, but that’s never been the point, whereas scything down all before it with precision and volume is.
So I should definitely have spent more time than I have already done with Sin After Sin, because you really can hear the tumblers of this most metal of bands click into place as they start to find the combination for their later sound, dragging their chosen genre along with them. I love Judas priest more for their robo Turbo period but I like this because you can hear just how they found their sound.
So anyway, Sin After Sin, eh? I reckon I’ll start with a good bit of sloth, then move onto a spot of gluttony, possibly hitting a bit of envy up next, before hitting my stride with lust and pride together and finally rounding things off a double whammy of greed and bad parking. Definitely time to call for the priest!
PS – The CD bonus track ‘Race With The Devil’ is excellent too, like a souped up Wishbone Ash and really should have been on the album.
*that Rob Halford, eh? always one for the ladies.