By 1977 Judas Priest were on the verge of something big. A new deal with CBS Records was signed and the band kicked off new year by recording their third album at Ramport Studios. Former Deep Purple bass player Roger Glover was drafted in to produce. For the first time Priest had a proper record company support behind them and were determined to deliver a ball breaking album.
However, Alan Moore had just left Priest for the second time and the band was lacking a drummer. With sessions approaching fast, Simon Phillips stepped in and the group recorded the ”Sin After Sin” – album in mere 6 days. It was released in April 1977 and peaked at 23 on the UK charts.
“Sin After Sin ” remains somewhat lost album in Judas Priest back catalogue, with only few of its tracks becoming essential parts of Priest compilations and staple of their live show. “ Diamonds And Rust ” – a Joan Baez cover of course is still done both electrically and acoustically to this day. The biggest impact though was created by the opening track ”Sinner,” which could be described as album’s title song although the phase “sin after sin” was first heard in 1976 on “Genocide.”
“Sinner” is officially credited to Glenn Tipton and Rob Halford, but its lead break is quintessential K.K. Downing and one of his most beloved solos. K.K. used Flying V’s throughout recording and this gave songs a certain metallic sound different from previous albums. This becomes clear right at the opening bars of “Sinner.”
The song begins with a sound of distorted guitar effect. Live this was created by K.K. on whammy bar and pedals. The main riff kicks in and the effect is unbeatable, what instantly catches the ear is also Simon Phillips’ powerhouse drumming, driving behind the guitars. By 0:40 mark, the tempo picks up slightly and again does the same on second verse. During that one, Glenn plays some short licks between Rob’s vocal lines. During chorus Rob’s voice is often doubled, thus it seems like the Sinner and the Devil are singing together here.
The instrumental part before the main solo is incredibly energized, this and the album’s closer “Dissident Aggressor” are perfect examples of Priest’s early heaviness in 1977. Listen to guitars and drums between 2:49 and 3:08, it displays the origins of thrash metal some 10 years before the movement actually took place.
K.K.’s lead break follows with slower background and if you haven’t listened to it for a while, you should do so now! Full of his bends and trademark whammy bar style, it creates perfect images of chaos and oblivion. As the songs protagonist states “disrupting the calm into the storm.”
By this mid-section almost doom-like atmosphere takes over. Rob sings with restrained force while K.K. is soloing away behind before music again picks up steam and rushes into main riff.
Glenn does a brief solo towards the end and another ear catching moment occurs between 5:40 and 5:50, guitars are soaring here! The final chorus rises to a crescendo with Rob screaming top of his lungs “ Sinner, Sinner! Sinner! Sinner !!” After this the final vocal line “fall by the hand of the Sinner” brings track to a closure, right at the finish there’s sound of a distant thunder almost literally left ringing inside listener’s head.
Lyrics are rather typical war imagery by Rob Halford at this time. Song paints a bleak picture of a post-nuclear world where the sinner rides with devil by his side. Together they roam the ”starways ” with demons and vultures stalking close behind them.
”Thirty years now sleeping” – the era of cold war was beckoning and many people feared third world war was certain to hit any day. Towards the end it becomes clear Sinner is not just someone who is out there to benefit from the war, and seek carcasses but is, in fact the war itself. The chorus “God of the Devils ” implies that Sinner as mankind and war they are making, is already placing themselves as the greatest devil of all. The song ends with war sensing the fear of the people and feeding on it, announcing that everyone will fall and die by the hand of the sinner.
By this point, Priest were already creating plenty of interesting characters. After “Sinner” and “Diamonds And Rust” third song “Starbreaker” begins declaring proudly “look out, here’s Starbreaker!” – this was an angelic figure, conceptually an opposite counterpart to the “Sinner.”
Right after its release ”Sinner” was placed rightfully as one of the centre pieces of Priest’s set. On the early tours it was used as a set opener and later played during the first part of the show. In 1977 Simon Phillips had declined the offer to join the band on tour and Les Binks filled in. First show of the tour took place in Oulu, Finland. After that a series of British dates followed in May and Priest’s first US tour throughout the summer. Les Binks was the skins man who could most closely duplicate Phillips’ excellent drumming live. Later Dave Holland came in with slightly different approach, none of the speed or drive were lost though. In fact the early 1980’s versions started to become even faster, heavier and wilder (if possible). By 1984’s “Defenders Of The Faith” – tour tempo was already nearly twice as fast as the original studio version.
”Sinner” was played live in almost every Priest show for the next seven years. It’s highlight was K.K.’s wild lead break with plenty of whammy bar action. During ”World Vengeance” tour in 1982-83 he was seen up at the rafters playing the solo, which often got extended. On stage originally 6-minute track stretched up to roughly 9 minutes with lengthy ending which saw K.K. punishing his guitar beating the strings and again ripping out with whammy bar.
Yeah, I kind of extended it. I’d do all my theatrics, under the strobes! When it was good, I felt was on fire, I had to be careful not to get too carried away because I had to remember to signal the rest of the band so they knew when to come back in.
Many argue the definitive versions of all 1970’s Priest classics are found on the “Unleashed In The East” live behemoth recorded in Japan 1979. And they could be right as the version of “Sinner” found herein packs in huge amount of strength and conviction. At this stage, the band had played the song for two years and were adding more and more life to its grooves.
Rob Halford used to introduce song on stage in various ways:
This next one features the man on the right, Mr. K.K. Downing, from “Sin After Sin” this is… “The Sinner!” (UK tour 1978)
Mr.Downing is primed and ready on a Sunday! (Memphis 1982)
Are you ready for some Priest-style heavy metal? The Sinner!!! (Miami 1988)
For 1986’s ”Fuel For Life” tour Priest dropped all (with exception of “Victim Of Changes” ) pre-1979 material from the set, including ” Sinner.” This was possibly a welcome change for the band and certainly fitting for the more commercial “ Turbo- “ era.
However, many fans were happy to see ”Sinner” back in the set for ”Mercenaries Of Metal” tour following the release of “Ram It Down.” This 1988 rendition of ”Sinner” remains a personal favourite, the band is on fire hammering the song with incredible power and glory. Rob Halford’s vocals at this point were out of this world, they almost border on being too much with singer screaming like a banshee through the slower mid-section.
Unfortunately the song was dropped from the set-list after this tour and remained unplayed for 20 years. On 2008-2009 “Nostradamus” tour Priest resurrected this majestic number for concert stage. K.K. re-produced the classic solo faithfully even if the running out to rafters was cut out. Halford had some difficulties with demanding vocals of the song and it did not last beyond this tour. From “Sin After Sin” Priest have played “Diamonds And Rust” in both acoustic and electric form, somewhat suprisingly also “Starbreaker” was re-introduced on their “Epitaph”-trek in 2011. “Dissident Aggressor” was also featured on the “Nostradamus” tour.
The title ”Sinner” naturally has left its mark in metal history. A band called Sinner was formed in Germany by bassist/vocalist/producer Mat Sinner who currently also plays with Primal Fear (another band with few Priest connections).
Dewin Townsend did a nice cover of “Sinner” for ”Legends Of Metal Vol. 1” release in 1996. A band called Engrave has also covered this tune.
Rob Halford did few faithful if slightly slowed down versions of the song during his 2002 summer solo tour.
With acknowledgements: Judas Priest Info Pages
•Written by Glenn Tipton & Rob Halford
•Recorded at Ramport Studios, London January 1977
• Produced By Roger Glover & Judas Priest
• First released On “Sin After Sin” album in April 1977
• Live version available on “Unleashed In The East” 1979
On DVD “Live Vengeance” 1982.
• Also released on “Metal Works” 1993 and “The Essential Judas Priest” 2006
“This song is for me the epitome of Priest music in every respect, the title alone lends itself perfectly for a band like us to be inspired to create true metal. It was for me probably the song I most enjoyed playing live, anyone who saw us in concert would be aware that I had the pleasure of drifting off into my own world when playing my improvised solo.
I will be the first to admit that when I was on form and the sound was just right I was in my seventh heaven.
As you are aware we haven’t performed the song for sometime, but I think maybe this will make it something certainly for me to look forward to in the future, to once again to hear the metal god scream out loud:
“Sinner! Sinner! Sinner!”
Sinner rider, rides in with the storm
The devil rides beside him
The devil is his god, God help you mourn
Do you, do you hear it, do you hear the thunder
Deafen every living thing about
Can you, can you see it, can you
See the mountains darken yonder
Black sun rising, time is running out
Sacrifice to vice or die by the hand of the
His steed of fury,
Eyes of fire and mane ablaze
Demonic vultures stalking
Drawn by the smell of war and pain
He roams the starways
Searching for the carcasses of war
But if it’s hungry then its very presence
Disrupts the calm into the storm
Curse and damn you all you’ll fall by the hand of the
(Is this obligation?)
God of the Devils, God of the Devils
Won’t you help them pray
God of the Devils, God of the Devils
Is there no other way
Can’t you hear their souls calling out in their plight Can’t you see their blood is boiling setting them alight
Thirty years now sleeping, so sound
War raises its head, and looks slowly around The Sinner is near, sensing the fear
And the beast will start movin’ around
Sacrifice to vice or die by the hand of the Curse and damn you all you fall by the hand of the Sinner!