By Tate Bengtson
Sinner strikes me as the perennially average older stepbrother to Primal Fear. Sure, it shares a lot of the same DNA with its superior younger sibling, but it is confused as to its place and, consequently, inconsistent in its output. Over time, Sinner has evolved from a cheesy hard rock band into a more serious power metal band into a repository for ideas that would not fit on a Primal Fear album. Of the three albums considered here, Judgement Day marks the transition from the first to the second stage while the remaining two albums are embedded in the “serious power metal” stage.
On 1997’s Judgement Day, Sinner mixes uptempo but unremarkable melodic metal with generous nods to hard rock. Frankly, most of the album sounds like a poor emulation of Sinner’s influences. The album’s diversity generally proves to be unwelcome departures: the tacky title track which sounds like a botched Queensryche epic, post-Promised Land; the bluesy “Streets of Sin” stumbles over itself like a bad Saxon song that rambles on for about three minutes too long; and “Blue Tattoo” is a silly glam rock excursion. Even when Judgement Day sticks to its basic formula, the music is hindered by average vocals, unremarkable songwriting, and an inability to filter the good from the bad. For example, while a song such as the double bass-laden “Jump the Gun” sounds like an attempt to imitate the hard-edged success of Judas Priest’s Painkiller, the end result is ill-conceived and laborious. The bonus tracks include the unintentionally hilarious ballad “The River Runs Dry” and the similarly laughable “Had Enough,” which sounds like a bad, demo-ish hangover from Sinner’s best-left-forgotten past.
The Nature of Evil, released in 1998, showcases a band riding high after the sudden success of Primal Fear’s debut. Unsurprisingly, The Nature of Evil revels in a harder edged sound. Bursting out of the gates with “Devil’s River,” the energetic guitar/drum combination launches the band on the right foot, with even Mat Sinner’s typically mundane vocals given a boost. Sure, the synthesizer work, including the embarrassing orchestra hits and terrible solo right out of the worst 70s prog, drags down an otherwise fine track, but what would Sinner be without its lemming-like determination to send even its best tracks flailing out into the abyss in some sort of instinctual self-sabotage? The uplifting second cut, “A Question of Honour,” borrows a page from Blind Guardian (and benefits from guest vocals courtesy of Primal Fear’s Ralf Scheepers) while “Justice From Hell” darkens the proceedings quite a bit, and to generally good effect. The highpoint is the title track, a seven minute dark epic (akin to Burnt Offerings-era Iced Earth) which boasts an infectious chorus repeated ad nauseum. The Nature of Evil takes a bit of a nosedive after this track, with unremarkable filler such as the fast-but-forgettable “Some Truth,” the heavy-but-plodding “Darksoul,” and the paint-by-numbers “Walk on the Darkside” suggesting that Sinner has exhausted its creativity and is merely cycling through its standard set of ideas in order to finish off the album. The three bonus cuts basically revisit the three modes in which Sinner operates, with one track devoted to uplifting power metal, another to a lame ballad, and still another to a rollicking hard rock tune. While the tracks basically reaffirm the Sinner formula, they do not detract from the album either. Despite its imperfections, The Nature of Evil stands as the most consistent and hard-hitting album of the three reviewed here.
With There Will Be Execution, released in 2003, Sinner hardened its sound even further. Unfortunately, the quality of the songwriting has dipped a bit. Of course, there continues to be some rather atrocious choices being made by the band, such as the misbegotten cover Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam” (which is one of three bonus tracks on this album). And yet, when the band nails it, things come together swimmingly. Sinner once again begins with a barnburner, this time the mighty “Higher Level of Balance,” which features some of the most vibrant and finely-arranged lead work yet heard on a Sinner album. “Requiem for a Sinner” suffers from an awkwardness that hinders its flow, while “Die On Command” improves the quality with its slow-paced Dio-esque riff. There is filler aplenty, with “Finalizer” blowing by with nary an impact felt, “Locked and Loaded” once again indulging Sinner’s predilection for bad Saxon, and “The River” reviving Sinner’s ability to craft trudging AOR ballads loaded with more cheese than a stuffed-crust pizza. Rescuing the album is “Liberty of Death,” which relishes in an urgent groove and memorable chorus, although this momentum is lost with the following songs, the throwaway “Black Monday” and the absurd acoustic-led final track. Of the bonus tunes, we have the aforementioned lesson in comedy, the cover of “Wherever I May Roam,” and a much better note-for-note rendition of Accept’s overplayed anthem, “Balls to the Wall,” as well as the unremarkable “The Truth is Out There.” While the lead song from There Will Be Execution seems to promise Sinner’s finest outing yet, the inconsistent songwriting robs this album of that title.
Sinner is too inconsistent to deserve an unconditional endorsement. Even during its finest moments, it is a second tier band at best. To the extent that Sinner is interesting, it is in order to put Primal Fear in a more appropriate context. Primal Fear has all-too-often been dismissed as a Painkiller clone, at least on its first few albums. This comparison, while not without merit, only tells half of the story. However, if Primal Fear is considered as the refinement and extension of Sinner, as the culmination of the heavier tendencies that emerged on Judgement Day, as a more focused outing that defined itself over and against the mistakes of Sinner, as a brother-in-arms a little less prone to fall on its own sword, it actually adds something to my appreciation of Primal Fear. For that reason, these reissues may pique the interest of Primal Fear diehards. But beyond that group, these albums are of minimal significance due to the fact that every high point achieved by Sinner is inundated by low points that range from formulaic to garish.
(Nuclear Blast / Metal Mind)
Judgement Day – 3.5/10
The Nature of Evil – 5/10
There Will Be Execution – 4/10