[5 October 2012]
“From an unknown land and through distant skies came a winged warrior. Nothing remained sacred, no one was safe from the Hellion as it uttered its battle cry… Screaming for Vengeance.”
A fantastical quote like the one above, which adorns Judas Priest’s ‘82 mega-selling Screaming for Vengeance, is a rare sight these days. However, when the band released its eighth and most commercially successful album, the metal scene was a far different place. Though metal had been brewing successfully for well over a decade—ever since Tony Iommi lopped his fingertips off, downtuned his guitar and triggered metal’s ascension from the world of hard rock, blues, prog and psych- - it was during the ‘80s that its varying offshoots came to prominence. Metal discovered its creative and commercial potential during those years, turning scruff and grime into a gazillion nickels and dimes, and Judas Priest were crucial in inspiring that momentum. The band hauled metal into the spotlight and influenced countless acts with albums such as 1978’s Stained Class and Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather, and ‘80s genre-defining British Steel and the multi-platinum, endlessly lauded Screaming for Vengeance.
Re-released for its 30th anniversary, this version of Screaming for Vengeance sees Tom Allom’s original production remastered by Jon Astley. Maximizing the mass, Astley polishes the burrs, ups the poundage, enhances the tones, and adds more punch to Rob Halford’s vocals. Whether any of that comes at the expense of the grittier, authentic soul of Allom’s production is obviously debatable—as with any classic album remastered. Don Johnson’s original artwork is also re-tweaked, six previously unreleased bonus tracks are added on, and enthusiastic liner notes from Eddie Trunk are included, along with a DVD of Judas Priest’s performance at 1983’s historic US Festival.
Much has been written about Screaming for Vengeance over the years. The album brought Judas Priest long-overdue arena success in the US—in part legitimizing metal’s ascent from a roughneck, undervalued genre—and the band refined its accent to a razor sharp point on the release. Screaming for Vengeance is an ironclad classic, as metal as metal can get, and one of the most celebrated metal albums of all time. Contextually, that all makes perfect sense. There’s a lot wrapped up in Screaming for Vengeance: it’s nostalgically alluring, a hallowed album in fans’ collections, and packed to the gunwales with steely flamboyance, exuberance, and bullet-belted symbolism.
There’s no doubt for many fans that Screaming for Vengeance is the Judas Priest album. Others might insist it’s British Steel, Painkiller, or Defenders of the Faith, but it’s that fervency that makes Priest so appealing.
Perhaps because Screaming for Vengeance holds such a prestigious position (to find fault with it seems heretical) not many people mention that some of the content is tepid and plenty of the lyrics are cringe-worthy. The remastering does nothing to alter the fact (if anything, it emphasizes it further) and tracks such as “Fever” and “(Take these) Chains” sit at odds to the album’s reputation by being characterless filler. “Pain and Pleasure” is also a bit of soft-kink ridiculousness—although in ‘82, in a world yet to be saturated by internet filth, vocalist Rob Halford’s S&M titillations no doubt had an effect on impressionable teenage metalheads. It certainly gave me pause to wonder about leathered-up scenarios well outside the possibilities of my pimpled youth.
Still, every Judas Priest album contains a few duds, and of course Screaming for Vengeance sits on a pedestal because of its obvious strengths. After Point of Entry’s ignominious grasp at commercial success in ‘81, Screaming for Vengeance found Judas Priest retaining the hooks necessary to snag chart success, while mainly producing far heavier and harder material. The album contains “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”, one of the greatest metal songs ever recorded and the band’s first and only taste of US singles chart success. Additionally, it has the incomparable opening gambit of “The Hellion/Electric Eye”, the swaggering “Bloodstone” and the proto-thrash, high-speed jaunts “Riding on the Wind” and “Screaming for Vengeance”. Most impressive is that this was the band’s eighth album (by which stage many acts would be regurgitating monotonous facsimiles). Due credit has to go to bassist Ian Hill, drummer Dave Holland, vocalist Halford, and guitar gods Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing for the blistering, thunderous, and inspired work found on the album’s best tracks.
Obviously, the main attraction in purchasing this 30th anniversary edition is its sonic fine-tuning and its extras. The bonus live tracks are well worth indulging in, though the inclusion of an additional studio track, “Prisoners of Your Eyes” (recorded during the band’s Turbo sessions from ‘85) is something of an anomaly, albeit a diverting one. Appropriately, Judas Priest fire on all cylinders on the five live tracks recorded in late ‘82: “Electric Eye”, “Riding the Wind”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”, “Screaming for Vengeance”, and “Devil’s Child”. Any additional live tracks from the band’s prime years are always welcome. All are excellent examples of why Priest’s passionate live shows were essential in bolstering its reputation for unbridled avidity and visceral catharsis, and helped to boost metal’s overall attractiveness.
Album tracks aside, the crucial reason to purchase this version is the bonus DVD. Filmed in front of 300,000 plus fans at the final US Festival in San Bernardino, California in ‘83, Judas Priest delivers a set worthy of its legendary status. The festival was sponsored by Apple’s Steve Wozniak, and its ‘Heavy Metal Day’, held on Sunday, 29 May, has gone down in the annals of rock and roll history. Performances from Ozzy Osbourne, Quiet Riot, Triumph, Van Halen, Scorpions, Mötley Crüe, and Judas Priest thrust metal explosively into the mainstream.
Judas Priest tear through 12 classic tracks, including “Breaking the Law”, “Living After Midnight”, “The Green Manalishi (With the Two-Pronged Crown)”, and “Heading out to the Highway”. The sound, mixed by Tom Allom and Richie Kayvan, and picture quality, edited by Alex Walker, are excellent, especially given the age of the material. Sans any fanciful stage effects or lighting, the band takes the stage at peak fighting weight. Halford, resplendent in whips and chains, and Tipton and Downing, pulling all manner of rock-star grimaces and six-string poses, proceed to rip through a taut, flawless show. With sweat pouring off them from the baking sun and blasting Santa Ana winds, Judas Priest feed off the enormous energy of the crowd. It’s a consummate performance, making this a mandatory purchase for fans.
Regardless of the original album’s use of unimaginative filler (and it’s hardly tearing a legend down to admit it), and irrespective of debates about which Priest album truly reigns supreme, there’s every reason to leap at this 30th anniversary edition of Screaming for Vengeance. The DVD alone is a timely reminder of exactly why Judas Priest has sold over 30 million albums, and why Halford’s multi-range vocals and Tipton and Downing’s twin harmonic leads have become synonymous with all that is grand and gripping about heavy metal. Screaming for Vengeance has sold in excess of 5 million copies, and has been long heralded for its importance in the metal canon as its crossover success forever changed the metal landscape. But is it the best Judas Priest album, or as important to metal’s evolution as the band’s masterpiece British Steel? I’ll leave you to argue that amongst yourselves. Suffice to say, Screaming for Vengeance is an album that any self-respecting metal fan should own.