[28 May 2001]
It was with great nostalgia and a shadow of youthful exuberance that I loaded Screaming for Vengeance into the tray of my old and faithful Sony (the first and only CD player I have ever bought). It occurred to me that I had never heard the album before on compact disc; I had bought the LP when I was 13 years old—before the days of those shiny lil’ metallic wonders. I wondered, would I feel the fillings in my teeth begin to loosen? Would fine crystal everywhere run for cover for fear of Rob Halford’s phoenix-like shriek? Would the neighbors, now 20 years older and much less tolerant, call and complain as in the past? Would the magic still be there 20 years later? The answers to these questions are, in order: my fillings are loose to begin with because of poor dental coverage, the crystal emerged unscathed, and the neighbors are substantially harder of hearing as they steadily approach their winter years. But, in spite of this, the magic was indeed still there.
I recall my headbanging days fondly. There was an indescribable joy in unleashing the power that those albums provided. When school was tedious or rough, when spats arose with girlfriends, when you got busted for drinking and coming home two hours past curfew—there was a way to make all that seem inconsequential. All you had to do was turn the stereo up nearly all the way (didn’t want to fry those speakers now) and smite the world with Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, or, for the purpose of this review, Judas Priest.
I adored Priest in those days. I recall The King Biscuit Flower Hour airing a concert from their “British Steel” tour in the summer of—oh somewhere around 1982 or ‘83. I remember staying up late to record it, even though I had Driver’s Ed. at 6:30 in the bloody morning. That tape didn’t leave my deck all summer. Which brings us to a practical point. Priest were an incredible live band. Their stage dynamic and overall sound were a true feast for the senses. They are still the loudest band I have ever seen. Rob Halford’s searing dynamic range—from monstrous lows to eardrum-piercing highs—stands as his legacy to the band and this whole genre of music. Halford educated the metal scream; his lows rivaled those of his legendary encore Harley Davidson and his highs could crack an ice sculpture.
And yet, Priest could also leave you somewhat hollow. Perhaps ultimately what kept Priest out of the upper echelon of British Metal/Hard Rock (Zeppelin, Sabbath) is that their songs didn’t add up to very much in the grand scheme of things. Props are due, of course, for Priest gave us many good-time party rockers, some true metal anthems, and the occasional ballad or two per album. However, upon closer scrutiny, deep structure with regard to the compositions is lacking. One might do better to check out Black Sabbath, Cream, King Crimson, or Led Zeppelin. Additionally, the rhythm section of Judas Priest was generally uninspired. This is not meant to imply that they weren’t tight. On the contrary, drummer Dave Holland and bassist Ian Hill were always rock-steady. And, it should be noted that it might simply be by design that Judas Priest had an embalming sort of stiffness. I only mention it because the 1978 release of Sin after Sin (produced by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover)—which featured famed studio percussionist Simon Phillips—showed us that the band’s songs could take on a very impressive dynamic when the rhythm section was stylized rather than straightforward and bland. The band had the talent, no question. Rob Halford, Glenn Tipton, and K.K. Downing were a powerful team that produced many memorable melodies: “Living after Midnight” and this album’s “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” are but two examples. However, this particular phase of Priest’s career (early ‘80s) tended to appeal to angst-ridden teenagers.
Screaming for Vengeance was the second in a trio of watershed releases for the band in the early 1980s. The impressive triumvirate began with 1980’s British Steel, 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance, and 1984’s Defenders of the Faith. This particular era for the band ushered in a new, harder, and particularly distinctive sound as well as a newfound understanding and practice of the A.O.R. four- to five-minute single.
Screaming for Vengeance is a definitive album from a definitive heavy metal band, absolutely necessary for a fan of the genre or the eclectic collector.