Judas Priest Screaming for Vengeance: Album Review

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 Released on the heels of the more stripped-down albums British Steel and Point of Entry, Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance (1982) was faster, heavier, and more aggressive. It was recorded during an age of stability in Priest’s lineup, when legendary vocalist Rob Halford, dual lead guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, and bassist Ian Hill—who was unfortunately lost in the mix—were joined by Dave Holland for the third consecutive album, interrupting a line of former drummers little shorter than that of Spinal Tap. Perhaps the ongoing collaboration of five consistent members helped Priest find their direction; though considered less “radio friendly” than previous releases, Screaming for Vengeance was certified double platinum, making this true metal classic their most commercially successful album.

“The Hellion” began with a heavy but melodic guitar riff that prepared the listener for everything to follow. The brief, instrumental opener built energy from the first moment, preparing the way for “Electric Eye” to explode with its own faster, more complex opening riff. The two connected songs are often the first played at Priest shows, so fans everywhere will forever associate “The Hellion” with the thrilling moment when the wait is over, the curtain is raised, and the metal begins.

“Electric Eye” showcased Downing and Tipton’s twin guitar shredding attack, a staple of metal that they pioneered and perfected. Halford’s vocals stayed primarily toward the lower end of his range, reminding the listener that while he is known for his banshee screams, they are not his only setting. His steady, insidious delivery fit the lyrics about a sentient spy camera keeping tabs on everyone from above—a concept that has only become eerier and more relevant as the Internet, satellite imagery, and commercial drones have raised questions about privacy in the modern age.

“Riding on the Wind” was a straightforward tune, light on lyrics and minimal (for Priest) on solos, dominated instead by catchy riffs that were sure to stay lodged in the listener’s head. Holland began and ended the song with quick, thrashing drum solos. “Bloodstone” was likewise catchy but felt more focused on Halford, who conveyed the lyrically appropriate sense of fear and pleading without sounding an ounce less metal.


Judas Priest Screaming for Vengeance

Photo: By Judas_Priest_2799.jpg: Dori derivative work: Алый Король (Judas_Priest_2799.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

“Take These Chains” was an unusual track, immediately catching attention with its subdued, instrumentally sparse opening and another expressive performance from Halford. Its unique sound among the surrounding tracks is because it was contributed by songwriter Bob Halligan Jr. (who also wrote “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” for Priest’s following album, Defenders of the Faith). It didn’t quite deliver as the simple chorus became repetitive, making it one of the weaker songs on the album, along with the following track, “Pain and Pleasure,” which was rather slow and featured vocals that just weren’t up to Halford’s usual high standards of control and power.

Fortunately, the memories of less standout songs were charged out of the listener’s head by the title track, which burst with heavy metal energy from the first note and never let up. “Screaming for Vengeance” fulfilled its name as Halford displayed his skill with a variety of screams, each clear, powerful, and precisely controlled. Though many metal vocalists can let loose the occasional scream to punctuate a song’s climactic moment, Halford was and is the master of making his high-register howls an integrated part of his singing, enhancing the melody throughout the song. Not to be outdone, Tipton and Downing were also at the top of their game, first assailing the listener with aggressive riffing to complement Halford’s vocals, then leaping into the spotlight. Each took a turn to shred solo, but the peak of their performance was when they harmonized together in a twice-as-forceful, soaring metal duet.

As if to provide a reprieve from the intensity of the previous track, Priest followed it with “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” a comparatively mellow anthem with a strong hook and a more commercial sound that wouldn’t have felt out of place on British Steel. Priest finished writing it at the last minute because they wanted one more song on the album, but it was just what they needed. It became immensely popular, attracted a larger audience in the United States, and is still one of their more known songs. “Commercial” is often a dirty word in the metal community, but in this case, accessibility did not equate to departing from their identity. The song was all metal attitude with lyrics proclaiming a favorite message of Priest’s throughout their career: they would take the world by storm, enjoy all that life offered, and let no one stand in their way. This struck a chord with diehard metalheads and casual listeners alike.

“Fever” started soft and built up a driving groove that made it a more successful attempt at what “Take These Chains” was perhaps trying to accomplish, going in unexpected directions throughout and featuring a wide range of captivating guitar and vocal work that showed a different side of Priest.

The original track list wrapped up with “Devil’s Child,” a solid song with a classic hard rock sound that felt more like something AC/DC would perform. Though forgettable compared to the album’s several masterpieces, it was catchy. Later editions of the album also included a ballad, “Prisoner of Your Eyes,” which was recorded a few years after the original release and did not feel suited to it, but there were some strong guitar solos nestled amid the cheesy lyrics.

Screaming for Vengeance was a master stroke that accomplished exactly what Priest needed at that point in their career. The presence of filler was forgivable on an album that more importantly included “Electric Eye,” “Screaming for Vengeance,” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,” which helped make Priest a worldwide phenomenon. The album could have benefited from more creative drumming and more audible bass, but Priest were always defined by the screams of Halford and the dual guitars, and there, Screaming for Vengeance excelled.

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