While people recognize British Steel as a platinum Judas Priest landmark, it was Screaming For Vengeance that went double platinum. It introduced Priest to the MTV generation and opened them up to bigger American audiences. But before we get to Screaming For Vengeance itself, a cornerstone Judas Priest album in anyone’s books, the “Special 30th Anniversary Edition” must first be addressed. The extra content is a full concert DVD, and four bonus audio live tracks from the same DVD.
To have Priest live at the US Festival is a wish fulfilled for many. The daylight show with full classic costumes (Rob decked in silver) is a nostalgia blowout. The band look lethal although drummer Dave Holland appears overwhelmed by the demanding tunes. The setlist isn’t half bad, with “Green Manalishi”, “Diamonds and Rust”, and “Victim of Changes” being highlights and filling the need for old classics. The bulk of the set is made up of more recent material from the three 1980s Priest albums thus far. Tempos are fast, cowbells are in the air, and Rob is at his confident shrieking best. The audio is great and the video is well reproduced. Owning this edition of Screaming really is a must since it’s the only official release of this show on DVD.
The re-imagined cover art is nice, fitting in with other Priest deluxe reissues (see images at bottom). In an unfortunate oversight, the clean and sharp original artwork is included nowhere inside this set. They did include the two bonus tracks from the previous remastered CD release, which we’ll get to after we discuss the album in full.
Screaming For Vengeance was a sudden change of style for the Priest, after two rather soundalike albums. Similarly the next album Defenders of the Faith would be cast from the same mold as Screaming. All these albums were produced by Tom Allom. Tempos were turned up, guitars sharpened, and as per the title, Rob Halford screamed. A lot. The refined 80s Priest was evident on the opening duo “The Hellion/Electric Eye”. The guitars are sleeker, the vocals processed and robotic. The riffs are just as sharp. Priest were going for the throat. This opening one-two punch was more punishing than any music I ever heard at that time. Though you could not claim it’s heavier than a Priest oldie like “Saints In Hell”, the production is louder and more in your face than ever before.
Drummer Dave Holland sprays a bloodbath of bashes at the start of “Riding on the Wind”, Priest speeding on the highway once again. With Rob in high register, this catchy tune is perfect for keeping the wind in your face. The first respite in terms of tempo is “Bloodstone”, though its glorious riffs need no accelerant. Halford’s scatting at the end is classic and a rare reappearance of his old sassy self from Hell Bent for Leather.
“(Take These) Chains” is one of the most immediately accessible tracks, a mid-tempo delight as Priest do so well. They end the side with a slow metal grind called “Pain and Pleasure”, drums soaked in echo. Rob alludes to an interest in BDSM again, but with music this heavy most people just headbanged and ignored. (In another sad oversight, the lyrics are not contained within this edition, but were reproduced on the previous CD remaster.) Don’t assume that because it’s a slow one it’s weak. “Pain and Pleasure” is a resounding an d memorable side-ender.
The second side opens with the sudden shock blitzkrieg of the title track. Speed metal turned up to 11, “Screaming For Vengeance” is over the top and almost self-parody. It’s one of Priest’s most overdriven blasts of might, but it also verges on mindlessness if not for a spirited solo section in the middle. But then in another jarring shift, the sleek mid-tempo groove of “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” rears its familiar head. When I was a kid, there was no question this was Priest’s “big hit”. It was the song everyone knew, and the music video was on constant rotation. Classic clip. The man pursuing Priest is meant to represent the tax man. When Rob essentially yells at him “no tax man, you will not take my money,” his head blows up. They used a little too much TNT on the mannequin, and so the tax man’s pants fell down in an added humiliation. Such is the power of heavy metal, folks. Got tax problems? Rock and roll right in that tax man’s face. Eventually his head will blow up. If you’re lucky the pants might also fall. This is what Priest have given the world!
“Another Thing Comin'” is a brilliant song. Radio super-saturation cannot dull its simply-constructed hooks. Its placement (second song, side two) is odd but that didn’t stop it to #4 on the US Billboard rock chart, nor did it impede the album rising to #17 on the Billboard 200.
The album begins drawing to a close, with an echoey tremolo effect on “Fever”, one of the album’s best cuts. Then the echo ends, and a clean guitar accompanies a plaintive Rob. Mid-tempo, powerfully built and loaded with hooks, “Fever” is a late-album winner. Then, three quarters in, Halford turns on the high voice and the song transforms into something else equally cool. Finally the echo-guitar returns to help bring the song to its dramatic end.
“Devil’s Child” is the last hurrah, a fun and heavy indictment of an ex-lover who’s “so damn wicked” and “smashed and grabbed all I had”. The album ends as suddenly as it begins; jarring transitions being a sonic theme on Screaming For Vengeance.
Tom Allom’s production is often maligned as inferior to the more raw and loose sounds of Priest on their 70s albums, and there’s certainly an argument to be made there. Screaming For Vengeance is not a warm album. It is cold, sharp and steely. It has a precise, digital undertone. But it’s also heavy, considerably more so than Point of Entry which preceded it. The cover art indicated that we were entering a new phase for Judas Priest; a simpler streamlined 80s phase but still deadly enough for the old fans.
The live bonus tracks included on the CD were not chosen willy-nilly. Instead of including the best hits from the US Festival DVD, they use tracks from a different show in San Antonio, and all from Screaming For Vengeance: “Electric Eye”, “Riding On the Wind”, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” and “Screaming” itself. Watch out for the squealing feedback! Finally the original bonus tracks from the 2001 CD are edition are tacked on so you don’t have to own two copies. These include a raspy, smoking “Devil’s Child” live from another concert, and a demo from the 1985-86 Twin Turbos sessions called “Prisoner of Your Eyes”. I hate when Priest use bonus tracks from the wrong era, but the Screaming For Vengeance reissues are the only place you can get this song. In a stylistic shift, this slick ballad sounds more like “A Touch of Evil” from Painkiller, but far tamer. (The guitar solos were overdubbed and tracks finished in 2001.)
Good special edition, but not great. As these things go I’m sure we can expect a better 40 anniversary edition. It won’t be long now.
5/5 stars for the album
3.5/5 stars for the 30th Anniversary edition