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This album is really, really uneven - 83%

OlympicSharpshooter, July 16th, 2004

While I am often outspoken about my opinion that Judas Priest is, and has always been a superior band to Iron Maiden, it's albums like this that really conspire to shoot my thesis to little tiny metal bits.

Maiden, I feel, is not a consistent band within the context of their albums. True, Maiden has had an almost unparalleled run of well-regarded records stretching from the self-titled debut (hell, from Soundhouse Tapes) through Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, each spawning songs of terrifying innovation and brilliance that are near enough to universal metallic grails that everybody from Death Metal Dave to Prog Metal Perry can enjoy them without shame for ever and ever. However, outside of Piece of Mind and perhaps the Dance of Death, Maiden doesn't really have any albums that, to my mind, are must own records. They are a greatest hits band if you will.

Priest on the other hand is completely the other way, i.e. when their albums are good they are virtually perfect all the way through (Sin After Sin, Hell Bent for Leather, Defenders of the Faith) whereas when they are bad they have almost no redeeming qualities (Demolition, Ram it Down, Jugulator). I myself prefer a catalogue that, while full of holes, has plenty of whole ALBUMS that you can really sink your figurative teeth into. However, there are two exceptions to this catch-all to my mind, those albums oddly being their best regarded by modern metalheads: Screaming for Vengeance and Painkiller.

Screaming has as powerful a start as you could possibly imagine, which alone makes it worth consideration after you've bought everything the band released prior to 1980, as well as '84's classic Defenders of the Faith. Imagine back in 1982, after the solid but uninspired British Steel and the banal, blase Point of Entry, you decide on a lark to pick up this intriguingly-titled new release. First thing you hear is a new-found/rediscovered confidence and that almost aristocratic class that is the hallmark of classic Priest. "The Hellion" is a spine-chilling intro, 30 seconds of Maiden-improving power that leads into what has to be the most melodic and commercially acceptable speed metal of all, "Electric Eye", one of those steadily increasing building blocks towards the creation of power metal proper with the advent of Helloween.

It's funny how the album straddles the line between British Steel-style avoidance of huge frightening high notes on tracks like "(Take These) Chains", "Electric Eye", and "You Got Another Thing Coming" and insane going off the falsetto deep-end tunes like the wavery "Ridin' on the Wind" and the shrieking mayhem of the title track. Moving further in this direction Priest seems to be trying to please both camps at once, the existing and potential commercial fans brought in by British Steel and Point of Entry and the mildly depressed and considerably disappointed metal heads who live for the Stained Class/Hell Bent for Leather side of the band. Hence, mediocre groove-based stadium rock like "Bloodstone", "Fever" (perhaps this one is a little novel), "Pain and Pleasure", and of course the mechanized Kiss-stomp of "You Got Another Thing Coming" sits uneasily beside proto-power metal like "Ridin' on the Wind" and viciously AC/DC-style crunch on "Devil's Child".

The majority of the band is actually top-flight this time around, Downing and Tipton really flexing on shreddy solos like "Screaming for Vengeance" and bendy melodic ones such as "Bloodstone", all riffed with a tight and sharp execution, the blatantly commercial aspects wrapped in an undeniably metal armour. Rob Halford is at his bravura best, whether he's (cliché alert) screeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeamin' on the title track, displaying fine range on "Devil's Child" (really kickin' live performance on the remastered edition), or practicing a sly restraint on "Electric Eye", convincing you of some sort of unearthly technological intelligence beyond your skill to grasp. Unfortunately Holland is his usual shitty self, playing horribly uninspired and limiting drums that really make you resent the loss of Binks, and nobody really gives a damn about Ian Hill.

Screaming for Vengeance as an album is painfully great when it's on, painfully meh when it isn't... sorta like a lot of those Maiden albums I mentioned. It's also unfortunately the next to last really good Judas Priest album (say 80+ scoring range), as their post-Defenders output is truly shameful, although a few remaining bastions of genius like “Painkiller” and “Out in the Cold” that have kept the flame alive for those of us awaiting all these long years for their (hopefully) triumphant rebirth. The new album is in sight. Will it be able to compare to the classics? We shall see.

Stand-Outs: "The Hellion/Electric Eye", "Screaming for Vengeance", "Devil's Child"