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Genre-defining masterwork from the metal gods - 100%

soul_schizm, April 4th, 2018

There's probably 4 or 5 albums in existence that I can honestly say are perfect, and Screaming for Vengeance is one of them. Perfection doesn't come easily; I've got standards. First of all, I'm way too impatient for tracks that don't quite measure up to the rest of the disc. If tracks 5 and 7 are head-stomping awesome, guess what? Track 6 is probably going to be skipped often because frankly, why wait? That knocks an album down a notch. And I'm fickle, too. For example, it took me awhile to really catch on to the greatness of Queensr├┐che's Operation Mindcrime. I admit it. It sat on my desk for 6 months, and then it suddenly clicked and I couldn't get it out of my head for a year. There might be a hundred other albums that are amazing but for whatever reason didn't penetrate my thick head. You can't very well rate an album as perfect if you don't hear it now can you? On the other hand, some discs just wear out over time. Symphony X's Paradise Lost played constantly in my car for months when it was released. Now I'm rather indifferent to it. The same can be said for Destruction's Infernal Overkill, which has aged poorly and is relegated to the dark recesses of my iTunes catalog, but used to receive regular play way back when. I thought Kreator's Pleasure to Kill was the ultimate violent outburst of thrashy awesomeness. It's still awesome but not quite as 'ultimate.'

To rate something as perfect every damn song has to be worthy every time the disc is played. I've got to want to play it from beginning to end, and not just cherry-pick the top 3, 4, or even 5 tracks. When I create a playlist it's a given that I drag the whole album over. And it's got to slay my brain the same today as when I first heard it. Thirty years have to go by and even then I've got to feel like a newly-spawned metalhead teenager playing that album. Fucking impossible. Classic, milestone metal albums often don't exist in that kind of rarified air. Kill 'Em All and The Number of the Beast can't measure up to that standard. Bonded By Blood doesn't quite get there. But Screaming for Vengeance makes it over the hump.

This record is actually a dramatic change from what Priest had been doing, having reached a career peak with Hell Bent for Leather, following it up with a British Steel record that was well-crafted but contained a considerable helping of radio-friendly cheese, and then completely tanking out with the horrifyingly lame Point of Entry. It's like Screaming for Vengeance was a stab from the grave, as the coffin lid was being shut with "here lies a band that used to be metal" written in epitaph upon it. It felt like one last cry against the fading light as the metal genre moved into a new era, threatening to leave them behind. Many bands would have whimpered and died, perhaps with a final batch of iffy tunes lacking in creativity or inspiration. But not The Mighty Priest. With Screaming for Vengeance, in one stroke, Judas Priest pounded their already hefty legend into the firmament like few bands have ever done 8 albums into their career. They climbed up from the grave and soared all the way into the sky in a blaze of glory, all in the space of about a calendar year. Interestingly, they would do so yet again with Painkiller, which just further proves how indestructible this band was over and above any other act outside of Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden.

Screaming for Vengeance is a muscular, pile-driving experience from start to end owing in equal parts to a top-notch production, varied and thoughtful songwriting, a driving pace, and Halford's sick, over-the-top delivery. Gone are cheesy commercial songs like "Heading Out to the Highway" and "Living After Midnight," which frankly made everyone uncomfortable since the tracks were just caricatures, like walking around town wearing a cartoon mask of yourself. Gone are the weak-ass lyrics of "Hot Rockin'" because, well, it sucked and like I said, Screaming for Vengeance is "a case of do or die." There is no time for anthems like "United" either: too slow and not pissed off enough.

Instead, upon pushing play, "The Hellion" roars forth with its iconic soaring melody and crushing chords, evoking apocalyptic visions of fire and glory. "Electric Eye" follows quickly with power chord crashes underneath Tipton's classically-inspired opening riff, and we've achieved blastoff. After that there's no doubt you're in for a metallic slab of red meat with no veggies on the side. You're in the hands of the masters. And they are going to deliver a lesson in how to do metal, and do it right. You thought they were done? Think again, pal.

Every song is carved on to the platter in its perfect place, and each one has its own distinct personality. Hard-charging songs like the title track and "Electric "Eye" are balanced out beautifully with more thoughtful and intricate pieces like "Bloodstone" and "Fever." Snarling anger and disdain is dealt out in abundance, but topics like world politics and heartbreak are slotted in to break things up, just at the right time. Most bands put together a group of songs like a baseball lineup. The best songs go at the top and it goes downhill from there, with the exception of that one guy who is having a surprise breakout season sitting near the bottom of the lineup. With this album, side B is arguably the better of the two, containing the rip roaring metalfest that is "Screaming for Vengeance" followed by the iconic "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" and ending with one of my favorite Priest tunes ever in "Devil's Child." Throw in "Fever" - the most unique song on the record - and you've got a B side that any band would proudly feature at the top of their set list. There wasn't a need to cover up a weak tune, so they just put everything together into a complete work. If ever there was an album that iTunes should disallow single song downloads, it's this one. You can't just pick out "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" and "Electric Eye" and say you know Screaming for Vengeance. You may as well grab two ears and an eyeball and say you know the person's face.

Widely acknowledged as one of the top metal vocalists of all time, Screaming for Vengeance might be the greatest moment in Halford's career. This is the album where the ferocity of the music finally caught up with his capabilities. For years he had been astonishing audiences with his range and delivery, but it was here where the only approach that would work is to combine his considerable range and power with equal shares of piss and vinegar. He delivers a truckload of attitude throughout the disc, but it is on the title track that The Metal God shows up and just goes off like a bomb in your living room. In 1982 there were 4.5 billion people on the planet, and exactly one who could do "Screaming for Vengeance" the way it needed to be done. Then he follows up with "You've Got Another Thing Comin'" which is a testosterone-fueled fuck you requiring the utmost disdain on the vocal track. The whole album is full of what makes Halford a legend but other high moments include "Devil's Child" with that snarling, screeching chorus and the more earnest stylings present on "Bloodstone."

On the topic of musical ferocity, Tipton and Downing's dual guitar attack reaches a new peak on this album both in terms of sheer muscle and the riffology employed crafting these songs into existence. Much can be said about the better-known passages such as "The Hellion" - which is on my short list of greatest intros in the history of metal - and the amped-up grind of the title track. But I'm actually more fond of the intricate riffs, such as the opening of "Bloodstone" and the clean, echoing lines that set the tone of "Fever." There's a craftsmanship here that I feel is overlooked. It's not just power chords and Halford's high-register shrieks. Tipton and Downing are no joke. They consistently wrote amazing stuff for decades, throwing in twists that you wouldn't necessarily expect given their skillset isn't based on technical wizardry. The writing trio of Tipton, Downing, and Halford is among the greatest and most enduring in rock history, not just metal, and if I had to point to one body of work that exemplifies what they are capable of, it's this disc. There's almost no repetition present across the album. When you take each track it can stand on its own yet each one is undeniably Priest, save the cover of "(Take These) Chains." As if to put a cherry on top, some of them have these amazing lead breaks where key changes happen out of the blue, and some of the best riffs happen only once. Witness the mid sections of "Devil's Child" and "Bloodstone." And the leads themselves are well written, with that trademarked interplay between Tipton and Downing's distict styles. It's an equal partnership, and a long-lived one at that. This isn't the dominant Hetfield and the submissive Hammett. It's not Mustaine and his latest plug-and-play partner. Tipton and Downing are equal-share stakeholders. Big difference folks. Listen to these songs with that in mind. You'll hear it.

Underpinning this entire disc is Tom Allom's amazing production. The best way I can describe the sound of Screaming for Vengeance is dense and layered, full of pounding drums and wall-of-sound guitars that belie the 4 musicians playing it. Allom uses Tipton and Downing's dual guitar work to perfect effect, putting the rhythm guitars right in your face and utilizing radically different tonalities between the two axemen as they trade solos. There's a considerable amount of overdubbing going on, creating a layered guitar sound that wasn't present on British Steel, and not to this extent on Point of Entry. Notably, this is the first album where the drum mix is given much more thump, a theme that would carry forward to the next few releases. It's not a modern sound by today's standards, but the bass drum in particular is very prominent, especially on tracks like "Pain and Pleasure." Listening to these songs feels like being walloped over the head with a hammer at times, and caught in a whirlwind at others. While this kind of listening experience is a given today, in 1982 it was much more difficult to accomplish. For its time this was some of the heaviest stuff going. Screaming for Vengeance was big boy metal. If you were listening to it, your parents were probably concerned. They'd rather you settle in to some Kiss or Whitesnake like a good boy.

As I write this review I'm sad to learn of Glenn Tipton's diagnosis, which combined with K.K. Downing's retirement brings to an official close the most identifiably metal band in history. But with albums like this one, their legacy will live on forever. Bands come and go. Time passes by. Judas Priest is no exception to this rule but what they leave behind is so special that I can honestly say it added more than just entertainment to my life. It worked its way into my identity in some fashion. I submit Screaming for Vengeance as their crowning achievement; a perfect metal album and on the short list of greatest moments in the history of heavy metal.