Looking back on the definitive Judas Priest album of the 1980s
It’s not an uncommon narrative. The singer or band, after a classic album, perhaps even becoming standard bearers of a genre, stumbles on the follow-up. The “What now?” questions follow.
That narrative could be applied to Judas Priest’s 1981 album Point of Entry, which came after the still unassailable British Steel the year before.
The thing is, that story isn’t quite accurate. Sure, Point of Entry didn’t sell as well as British Steel. And while it wasn’t as consistent as its immediate predecessors when not grading against that curve, it was a more than serviceable early ’80s metal album.
But more importantly, while some folks might have thought Judas Priest could use a regroup, the band itself didn’t. They were just on to the next one, which would turn out to be the classic Screaming For Vengeance, which turned 40 this past Sunday.
It’s not as if Judas Priest were superstitious or anything, returning to Ibiza Sound Studios to record — a combination of liking the studio as a place to record, its more tax-friendly status for a UK-based band and maybe a little access to the temptations, alcoholic and otherwise, available there.
Still, however much fun might have been had, there was a focus on putting the album together, thanks to a bit of a time crunch from their label– Columbia.
“But certainly after British Steel, which was a very, very successful record for Priest here in the UK and elsewhere, following it up with Point Of Entry as we did, I think we just did the best we could at that time,” singer Rob Halford told The Quietus in 2012. “So I don’t think it was like ‘C’mon lads, we’ve got to try harder’ on Screaming…, which has been one thing that has been suggested. I think it’s just the way that bands go in terms of growth and development, you’re just always trying to do the best that you can at the time that you’re doing it. It turns out that Screaming For Vengeance just happened to get all the right bits connected and became a very successful record for the band.”
Successful, indeed. While Judas Priest were certainly no strangers to the U.S. at that point, Screaming for Vengeance vaulted them out of cult status, going double platinum.
Now, 40 years later, it’s certainly no mystery why it did. The album hits hard all the way through, a killer display of the first things people think of when they think of Judas Priest — the charismatic frontman who can sing his ass off in Halford and the twin guitar assault of K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton.
It also has something the band didn’t anticipate — the song that became their biggest hit in “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.”
The history of rock has its share of classic songs that were accidents or not thought of as classics at the time of recording. Think of Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May”, for example.
It was recorded in two takes because Mercury Records wanted another song for the album. Neither the label nor Stewart thought much of it, but it stayed because it was the only available song. Then it became the biggest example of the power of the DJ when vinyl singles existed, as they started playing the song over the A-side and intended hit, the affecting cover of “Reason to Believe.” By the time it was over, “Maggie May” was the biggest hit Stewart had in his career.
And so it was with Judas Priest, as “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” was an unintended late addition to the album. As with “Maggie May”, it owed its existence to that need for “just one more song.”
In his 2018 memoir—Heavy Duty: Days and Nights in Judas Priest—Downing wrote, “Bizarrely, it almost didn’t make it onto the album Screaming for Vengeance. It was only when we’d reached Florida for the final mixing of the album that the pieces of a track that we’d had lying around without ever committing to fully finally fell into our laps. And when it did, the song’s appeal seemed like the most obvious thing ever. ‘How did we miss it?'” (Heavy Duty is well worth the read, as is Halford’s memoir, Confess: The Autobiography.)
Even still, it wasn’t given a front loaded position on the finished album, as “Electric Eye” (with its “The Hellion” lead-in) and the title track were put first on the album sides.
It wasn’t a B-side, but rock stations started to pick up on it. The light bulb went off over someone at Columbia’s head and “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” became the first single, complete with a video directed by Julien Temple. It would become an album rock staple and a perennial in the band’s setlists to this day.
VIDEO: Judas Priest “You Got Another Thing Comin'”
“Who knew that the eighth track was going to be the song that would catapult the song into such success in America?,” Halford told Guitar World in 2012. “Cause that track was buried. Normally the tracks you think are going to do stuff are at the front end of the release. But our friends at Sony said, ‘We’re going to go for this song.’ And we didn’t really know what was going on.”
In retrospect, it’s easy to see how it took off — the instantly recognizable guitar at the start that’s the base of the song, the defiance of the lyrics suffused with Halford’s attitude, Tipton’s solo and a chorus that screams “rock anthem.”
It’s the kind of song that could get you a speeding ticket if you weren’t careful, putting extra on the gas and singing along to the chorus and not noticing the cop hiding behind a road sign off a curve.
But it wasn’t the only song off the album to become a Priest standard. “The Hellion”/”Electric Eye” did, a track that was unintentionally prescient. Nobody was going to confuse Halford for Gang of Four or anything, but neither was he completely unaware of the outside world. For example, “Breaking the Law”, a band standard off British Steel, was inspired by economic uncertainty and labor strife in late ’70s England.
Of course, he had no idea that the spy satellites of 1982 would be nothing compared to the means of tracking and spying available to corporate and government interests now.
“I get just as irritated and angry at 61 as when I was 16. And I think most people do – when you live in a democracy, surely that goes alongside with the word ‘freedom’, but freedom isn’t free, is it, you’ve got to work hard to keep freedom established,” Halford told Guitar World. “So, what’s happening in the UK is pretty much what’s happening in most so-called ‘civilized’ and ‘democratic’ places. It’s a very potent song and it still works now. And of course it always brings a roar when we fire up the hellion and then it bangs into that particular song – most importantly it’s a good old piece of metal.”
Halford’s assessment is correct. “Electric Eye” has the insistent riffage with the lead vocals delivered with the right of menace (“I am perpetual/I keep the country clean”). All the while, the rhythm section of bassist Ian Hill (the longest-running member of the band) and drummer Dave Holland propelled things along with help of Tom Allom’s production. Allom made sure that “BOOM! BAP!” drum sound was going to be prominent all the way through. It wasn’t reverbed-to-death like some ’80s albums. The quibble beating that one really does wish Hill’s bass was more prominent in the mix.
VIDEO: Judas Priest “Electric Eye”
The only reason “Screaming for Vengeance” didn’t become a regular in the band’s live sets was because, as Tipton noted, it was rather difficult to replicate live.
That’s a shame, because it’s a fast-paced, heavy standout that’s as close as the album gets to thrash.
One of the keys was the final tracklist being balanced between the uptempo cuts and the more midtempo material, keeping things varied to avoid monotony.
Judas Priest became the poster child for the bands caught up in the Satanic Panic later in the ’80s (I remember my own mother falsely asserting they were “devil worshippers” back then). But people weren’t paying attention or seeing things that weren’t there.
Take album closer “Devil’s Child”, which sounds like Priest doing AC/DC (another “satanic” band), when lyrically, it’s a pissed-off breakup song.
In contrast, the brooding musical stomp of “Fever” belies the lyrics, which are actually a love song when you get down to it. And there’s some terrific guitar work in it, to boot, from the soloing to that middle section breakdown that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Def Leppard’s Pyromania months later (totally a compliment).
Not that Halford was going to turn sentimental. The slower near-boogie of “Pain and Pleasure” sits somewhere between “Fever” and “Devil’s Child” on the relationship timeline (“You give me pain, but you bring me pleasure/Get out of my life/You bring me pain, but you give me pleasure/Don’t know what I like”).
“Bloodstone” doesn’t land quite as well. It’s where Allom’s production is, like on “Pain and Pleasure” a little too ’80s—So. Much. Drum. Reverb. Still, it deserves credit as one of Halford’s better vocal showcases on the album.
According to Halford, Columbia thought “Take These Chains” (written by Bob Halligan Jr., who’d later write “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll” for Priest’s 1984 album Defenders of the Faith) would be the first single. One can see why, given the chorus, which predates similar ones from successful hair metal bands later in the decade. Still, despite being the album’s second single, it’s not as immediate as the best tracks on it.
Speaking of which, “Riding on the Wind” is a cut that could have been a standard for other bands, albeit one that would have led to one of those other bands being accused of nicking “Heading Out to the Highway” on the chorus. It’s a fiery rocker with blistering work from Downing and Tipton.
As a whole, even the “filler” moments hold up well enough, due to the state Judas Priest was in at this point. It may have been their eighth album, but they’re playing and singing like a hungry band making their first.
The final result was one of 1982’s best albums and, along with Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast that March, the defining metal albums of that year.
Screaming for Vengeance, both accessible and kicking hard without compromise.
The answer to Judas Priest’s “What now?” remains one of their classics that’s held up throughout the years, even with the later changes in membership, like Downing’s acrimonious departure in 2011.
That includes Halford’s over ten-year absence from the band that ended when he came back to replace Tim “Ripper” Owens in 2003, an upgrade because he is THE lead singer for Priest for a reason — his talent (those high notes and vibrato) and charisma. It’s not because Owens’ offstage politics make him better suited to be lead singer for Trapt, a Kid Rock tribute act or Iced Earth — one of which actually happened.
From personal experience, I can attest that even 40 years later, Screaming for Vengeance, right bits connected, sounds great as it was intended, turned way up. A good piece of metal then and now.