When iconic heavy metal band Judas Priest first formed in the early ’70s, it had trouble finding a massive audience, believe it or not. And even when the band dumped singer Al Atkins for (some new guy named) Rob Halford in time for first album Rocka Rolla (which was an uneven effort), the band’s greatness was not yet realized. However, starting with second album Sad Wings of Destiny (1976) and through ninth album Defenders of the Faith (1984), Judas Priest had an unrivaled and extended creative peak during which time it also became one of the most popular and influential metal bands in the world.
Millions of albums were sold, and hundreds of thousands of new fans were gained (both from traditional FM radio, touring, and the then-new medium of videos on MTV). And, the band itself made one consistent and solid metal record after another, the masterpiece of which was 1980’s British Steel, their sixth full-length that featured two of the band’s most loved songs, “Breaking the Law” and “Living After Midnight.” (Two years ago the band played the record in its entirety live on tour to celebrate its 30th anniversary.)
The legendary British band is again celebrating a 30th birthday in 2012, this time for eighth album Screaming for Vengeance: Special 30th Anniversary Edition (which has been remastered and comes with a bonus live concert on DVD). For this effort, key members Halford, and guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing came up with more memorable metal mayhem, including big hit “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” as well as the album-opening one-two punch of instrumental “The Hellion” and the speedy “Electric Eye.”
This new version sees the album’s rockin’ rhythms larger in sound, and comes with numerous bonus live tracks from performances in 1982, as well as a fairly melodic b-side, “Prisoner of Your Eyes.” The booklet includes liner notes by highly respected metal historian, radio personality and host of VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show Eddie Trunk, who sings the album’s praises and notes its lasting influence on today’s metal community. As can be expected, he also provides insightful facts relating to the band. For example, it was the breakthrough success of Vengeance that allowed JP to tour in arenas in the USA for the first time.
The real treat of this release, however, is the live show on DVD, recorded in San Bernardino, California, on May 29, 1983 at the U.S. Festival in front of over 375,000 people, the most in American history for a single day. If nothing else, the turnout just proves that nothing can bring more people together in one place than a great heavy metal band.
This sea of metal fans was treated to a powerful and (literally and figuratively) hot show by a band still in its prime. Tipton and Downing did their best to blow out eardrums with their loud guitars backed by stacks of Marshall amps. Halford, then still sporting blonde hair, got the audience riled up, had them in command and kept them in command all concert long, singing back to him during and between songs. Such essentials like “Victim of Changes” and “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” got extended treatments nearing 10 minutes, while tracks like “Electric Eye,” “Living After Midnight,” and “Metal Gods” stayed true to form but went over mightily well with the masses. Halford in particular kept the energy level up with his soaring and impossibly high and gifted vocal range for the entirety of the show.
With six bonus tracks on CD and a 12-song concert on DVD featuring a satisfying set of classics and then-current hits to go along with the original album’s 10 tracks, you couldn’t ask for more if you’re a true believer in all things Judas Priest. The only drawbacks on the album (from this reviewer’s standpoint) are the same ones that always kept it from being another masterpiece, a couple of fairly good but non-memorable tracks, “(Take These) Chains” and “Pain and Pleasure.” The former track also slows down the pace of the record, and the drums on the latter are a bit too big and arena-sized. It also sees Halford too restrained vocally as he sings of the agonizing decision to leave a relationship.
Few metal bands can claim to have as many classic and highly acclaimed albums in their repertoire as Judas Priest. Vengeance was one of those highly praised recordings at the time of its 1982 release, and 30 years later, it is still as vital and “electric” now as it was back then. Heck, even “The Hellion” has been featured in a car commercial in recent years.
Whether or not you bought the original album all those years ago, if you call yourself a true Judas Priest fan, you should have this new and improved version of Vengeance in your collection.