Judas Priest – ‘Screaming For Vengeance’ 30th Anniversary Review

Like its forebear ‘British Steel’, pretty much everything about ‘Screaming for vengeance’ exudes the living spirit of metal. From the brilliantly evocative artwork (largely free of tampering on this edition) to the antagonistic title, it suggests a full-on metal assault before you even hear a note and, of course, that is exactly what it is. You know the songs, or at least you do if you’ve taken even a cursory interest in metal over the last thirty years, with tracks such as ‘electric eye’, ‘riding on the wind’ and the stunning title track all stone-cold metal classics and it is truly the case that ‘Screaming for vengeance’ houses not a single filler cut amidst its ten tracks.

Strangely, in this era of mega-deluxe editions and high-priced box sets, ‘Screaming for vengeance’ appears in just one edition (a level of restraint for which band and label must surely be saluted) – a two disc set containing the original album, bonus tracks and a DVD. With literally thousands of reviews of the original album littering the web, this review seeks to look more at the specific elements that make up this re-master rather than the individual tracks that make up this still-fresh metal monster.

Starting with the packaging and audio disc, little has been done to alter this metallic tsunami from its original vision. The first thing you’ll notice is that  Doug Johnson’s original artwork has been subtly reworked for this edition by Mark Wilkinson who has streamlined the cover without significantly altering it, whilst the inlay now houses live shots, decent liner notes from Eddie Trunk (informative), a basic note from the band (celebratory) and updated credits for the extra tracks and the DVD. Moving to the disc itself, a subtle re-mastering job, essentially the same one from the 2001 edition, has been done by Jon Astley who has sensibly kept the power of the legendary Tom Allom’s original production whilst gently enhancing the guitar tones on the solos and adding a touch of polish to the vocals. Re-mastering is always a controversial act, particularly with well-loved albums, and you’re bound to read a variety of opinions on this one ranging from technical breakdowns proving this version is terrible to ill-informed comments by those who have never even heard this version, but to these ears Jon has done a good job of tightening up an album that always sounded good without diminishing its intrinsic appeal.

A re-mastering alone would be unlikely to entice the fans and so, tagged on to the end of the album, there is a choice selection of live cuts (recorded during a concert held at the San Antonio Civic Centre in 1982) plus a studio track, ‘Prisoner of your eyes’, cut during the ‘Turbo’ Sessions in 1985. This is another one of those areas that causes great debate amongst music fans. In all honesty I would rather pay a little more for the set and have extra tracks housed on a separate disc, and from the various forums that exist around the subject it would seem that many other fans feel the same way, but the tracks themselves are well produced and nice extras to have – particularly the rousing rendition of ‘Devil’s child’ (a highlight of the album itself) which the band detonate like a crate of dynamite. The studio cut is a rather odd inclusion, given it was recorded some three years later for a different album, but it’s good to have nonetheless.

The real draw, however, and the reason to shell out for a new copy of an album you should already have, is a stunning live DVD recorded at the second US Festival held in San Bernardino, California in 1983. The audience, the band inform us in the liner notes, stood in excess of 300,000 with attendees from all over the states, and Priest performed their set in the blistering mid-day sun with an attitude and aggression that simply laid the festival to waste. Performing twelve tracks including brutal highlights from ‘British Steel’, the obligatory Joan Baez and Fleetwood Mac covers (‘Diamonds and rust’ & ‘the green manalishi with the two pronged crown’ respectively) and the bewildering opening thrust of ‘Electric eye’ and ‘riding on the wind’, Judas Priest are represented at their very peak, the band clearly firing off the sheer size and overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowd and the sound (courtesy, once again, of Tom Allom, ably assisted by Richie Kayvan)  simply thunders from the speakers. It is quite remarkable that footage of such quality was unearthed considering its age, yet the picture is crystal clear; the sound near perfect; and the concert the ideal snapshot of Priest during their golden period – long-time fans of the band will be in heaven.

Overall it is hard to fault Sony/Priest on their presentation of this thirtieth anniversary edition of ‘Screaming for vengeance’ (although no doubt people will try!). Fans have been spared the existence of some wallet murdering box set full of trinkets that they neither need nor particularly want, and instead a special edition of real substance has been crafted. Eddie Trunk’s liner notes are a delight, written with wit and passion they place the album in its historical context; Priest’s notes, in contrast, are a brief addition which serve to highlight the band’s delight at being caught up in the eye of the storm generated by the twin peaks of ‘British Steel’ and ‘Screaming for vengeance’ without adding anything of any significant interest; the re-mastering does nothing to detract from the original work and simply adds a touch of modern sonic polish to proceedings – although those who own the 2001 re-masters will be familiar with it already; the extra tracks are a well thought-out addition to the whole (with the aforementioned caveat concerning extra tracks in album discs) and the DVD a sturdy, lengthy treasure that encapsulates the searing power of Priest in their heyday. If you’ve worn your copy out over the years, or inexplicably don’t own a copy, this is a mandatory slice of classic metal which sounds as fresh and invigorating now, thirty years after its original release, as it did back in 1982.

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