‘We’re cheating death daily’: Rob Halford Talks 40 Years Of Screaming for Vengeance + Legacy Of Judas Priest

Stefan Bollmann, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons
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While there are many great records that Judas Priest have released, one of their most beloved albums is that of 1982’s Screaming for Vengeance. Released 40 years ago yesterday, Screaming for Vengeance is considered by many to be Priest’s breakout hit record (especially in the States).

While it features awesome metal bangers like “Electric Eye,” the album also features one of the band’s biggest hits, “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” Screaming for Vengeance is truly one of the most beloved metal records in all of the genre’s history – so of course we had to talk to the Metal God himself to learn more about this remarkable work of art. In fact, we conducted a three-part interview with the Metal God!

In this installment of our interview, Judas Priest singer Rob Halford took the time to chat with us about the creation and legacy of Screaming for Vengeance. We talked about what the album represents for him as an artist and memories associated with the creation of the record. He also spoke to the band’s overall legacy and what fuels his creative drive. Without further ado, here is part one of our interview with Judas Priest’s Rob Halford.

The Pit: Besides Screaming for Vengeance being a big commercial success, what else does the record represent to you? Specifically as an artist.

Rob Halford: Well, I think the main thing Screaming for Vengeance gave us – [considering its success in] the United States – was this enormous recognition that we’d been forging ahead, trying to grab a hold of. Even now we love America just because of its… there’s always something going on. Its still got this melting pot type of vibe, always something moving around, shifting, and focusing on something other. And there’s always a lot of new experiences, new songs, new albums, new balance; so for us to suddenly have all that kind of coalesce with [singles, music video, a CD], and more importantly, rock and roll radio across the whole nation, was extraordinary. It seemed to happen so quickly after all the work that we’d done since ’74 […] And then, suddenly, you know it’s there, it’s happening – particularly in America. So it was tremendously exciting.

One thing I’ve always been grateful for is that, when we have achieved levels of success, it’s happened in a time sequence that makes you able to comprehend it more; to realize the opportunities that this is going to give you, rather than, you know, typical flash and burn and media across the sky kind of stuff. So we were in that system of growth, we were in that system of potential, [and] in that system of searching and constantly honing our craft of writing metal.

All of those things have spanned from Rocka Rolla to until this point. So yes, [Screaming for Vengeance] is full of great, strong, powerful memories for lots of reasons, but most importantly, using America as a reference, it was our meteor blazing across the sky without fading out.

The Pit: While “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'” became a super popular song, what other tracks off of Screaming for Vengeance mean a lot to you? Perhaps on an emotional level? 

RH: Love the title track; it’s so fierce, it’s just so angry, lyrically. It’s a really potent song. Musically, the time signatures are extraordinary. There’s no other song like “Screaming for Vengeance” [regarding] musical composition, time signatures, and all the great things that are going on instrumentally. I was excited to have the opportunity to try and find the melody and to put words [to the song].

Where did the words come from? You know, I don’t [know] where in my mind I was at the time; when I listen to the music now and I look at the words – Wow. It’s just so much strength and anger, you know? Many metal musicians will tell you, and fans, that the energy and the ferocity and the power of metal manifests a lot of anger. Not in a destructive way, ’cause I think anger is a very important emotion. Anger – when it’s used properly, very constructively – equally can be destructive, but [it can also] bring a sense of focus and make people think, sit up, and listen. As I feel, the content of “Screaming for Vengeance” has that from a lyrical point of view. It’s extraordinary, there’s no other song like that. Definitely without a doubt the title track.

The opposite end of that [would be] “Fever,” which is this kind of dreamy, you know, a more sexy type of thing is going on. And “Riding on the Wind” […] Maybe we’ll bring those songs back [to live shows]; we’re also possibly thinking of doing “Screaming for Vengeance” when we do this next wave with the Queensrÿche in the fall. So it’s an exciting album even now. You know, there’s so much potential in that record.

The Pit: Is there any one story regarding the creation of Screaming for Vengeance that stands out to you all these years later?

RH: Oh my God, Ibiza, we went to Ibiza for the first time ever. There was a time in the British governmental tax system that was just crazy. […] So we went on break for that reason originally, but it’s still now a magical place. It’s a very heavy, mystic [place], it’s just very beautiful. There’s a lot of great things happening there.

Balearic islands off the coast of Spain – I haven’t been there for years, decades, but I’ve been told it hasn’t really changed that much. The actual people of Ibiza are very protective of their place, so there’s no big massive hotels and resorts and skyscrapers. It’s part of Spain, so there’s fierce independence of holding on to nature, which is great. There we are in this enchanting Island in the Mediterranean and we’re cheating death daily. I’m going off into town in rental cars and these like, you know, motocross motorcycles. We had, you know – talk about solar angels. We had all these angels surrounding [us], because [considering] the crazy antics that we got up to – it was archetypal insanity. I think everybody has a bit of Keith Moon in them. It was nuts.

Man, you know… I don’t know how we got any work done. But we did. But all of the crazy stuff… Ken [K.K. Downing, ex-band guitarist] being hit by a taxi and Glen [Tipton, band guitarist] trying to bandage him with a hot bandage, but Glenn is burning his hands ’cause he was tripping on acid. [He] thought the water was warm when it was boiling. Then you know, Ian [Hill, band bassist] driving a rental car into the palm, the pool in front of the studio at 4:00 AM. Oh just nights of people crashing all over the place, it’s just insane. It was insane, but we managed to get the work done. And when you think about that – I mean, most records have stories attached to them, but we made probably one of the most beloved significant albums that Judas Priest has ever done.

The Pit: Well since you brought up that upcoming tour with Queensrÿche – it’s so surreal to consider that Judas Priest is one of the longest running bands in all of heavy metal history. So, as the Metal God, we wanted to ask – given all you’ve seen and experienced in these 50 years – What are you most proud of regarding the genre’s growth and evolution? Sorry if that is longwinded. 

RH: No, it’s an important question, it’s a profound one in that – and I’m sure this is correct, that we’re the longest surviving metal band in existence right now. I’m sure somebody will read this interview and go “NO blah blah blah,” but it is true on a lot of levels. You take Rocka Rolla in ’74 to where we are in 2022, and all the albums that we’ve made and the thousands of shows that we’ve done, and to some extent, [we] created – defined – this style of music. We’ve always been very proudly attached to heavy metal.

To go through the decades of metal with all the stories associated with the growth of this music, [to] now when we hang out with bands, especially newer bands, younger bands that are growing – Priest is part of a reference, you know? Priest is a little bit like the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, you know? That’s that kind of philosophy – everybody’s got a Priest story and it’s just a wonderful feeling of pride and being blessed and being grateful to have had this opportunity over 50 years to keep making metal, strong, and powerful.

We just do what we do being Brits; being British might have something to do with our attitude. We’ve never lacked all the things that [might] get in [one’s] way, as far as maintaining our feet on the ground. [We appreciate] the opportunity to still be here and to make metal.

The Pit: At this time, Judas Priest has released 18 studio albums and you have had this artistic career for 50 years. From the very beginning of your career, to the middle of it and now – What drives you? What has kept you going and inspired to explore this artist passion for half a century?

RH: We can’t switch it off. I think it’s just such an internal part of who you are as a person and that you thrive on, you thrive on endless possibilities. It’s impossible to stop it, you know, and it can be very intrusive in your life. I mean, I can suddenly wake up in the middle of the night like with music in my head. It’s bizarre – you have to really be able to comprehend that, and to try and make sense to people this is just how my brain works, and you’re not going crazy; it’s just that music is such an impassioned feeling inside of you – the desire to keep expressing yourself with your creativity is unstoppable, and I’m very pleased that I still possess that, because it is very easy to get jaded. It’s very easy to kind of take your foot off and lose perspective.

When I think about Priest now, I think about everything. I think about that first day we went into the studio in London – in Island Studios in London. [It was a] hot summer day [when we] started making the first professional album that we ever made, I can remember that like yesterday. All of that threads through to the work that we’re making now you know. And so the emotional drive, commitment, and fire is still there.

Do we need to make another Priest album or not? We don’t, but we will and we do, because that’s part of what makes Priest, Judas Priest. And the fact that for the most part, every time we’ve gone out to see our fans, it’s been to introduce new music from our latest release, which we’re not doing right now. We’re still winding up the 50th anniversary party. So next time you see us it’ll be the next world tour. It will be with the support of the brand new Priest album.  And so there are a multitude of reasons, but at the heart of it is that you know we live and breathe heavy metal music.

We at The Pit would like to thank Rob for his time in talking with us! Screaming for Vengeance was released on July 17th, 1982. Keep a look out for part two of our interview with Rob to be published in the near future!