Rob Halford Talks ‘Screaming for Vengeance,’ Future of Judas Priest + More
On July 17, 1982, Judas Priest released their eight studio album. ‘Screaming for Vengeance.’ Thirty years later, the legendary metal band will celebrate one of their most successful albums this September with the release of a special 30th anniversary edition, including the re-mastered original album plus bonus tracks and a live DVD from the 1983 US Festival Show.
We recently spent some time chatting with the one and only Rob Halford. He reminisces about ‘Screaming for Vengeance,’ unveils details on the next Priest studio album and even gives his personal opinion on the current state of metal.
Let’s get right to it. Congratulations on the 30th anniversary of ‘Screaming for Vengeance.’ Is it hard to believe it’s been three decades since the album has been released?
Wow, has it been 30 years already? Where does the time go? I’ll tell you what’s amazing about this whole thing. I was sitting in my old man recliner with my remote watching the DVD that comes with the special edition, and suddenly I look at my hands and my palms are sweating. I was like, what’s going on? It’s just what Priest has always done to me. It’s constantly given me this surge of adrenaline. The energy and the excitement of looking at that band – apart from being in it – it’s just sensational to put those two experiences together; visually with the bonus DVD, and that just marries into the music on the album in such a strong way. It becomes a much more significant thing for us in Priest, rather than just reflecting on ‘British Steel’ like we did previously. We actually have visual documentation to go with this now from that gigantic festival that Steve Jobs put on. It just gives it a bit of kick.
Why’d you pick 1983’s US Festival Show for the DVD that comes with the 30th anniversary edition of ‘Screaming for Vengeance?’
Everybody was just going nuts about it. It was just gigantic, as you’ll see from the DVD. With 300,000 people, it was one of the biggest festivals since Woodstock. It was a very different type of musical event, and I believe it was the first of its kind to carry those different styles of music back-to-back-to-back; one day of country, one day of metal, one day of new wave. It was just all over the place from a musical point of view. It was like an encyclopedic event. We were just thrilled to be in the company of some of our peers like the Scorpions and Van Halen and Motley Crue. We were invited at the last minute and we just dropped everything and flew in and did it and flew out the next day.
I know this is like asking a parent who your favorite child is, but if you had to pick, what’s your favorite track form the album?
[Laughing] I’m still as pissed off now at 60 years old, almost 61, as I was when I wrote the lyrics for ‘Screaming for Vengeance.’ I love that track. There’s something about the rawness and the intensity and the statement about that song. It’s a very powerful song if you listen to it lyrically. The force of the energy of the band is a very unusual piece of music for Priest. That one has always resonated with me. Like most of us in Priest, we don’t listen to our own music, that’s like being too close to the office so to speak. But I did listen to it the other day and I’m just as satisfied and pleased with the whole record now as when we made it in 1983. That particular track, though, just speaks volumes for me all these years later.
Because of its radio success, ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ is credited with opening the door for metal bands in the United States. When you wrote and recorded the album, did you think it would have that sort of mainstream power?
No. We never had any idea that it would have that power. I do recall our label, Sony, was very excited for it. They felt there was an opportunity for growth, especially on the back of our prior releases. American rock radio is so important for what bands need in terms of analyzing success and we were aware of that. Equally, though, I don’t think we’ve ever sat down to write a song specifically for rock radio. Priest has always been a world band. We have no radio in the UK, we have no radio in Europe, South America and wherever else. But, we understood the power of rock radio in America. The point I’m trying to make, lengthily like I always do, is that the success was unexpected.
The track that exploded for us, ‘You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’,’ was completely unexpected. We put that track eight songs into the record. Normally, if you’ve got a radio song that you want people to listen to, you put it within the first three songs. When we gave the record to the label, they felt that they really had a song with that track. We were in the UK thinking, sure, we’ll see what happens. As it turns out, of course, that song just went through the roof. It was the radio track that gave our record tremendous success, and that obviously bumped into the corresponding American tour. It still is a very important record for us in the U.S., more than any other Priest record, because that was the one with that track. It was like a catalyst for us to get to the next level.
You’re celebrating 30 years with ‘Screaming for Vengeance,’ but as a band, Priest has been rocking the world for 40 years. How does it feel to be carrying the torch for metal for so many years?
Much like everything else, if you’re doing something that you love – even if it is work – the years go by and suddenly someone taps you on the shoulder and says ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ turns 30, and you just think that’s impossible. Then you look at the calendar and you see that it’s true. It’s remarkable. It’s difficult to talk about. You’re living it. Rock ‘n’ roll is an extraordinary way of making a living, let’s face it. You don’t know from one moment to the next if you’re going to be able to sustain it because your being around is so dependent on all these other elements.
The main element, of course, is the fan base. We can’t say enough about out fans. Without our fans, Priest would’ve crumpled and faded away years ago. We have a wonderful fan base that looks after us and inspires us to get back into the studio to make another record. Suddenly, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, it just keeps coming. The numbers keep coming. But I tell you what, the love of what you do, the energy, the creative energy doesn’t change. We just can’t wait to get back into the studio. We’re really eager to get back in there and make another Priest record. It’s just wonderful that those attitudes are still in place.
What can fans expect from the next Priest album?
We’ve already got a strong cross-section of ideas, some of them complete, some of them in bits and pieces. It’s shaping up to be quite intense, in terms of the riffage and the strength of certain tracks. Much like every time you try and talk about music, it’s practically impossible to capture it. You can only point it in the direction of where things are shaping up, and it’s just glorious. If I try to pinpoint it, there are elements of ‘British Steel’ and there elements of ‘Painkiller’ in terms of the vibe. We’ve got a really solid record coming together slowly in a strong metal way that will make all of our Priest fans around the world very happy and content. At least I hope it does.
When do you think we’ll get our hands on the album?
I’m not really sure. It’ll be ready when it’s ready. We’re not under the same clock as we used to be. I remember in the 80s we were banging out a record almost every year, and that was on top of putting in a world tour. We have the luxury now, if you want to call it that, of taking our time. And that’s just because that’s the way it is. We’re just as eager to get this done as ever, but we do it at a slower pace. It’s that British thing, you know? [Laughs] It’s that monarchy thing. But, I hope it’ll be out next year. My gut tells me it’ll be out next year. You know what, 2013, let’s go for it. Let’s look forward to that moment for another Priest record for everyone to bang their heads to.
You’re a titan of the industry, there’s no refuting that. What’s your opinion of the current state of metal?
It’s great. It’s absolutely great. It’s a different world compared to what it was 20 or 30 years ago. Once the Internet exploded, it just got all over the place. But you know, regardless of that, it’s about the flow of talent. It’s tremendously strong, from a global point of view, right now. It couldn’t be any stronger. We try and see bands when we go on these global treks, wherever we might be. It’s healthy. It’s stimulating. There’s always new stuff on the horizon. To look at it now compared to when we kicked it off in the 70s, it’s just tremendous, it’s absolutely stunning. It’s impossible to keep up with. There are bands that are gigantic in Argentina that mean nothing in Texas, that’s just the way music is. But what it does is spread that heavy metal community phenomenon. Through the Internet, we’re able to stay connected to what’s going on. I wouldn’t say it’s diminishing at all. I’d say it’s as strong and powerful as it ever was.
What’s the future of Priest look like? Despite saying that your most recent trek would be your last full blown tour, it seems like you have no plans to slow down.
We’re simplifying things from a road point of view. We’re not going to go out on any two year treks. It’s a little more difficult to do that at 61 than it was at 60. [Laughs] Having said that, I was looking at the early editing of the Priest show a couple months ago in London at the famous Hammersmith Odeon. I got the DVD about a week ago and I can’t stop watching it. It’s just unbelievable to look at. What I’m trying to say is that the components, the important pieces of what being in a band is all about, are as strong as when we started out. I can see that, I can hear that, by looking at that DVD. That’s encouraging. We are going to go out, we’re just simplifying where we go out and for how long. It’s definitely not the end. The heavy metal fat lady hasn’t sang yet. She’s tied up in a float case. She’s handcuffed somewhere in a float case. There’s no end in sight. Why say it’s the end when it’s not the end? Why say the end is coming when it ain’t, you know? Priest is just going to keep going as long as it can. As long as we want to be in the band, as long as we want to keep making metal, we’re going to keep doing it. At the forefront of all that, though, are the fans that look after us. We wouldn’t deprive the fans of another great record or another great show. Our life has existed because of the fan base that looks after us. Our fans are excited and eager to get more Priest, so we’ll hopefully deliver the goods next year.
The 30th anniversary edition of ‘Screaming for Vengeance’ comes out on Sept. 4 in the U.S. and Sept. 3 in Europe. It is available for pre-order at Amazon.com.