We celebrate 40 years of Screaming for Vengeance – Judas Priest’s first commercial breakthrough. Which reminds us of the fact that these guys have been going at it for half a century. Just imagine living your music for over 50 years… Mind blowing, right? Let’s take a closer look at the history of the band.

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

The early days 

There aren’t many groups who can sustain a successful career over a 50 year period, with an enduring fan base who still value them as much as ever. Judas Priest are one such group. But where did it all begin?

Judas Priest initially formed in Birmingham, England in 1969, and would go through several line-up changes in the early years. By 1973, the group included bassist Ian Hill, guitarist K.K. Downing and vocalist Rob Halford, with guitarist Glenn Tipton joining the following year. These would be key members for Priest going forwards. Since releasing their debut album Rocka Rolla in 1974, they have a total of 17 albums under their belt to date.

British Steel

The band would go on to develop their sound on the next album, 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny, where they first showcased their trademark elements of heavy riffing and high-pitched vocals, bringing a unique style to the fledgling heavy metal scene.

Over their next three albums the band kept evolving and tweaking before they released British Steel in 1980, revered by critics and fans alike. It’s regarded as one of their finest albums and it had a significant influence on emerging heavy metal bands in the 1980’s. Judas Priest consolidated their sound with simpler songwriting, less progessive elements and more focus on anthemic choruses, while retaining their heaviness and distinct style.

Screaming for Vengeance

17th July 2022 marked the 40th anniversary of Screaming for Vengeance. The album saw a heavier style return than the more melodic change of direction on the previous release, 1981’s Point of Entry. As lead singer Rob Halford describes the writing and recording process of Point of Entry, “Priest were on autopilot”.

They regained the focus and directness in their songwriting, and Screaming for Vengeance was released in 1982 to critical acclaim and commercial success. It remains their best-selling album to date. The album features setlist staples and tracks regarded as Priest classics, such as the title track, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” and “Electric Eye.

Artwork of Judas Priest’s Screaming for Vengeance

Two tracks worth jamming along with

Interestingly, “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming” was a last minute addition to the album – they had some of the sections to the song ready, and worked on completing it during the mixing sessions. It received a lot of radio airplay, and as K.K. Downing has since commented, “it was without doubt the song that broke Judas Priest in America.”

It has become one of their signature songs just like “Electric Eye”. It showcases their refined songwriting at this stage of the band’s career, and the features of their now established sound – twin-guitar riffs with a heavy driving rhythm and perfect simplicity to serve the song, a powerful sing-along chorus with the characteristic soaring vocals of Halford, driving bass alongside the drums and memorable lead guitar sections.

Painkiller 

Since their commercial high of 1982, Priest continued to release critically acclaimed albums and maintain their popularity, notably on 1990’s Painkiller. This was (now longtime) drummer Scott Travis’ first album with the group, and saw them adopt a new, (even) heavier edge to the songwriting and production. 

Amidst the emergence of the grunge scene and the changing landscape in the rock world, they were aware it could be a pivotal album. As Halford describes it, “We decided to go for it and  endeavor to make the strongest, most intense and powerful album of our career. We felt it was the record that would dictate the future of the band.”

Still evolving

Glenn Tipton had pushed himself to learn new techniques such as sweep picking, which had become popularized in the world of metal guitar during the 1980’s. This gave a radically different feeling to the guitar solos and increased the intensity of the sound, notably on the extended solos in the title track of “Painkiller”, which the album opens with.

The song starts with a thundering double bass drum intro, followed by the attack of heavy riffing on dual guitars before the shrieking vocals enter. It immediately becomes clear they have taken their brand of metal to a heavier level.

Rob Halford’s departure

Shortly after the Painkiller tour in 1992 though, Halford left amidst musical differences, and the band would remain inactive until 1996. Tim Owens took over on vocal duties, and Priest then released two albums in 1997 and 2001, prevalent with contemporary influences of 90’s groove, thrash and nu metal.

Halford worked on his own projects during the mid-90’s, and thankfully for Priest and metal fans alike, he and the group announced they would reunite in July 2003. 

Angel of Retribution

In 2005, they released Angel of Retribution, the first album in thirteen years with Halford back in the fold. This was met with critical and commercial success, and subsequent releases established a resurgence in popularity for Priest, with successful world tours and regular festival appearances following.

In 2010, Priest announced that the Epitaph World Tour starting the following year would be their farewell tour. Long-term guitarist Downing announced he was leaving Judas Priest in April 2011 and would not complete the upcoming world tour, citing an on-going breakdown in the relationships between himself, the band and their management. 

Album cover of Angel of Retribution

Richie Faulkner and the legacy of Judas Priest

Richie Faulkner was announced as Downing’s replacement soon after, which would be a major change for the band, and both Tipton and Halford have credited Faulkner with ‘saving’ Judas Priest, at a time when they had a crucial need for a guitarist who would suitably fit in.

After previously confirming they would release a new album in 2014, in December 2013 Halford confirmed that the Epitaph World Tour would not be their final tour, putting their retirement plans on ice.

Firepower

The tour was successful, and Priest went on to release their next album Redeemer of Souls in 2014, before 2018’s Firepower, another critically acclaimed release followed by a world tour in support of the album. Shortly before Firepower was released though, Glenn Tipton revealed he had Parkinson’s disease, and would step down from touring, citing the disease’s progression leaving him unable to play the more challenging material.

Album cover of Judas Priest’s Firepower

Andy Sneap

Andy Sneap, guitarist and producer who had worked on the Firepower album, would step in to replace him, but Tipton would join the band on stage to play a handful of Priest classics in the ensuing Firepower world tour. Sneap would become a permanent touring member of Priest, with Tipton contributing to songwriting in the studio and occasional onstage appearances – Tipton is very much still a member of Judas Priest.

In recent years, line-up changes and health issues threatened the future of Priest, and Covid-19 would delay their 50th anniversary tour in 2020 and 2021, but they came out screaming for vengeance in 2022. Their performances are still leaving fans in raptures the same way they did 40 years ago.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

After being on the ballot for induction to the esteemed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times in the past, Priest will finally be inducted in November 2022, receiving the Musical Excellence Award. It’s a fitting way to recognize the enduring influence and significant impact they have had on the music world. So, Judas Priest – thank you for the 50 years of heavy metal! 

Jam along with Judas Priest

By now you’re probably pumped and dying to dive into an epic heavy metal jam. Well guess what? We have you covered! Check out our Judas Priest channel with all the Screaming for Vengeance tracks, and to top it off we added a few Priest hits to keep your momentum going. Happy jamming!

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Henry works in Chordify's Support and Content teams, with experience in music from studying at university and playing guitar. At Chordify he helps users and creates support content, as well as writing and editing articles.