Screaming for Vengeance. If we have to explain anything about this piece there’s a fair chance you is reading the wrong web-based heavy metal magazine, innit… but, just in case… and you look like good people eager to learn and find out what all the fuss is about, well… thirty years ago Brit metal icons Judas Priest unleashed one of the most important heavy metal albums of all time on an unsuspecting public, an album that, if you read yesterday’s tribute piece we posted, you’d know resonates to this day anywhere where metalheads gather to discuss what made them the people they are today. We couldn’t let this anniversary pass without speaking to someone directly involved in this album’s creation, so I humbly sent forth requests to one third of the greatest heavy metal band of all time’s songwriting triumvirate, KK Downing, to see whether he’d be interested in speaking to me about his memories of the creation of said metallic work of art and, somewhat marvellously, he agreed – here’s what one of metal’s greatest guitarists had to say about one of metal’s greatest albums…

KK, Judas Priest seemed to be at something of a crossroads as they prepared to start the recording of Screaming for Vengeance – what was the mood in the Priest camp coming off the Point of Entry Tour? “I would have to say pretty good really, I know Point of Entry wasn’t our most revered album but the tour was very successful.”

So was there a positive decision within the writing group to make a heavier record with Screaming for Vengeance? Or was it just a very organic result of the writing that went on at the time? “Exactly! we were on automatic pilot and just got stuck in to whatever ideas came along, The best method is to do what comes naturally from within you when it comes to songwriting.”

You’d already gained a reputation for doing top notch covers and making them ‘Priest’ songs with the likes of Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust and Fleetwood Mac’s Green Manalishi, not to mention Spooky Tooth’s Better By You, Better Than Me… However those songs were already ‘famous’ before you tackled them. Whose decision was it to cover (Take These) Chains (written by gun for hire songwriter Bob Halligan Jnr), and how different were the original demos you were presented with to the finished article? “In this case I think that the version we released was very close to the original except for maybe the solos, I think that it was quite by chance that this song was presented to us, but I think that we all thought it was a good song.”

A stroke of luck that, as many people I know think it’s one of the album’s best songs! What memories do you have of the recording process for the album? You’ve said in the past that Point of Entry was at the time the most experimental album you’d done in terms of ‘making it up as you went along in the studio’, was Screaming… a more regimented session? “If I remember correctly all of the writing was pretty much done or at least well mapped out before going into the studio, so it was more or less a straight forward process, having said that we are always making embellishments as we go because things can always be improved if you put in more effort.”

How aware are you during a recording session that something you’ve just laid down is destined to be a ‘classic’? Do you look at one another listening to the first playback of a song like Electric Eye and just ‘know’? “I don’t think anyone can say what a song or even an album will become in terms of success, I guess we always just hoped for the best, and just concentrated on getting the record finished, one was always conscious of costs. Anyway it’s better not to get too excited or optimistic so as to avoid possible disappointment…”

I see. As a glass half empty man myself I can empathise with that! But talking of a song like Electric Eye, how do you feel about being part of writing a song so strong that even now bands such as As I Lay Dying feel the need to pay tribute to its influence on their latest album? “I always consider it an honour that other bands play or record our songs!”

The honour is of course all ours as listeners and fans, as seen from the tribute piece we ran yesterday about the album! Now if we might go back again to the recording of the record – Screaming for Vengeance (the song) was heavier than anything I’d ever heard at the time, and was certainly a precursor for speed and thrash metal. Again, and leading on from my earlier question… was this a conscious songwriting decision – and did you consider such a heavy song to be a risk at the time? “I think that the song just evolved out of the writing process to be what it became and that the heaviest thing about the song is quite possibly Rob’s amazing screaming lyrics and vocals!”

You’re not wrong there Mr Downing – the final ‘Screaming!’ still ranks as one of my favourite vocal moments in heavy metal history! But having focused on the heavier moments on the album, we can’t ignore You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’. I remember seeing you doing the song on the Tube and even my mum loved the song. How important was it to have those elements of light and shade on the record? And, despite the fact you’d had big radio hits in England before, just how big a deal was it for you for that song to take off on US radio? “I guess we will never know for sure if the album would still be our biggest selling album without …Another Thing Comin‘ but there’s no denying that it did help us to become a household name in many countries, Light and shade is important and I think that we have always tried to incorporate as many different emotions as we can into our albums, I think that it is necessary to keep any record interesting.”

Haha – anyone who doesn’t think Screaming for Vengeance isn’t an interesting album may well need shooting, but I know what you mean… Now – what’s your favourite song on the album? And why? “I can’t say that I have a particular favorite song. I just hear the album as one piece.”

And where does Screaming for Vengeance rank for you in the Priest canon? “When it comes to the high energy selections I guess it would stand up quite well next to the song Painkiller.”

And now, in 2012, thirty years after the fact, would you change anything about the way the album sounded if you recorded it from scratch today? “I wouldn’t change a thing – its character is something that you can not buy.”

I’m glad to hear that, because to my ears one of the things that appeals more than anything is the timeless quality of the album’s production work – I certainly wouldn’t want it to sound any different! Finally – Is there anything else you think the our readers and the metal community generally should know about the album? “Not a thing. It ‘screams!!’ For itself!”

And there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth as it were. And we couldn’t have said it better ourselves…