Judas Priest: Metalogy
If Ozzy Osbourne was an innocent battered by the dolorous noise that his Black Sabbath bandmates swirled around him, Judas Priest were an army of T-1000 Terminators: No matter how white-hot their music got, they always emerged spotlessly unscathed.
Many early hard rock bands still see the words "heavy metal pioneer" not as an honorific title but as a barbed-wire straitjacket. Not so Judas Priest. This four-disc box set, spanning their career from 1974-2002, proves co-lead guitarists K.K. Downing and Glen Tipton always respected the much-maligned genre, concentrating on interlocking guitar harmonies instead of fighting over billing. (Still, their liner notes annotate who's soloing when.) Rob Halford's growls and falsetto shrieks set the standard for HM singing, while his lyrics morphed metal's concerns of lust and freedom into gargantuan, though sometimes oblique, power struggles. For Judas Priest, Blue Öyster Cult's "Dominance and Submission" wasn't just a song title; it was a way of life.
Refining their sound on thankless U.S. tours, the British rockers finally cracked America in 1980 with British Steel, a radio-friendly summation of the five studio albums preceding it (Steel tracks including "Grinder," "Rapid Fire," and party anthem "Living After Midnight" are featured on Metalogy). But a 1985 run-in with the PMRC over their single "Eat Me Alive" (also included here) wearied the band who spent years singing about fighting the powers that be. Afterward, a dumbed-down but still potent Priest lead a weird foray into pop metal with some chart success, as evidenced here by songs like "Turbo Lover." (Strangely enough, their sole top-40 hit, "Locked In" is missing--but not missed.) Halford split in 1991 and was replaced by a tribute-band singer, Tim "Ripper" Owens, but the consistent awfulness of Owens's tracks on Metalogy--clumsy lyrics (dopey even by Priest's over-the-top standards), mannered singing, and limp riffing--proves that his success story was far better on paper. Yet weep not for Ripper: He's currently fronting cult faves Iced Earth.
All this drama is solidly documented on the box set's four discs, but some track choices seem superfluous. The live concert versions of "Victim of Changes" and "Diamonds and Rust," both off 1979's Unleashed in the East, capture a young, feisty Priest at their finest. But the flabby live takes of "Grinder" and "Hot Rockin" don't improve upon their meticulously produced in-studio predecessors. Still, while owning Metalogy won't substitute for not owning Stained Class or British Steel or even Halford's 1990 thrash-metal swan song Painkiller, it's a useful overview of a remarkably consistent career. And because Halford rejoined Priest in 2003, Metalogy may be also serve as a precursor to future volumes of classic Priest. Skoal!
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