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JUDAS PRIEST – Metalogy (2004 Sony 4CD/1DVD limited edition box set)
Q: Who would release a box set dressed up in faux-leather and studs?
A: Who else? PRIEST!
This five disc set (4 CD/1 DVD) compiles a generous sampling of Judas Priest’s music over the decades, from Rocka Rolla (1974) to Demolition (2002). While the tracklist is far from perfect in my eyes (where’s “Rocka Rolla”, “One For the Road”, the studio version of “Victim Of Changes”, “The Ripper”, etc?) it does provide some previously unreleased live versions (both B-sides and never-before-released) and a completely unreleased demo. It’s not a bad set. Just not the one I would have made personally given the opportunity.*
With insanely great fortune, I got this box set (a limited edition by the way; reissues lack the DVD) in mint condition but used at my own store! One of my favourite sellers, a customer named Conrad sold it to me only a short time after release. I don’t know why and I don’t care. I was just glad to have it affordably. I loved the packaging and there was that unreleased demo that I was eager to finally hear. Also, Metalogy was the first anthology style box set from Priest and I wanted to hear how it played out.
The unreleased song is the awesome hard rock track “Heart of a Lion”, demoed for Turbo back in ’85. You may have heard this one in re-recorded form on Halford’s live album Insurrection. It was also recorded back in the 80’s by a young band called Racer X, starring Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) on guitar, and a drummer by the name of Scott Travis! It was a surprise to me that “Heart of a Lion” was not released on the Priest Re-masters series; obviously they were deviously saving it for something later, like this box set.
Some of the live versions are exclusive to this set. Two newly released versions included a 1981 radio broadcast of “Green Manalishi” (unfortunately, meaning the studio track isn’t on here). There is also an unreleased broadcast version of “Love Bites” from ’86. In addition to these, there are a few live tracks taken from old single B-sides. Unfortunately I already have all Priest’s B-sides, on a Japanese compilation called Priest Live & Rare.
The biggest weakness with this box set is that it tragically loses steam right at the end. In 2002 when the last original Priest music had been recorded, Rob Halford had yet to rejoin the band and Ripper Owens was still the current singer. The box ends with four Ripper tunes, and not necessarily the best ones. “Jugulator” is an undeniable inclusion, but there is a feeling of anticlimax. Leaving an exciting and unheard track like “Heart of a Lion” for last would have ended set on an up note. (Perhaps Priest could have included some Ripper-era rarities to add some value and excitement — there were a few songs available.)
The limited edition DVD, cleverly called Judas Priest Live, has since been released on its own. This is the old Judas Priest Live video, also known as Live Vengeance ’82, from the Screaming for Vengeance tour (Memphis Tennessee). It’s one of those music videos that you probably remember seeing back in the day. It’s quintessential early 80’s live Priest — all black leather and shiny studs. The setlist leans heavily on Screaming and British Steel, with classics throughout. The stage is pretty bare, just some girders and a Screaming for Vengeance flag in behind.
This concert has been remixed for DVD, in both stereo and 5.1 surround. I have read some complaints from fans that guitar overdubs were added to some tracks. I listened intently but could not conclude one way or the other that any tampering was done.
A pre-recorded “Hellion” acts as intro music; Priest emerge onstage amidst lasers and smoke to play “Electric Eye”. Halford is the caricature of himself, bearing a bullwhip, and looking something like the biker from the Village People. Nevertheless, a young Rob Halford slowly and deliberately commands the stage, powerful voice cracking but getting the job done. Tipton and Downing are on the flanks, tearing into “Riding on the Wind” next. The pulse of Ian Hill and Dave Holland, plain is it may be, is metronomically precise. The video is shot and edited to my taste; lots of closeups although the light flaring is distracting. (J.J. Abrams did not direct the video though!) KK Downing makes some of the best “guitar faces” this side of Nigel Tufnel.
“Heading Out to the Highway” brings the speed down from the breakneck pace. This mid-tempo classic has long been a favourite, although at the time it was only a year old! Three songs in, and Priest had not yet played anything from British Steel or before! The confidence in their new material is refreshing. Rob treats us to some hilarious dancing, but I admit I’d kill for a leather vest like that, with the bird from Screaming emblazoned on the back! Fear not though, as “Metal Gods”, a British Steel classic, is next. Rob’s robot dance gets my nod for “favourite moment of the concert”.
Back to new songs, the sharp guitars and robotic pulse of “Bloodstone” gets fists pumping in the air. The cameras are not wasted on audience shots (I’d rather see the band), but you can see the crowd digging the new material as much as the old. They really like “Breaking the Law” though, which has a blazing intensity. Then it’s back to the stone ages: KK Downing’s guitar showcase “Sinner”. This killer song loses something with Holland on drums, but it’s more about KK anyway. His solo is resplendent, but Rob nails the screams! “Desert Plains” is faster than the Point of Entry version but more powerful. This is one that Dave Holland is well suited to, and the Hill/Holland pulse is fully apparent.
Here’s something you don’t hear at Judas Priest concerts anymore: Rob screaming at the crowd, “Are you high? Sing yeah!” As a kid, I naively assumed Rob meant high on the music, the adrenaline of the concert, and I’m sure that’s the answer he’d give to the press if asked about it. As a cynical adult, I’m sure he meant “Are you high?” as in “Are you high?”!
All the way back to Sad Wings, “a little Victorian melodrama for you,” it’s “The Ripper”! Some stage bombs help out with the drama, and Rob sinks his teeth into the words. It’s an absolutely metal-perfect ode to Jack himself. “Diamonds and Rust” is an unexpected treat, as glimmery as it was on Sin After Sin.
Rob takes a moment to tell the crowd that there are cameras all over the place because they’re making the very first “Judas Priest movie”, and possible live album. Still waiting on that live album today, Rob! Back to the new album, it’s “Devil’s Child”, which Rob imbues with a strange monotone during the verses. This exact version was released as a bonus track on the remastered Screaming For Vengeance. As such it’s familiar to me and I enjoy the vocal twist. “Screaming for Vengeance” continues the onslaught of new songs, concluded by the chugging fan favourite “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin'”.
Closing the set with “Victim of Changes” is a suitably dramatic end. “Victim” is spot-on, and Rob is as animated as he gets. Headbanging away, Downing and Tipton are at his sides, while Ian Hill stands bolted to the stage, swaying his bass back and forth hidden behind a cloud of smoke! This brilliant version has all the twists and turns you expect, and that end scream is so satisfying even if Rob misses the note by several notches.
“The Green Manalishi” rears its leather-studded head in the encores, but not before the big hit, “Living After Midnight”. And let’s not forgot Rob’s boring “Oh yeah!” chant-along. Thankfully this version of “Green Manalishi” is a killer (as is the 1981 live version on CD 1 of this box set). “What you sayin’ Memphis?” screams Rob, before KK and Glenn dig in to their trademark solos. “Green Manalishi” remains to this day an example of a song improved as a cover version, with all due respect to Peter Green.
It ain’t over ’til the bike comes out, and it does on “Hell Bent for Leather”. Rob sits reclined on his Harley, bullwhip back in hand, commanding the masses. After dozens of power chords and crashed cymbals, it’s finally over — 95 minutes of Judas Priest fury, at the height of their 1980’s power. Not bad for a little bonus DVD (video quality issues aside), and worth picking up separately if you feel so inclined.
Review the track list yourself, see what you have and what you want, amd buy accordingly. I can tell you that this set was worth it for me for “Heart of a Lion” and the unreleased live material. The DVD was gravy.