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Crucible (Metal-Is/Sanctuary)

This is Rob Halford's second studio album with the band he named after himself, and it's a damn fine hunk o' metal. He's abandoned the industrial pretensions of Two and reined in Fight's more thrashy leanings. The songs here boast soaring riffs and powerful, anthemic choruses; the two guitarists are technically excellent; and the drums are huge, thwacking listeners in the back of the head, ensuring that attention never flags.

While Halford's vocals don't head straight for the stratosphere, as they did in Judas Priest's early 1980s heyday, Crucible proves that Rob's lost none of the lung power that made him a metal god. In fact, Crucible is almost a perfect "power metal" album. From beginning to end, it's filled with songs that never sacrifice muscle for melody. The lyrics are a little obscure, but they don't matter that much anyway. The point is the delivery. Halford needs to suck the listener into the song with his voice, and he does that every time. What this album proves most handily is that Rob Halford doesn't need Judas Priest for anything. With Halford working on this level, though, Priest needs him really, really badly.

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