Judas Priest

Metalogy (Sony/Legacy)

Judas Priest is as important as Black Sabbath or Metallica. The band has always combined fist-pumping choruses with high-tech metal, impeccably played and polished to a gleaming sheen. The result is a catalog that's larger than life, best heard in arenas packed with screaming, crazed fans. At its early '80s peak, it showed how heavy metal could rocket over the top, commercially and artistically.

Priest first emerged as a heavy blues-rock act in the early 1970s. As the '80s began, though, it adapted its sound to the times, incorporating synthesizers and the latest technology. This ZZ Top-like strategy made it huge two decades ago. With British Steel ('80), Screaming for Vengeance ('82), and Defenders of the Faith ('84), Priest was the biggest metal band in the world. Frontman Rob Halford's otherworldly scream could shatter windshields in the parking lots of the arenas they played, and twin lead guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing sliced the air with arpeggios of synchronized riffing. They rolled over the planet like a juggernaut.

Metalogy tells the story in four CDs and 64 tracks, plus a bonus DVD. All their best songs are here; just as important, their worst songs ("Wild Nights, Hot and Crazy Days," for one) are not. There are a few Ripper Owens-era tracks at the end of Disc Four, but the set's chronological approach makes those easy to avoid. It seems as if Priest's own favorite album is Defenders of the Faith. The band's input shaped the box, and 8 of that album's 10 tracks are here, more than from any other record.

But the best tracks on Metalogy are those that aren't so familiar. Ram It Down, to pick just one example, was a grossly underrated album, and its tracks will quickly remind listeners of that fact. And the DVD, containing an entire Texas concert from 1982, is simply awe-inspiring. Metalogy is a fitting tribute to Judas Priest's greatness. And with Halford back for this summer's Ozzfest, as well as a new studio album in progress, a whole new generation can witness the glory for themselves. Lucky them.

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