Rhino's 4-disc HEAVY METAL box is the most comprehensive anthology of the influential genre ever. Featuring legendary stars from multiple labels, the box's size lives up its thundering sound arranged chronologically, it collects 70 classic tracks tracing the evolution of metal through its first golden age, 1968-1991. Encompassing proto-metalists, hard rock icons, thrashers, progressive acts, speedsters, pop-metal MTV favorites, and more, a who's who of masters get their due. The box also boasts essays from Ronnie James Dio and Lita Ford, plus and a detailed history of metal by Mick Wall. Surveying the last years covered by the box, Wall concludes, metal had come full circle to the point where it was simultaneously riven by so many new categories and subgenres that you needed an encyclopedia to make sense of it all and yet it was more universally popular than ever before. The same could be said today so fly your devil horn salutes and crank it to 11 for five hours of musical mayhem.
The trouble with a genre as sprawling as heavy metal--and one as identified with brawn and intensity--is that its adherents certainly won't agree on the shape of their obsession. And the disagreement won't necessarily be polite. Halfway through disc two, you find one of the precise moments that can split metalheads into two camps: Judas Priest's "You Got Another Thing Comin'," whose crossover success set the table for the likes of Y&T, Dokken, Ratt, Stryper, and Skid Row as they took metal into the primping realm of pop music. Metal purists will want disc one, with Hawkwind, UFO, and even Dio-era Black Sabbath reveling in their status as early headbangers. The question is: Are their heirs truly Dokken and their ilk or are the heirs Pantera, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax? It might be an academic point only, but across the back half of this 4-CD set, the "truer," faster, thornier metal lies intermingled with the more vapid, hair-teased stuff of the 1980s, before Nirvana nuked the whole genre. And people who love Metallica won't want Skid Row polluting the chugging air. One thing certainly is true: The physical box, with its Marshall amp vibe, is impressive, something any self-respecting metalhead would cherish. It's the track list that'll make 'em kick and scream. --Andrew Bartlett