on March 13, 2016
If Black Sabbath invented heavy metal as a genre, it was Judas Priest that picked up the baton, and refined its direction, by taking the blueprint created by Black Sabbath, re-emphasizing the mechanistic approach to rhythm, and combining it with the virtuosity and speed of Deep Purple (while throwing in some tablespoons of Budgie and Queen along the way). As the years progressed, Judas Priest may have lost some of their innovative feel and organic musical instincts along the way, but they still have shown themselves capable of living up to their legacy as leaders in the metal genre. If their kid brothers Iron Maiden can be described as telling stories of dark fantasy and all-too real strife and conflict from the point of view of those who must endure and survive such situations, Judas Priest often adapted the voice of those who are behind said chaos, with a ruthless and sinister musical delivery. This collection essentially gives you the band's entire catalogue where Rob Halford was the vocalist (minus their latest album, Redeemer of Souls). It does omit all the Ripper Owens-fronted releases, but I'll take that sacrifice in favor of a collection where the 2 first Judas Priest albums are finally remastered and reunited with the rest of the catalogue (how they managed to pry the license for those 2 records out of the hands of Gull Records, I have no idea....).
There are a couple of sticking points, however. The CDs from "Sin After Sin" through "Painkiller" are, from what I can tell, the infamous Rick Astley remasters, which audiophiles have serious issues with. The albums are often mastered too hot, and in some cases, compression and noise reduction were used excessively. Priest, in my opinion, were not often a band that favored a subtle sonic treatment, and the most egregious examples of those complaints are from their 80s albums, which were intentionally abrasive and in your face, meaning that while the OCD-addled folks at the Hoffman audio forums may make this collection out to be a tragedy, it's not the end of the world. That being said, my best advice is to use software such as MP3Gain if you plan on burning your discs to your computer/devices, in order to knock down the levels a little bit when needed (and Sin After Sin is mastered way too loud compared to the albums surrounding it in the chronology). In addition, while the clamshell box and mini-LP sleeves are cool (and save space), once again, we find the same lack of effort in the accompanying booklet that was present in the Blue Oyster Cult collection. The entire history of the band apparently warranted only 2 short pages. At least it has a few cool pictures. Finally, many of the bonus tracks are not actually from the sessions of the albums they are attached to, which causes some sonic incongruity. Oh, and I wish they had included the first version of "Diamonds and Rust" as a bonus track, as I prefer it slightly to the "Sin After Sin" version.
Moving on to the music, 1974's "Rocka Rolla" is a surprisingly tame debut for the band. There's a much more distinct blues-based feel here, although the title track and the second part of "Dying to Meet You" both display the ruthless, mechanized precision the band would become known for. The ambitious "Winter" suite and the lengthy, vaguely psychadelic ballad "Dying to Meet You" show a grandiose side that Priest would explore much further on the next album, 1976's "Sad Wings of Destiny". Most metal fans agree that "Sad Wings" was a seminal album for the metal genre, and it's no exaggeration that the album is loaded with classics. There's a much more aggressive edge throughout much of the material, and when the band isn't filling your ears with palm-muted, galloping riffs, dual guitar harmonies, grinding rhythms, or the pinpoint, multi-octave siren of Rob Halford's voice, it's to dabble in surprisingly tender emotion ("Epitaph") or moody gothic spookiness ("Dreamer Deceiver"). The ruthlessness of songs like "The Ripper", "Island of Domination", "Tyrant", and "Genocide" must've been startling for listeners at the time. It should be noted that the remastering of this album is actually pretty damn good, and is much more solid and robust than prior versions.
After Judas Priest moved to a major label (and forfeited the rights to their first albums in the process), "Sin After Sin" showed much of the same mix of heaviness and speed as before, with epic biblical pieces such as "Sinner" and "Call For the Priest" moving along the same apocalyptic fault lines as "Tyrant" did, while "Dissident Aggressor" is even more aggressive than anything the band did before. On the other hand, "Last Rose of Summer" is a surprisingly commercial ballad that completely contrasts with the rest of the album. 1978's "Stained Class", on the other hand, was a far, far less commercial affair, and is considered a turning point, as the band focused on delivering an album more aggressive and technical than other metal/hard rock artists of the 1970s. Songs like "Exciter", "Invader", and "Savage" all helped redefine metal as an entity wholly separate from blues-based hard rock, while "Beyond the Realms of Death" pioneered a new type of dark "power ballad", combining dark, softer sections with heavy parts in a way that would influence Iron Maiden and Metallica in later years. This album was swiftly followed by "Killing Machine" (aka "Hell Bent For Leather"), which was a surprisingly groovy and, dare I say, "funky" album. It was also less dark, as songs like "Delivering the Goods" and "Rock Forever" seemed to have a more fun-oriented bent, while even darker songs such as "Hell Bent For Leather" and their awesome metallized version of "Green Manalishi" swing with a visceral liveliness. There's also an awesomely nasty prurient streak throughout, and if you don't believe it, check out the lyrics to "Burnin' Up" and "Evil Fantasies", both of which in retrospect appear to be Rob Halford giving voice as to his closeted desires as a gay man who has to keep his true feelings in the shadows. It doesn't get much more metal than that, considering how society was less tolerant of homosexuality back then.
"Unleashed In the East" was their inevitable live album, and while the vocals may have been re-dubbed after the fact, there's still a tremendous energy. The remaster actually greatly improves on the original release by adding several bonus tracks from the same tour. Of course, it was 1980's "British Steel" that is considered the ultimate breakthrough to the masses. The band alternates between ruthlessly aggressive tracks such as "Rapid Fire", "Grinder", and "Steeler", and catchy, almost pop-ish metal such as "Breaking the Law", "United", and megahit "Living After Midnight". While it's not my favorite album of theirs, I can in no way at all deny its power and effectiveness. The following album, "Point of Entry", however, failed to be as consistent in its quality. Sure, it had "Desert Plains", "Heading Out to the Highway", and "Solar Angels", but many of the other songs were not as consistently good throughout their run times, or felt like the band was vacillating between becoming a more commercial hard rock outfit, and staying the course of their metal approach. I will admit, though, even weird and goofy cuts such as "Don't Go", "Turning Circles", and "You Say Yes" have some charm. "Screaming For Vengeance" is considered a comeback for Judas Priest, as it contains quite a few beloved songs, such as the somewhat overplayed "You've Got Another Thing Coming", the vicious "Electric Eye", and the grinding gallop of "Bloodstone". There were also some more blatantly commercial tracks such as "Chains of Love" and "Fever", that still felt right in the context of the album.
"Defenders of the Faith" may have been where the band starting losing momentum, even if it is considered another classic. "Freewheel Burning", "Jawbreaker", and "The Sentinel" are all stone cold pure metal classics, but the album as a whole feels less dynamic, and less adventurous than the band was in the past, as if the band had started to write the songs fans expected them to write. 1986's "Turbo" saw Judas Priest attempting to consciously cater to the music market by introducing more synthesized elements into their sound, and alienated a fair number of fans in the process. It's hard to deny that it's not bad as far as a slick pop-metal album goes, and "Turbo Lover" is actually a great song. The bonus tracks from the "Turbo" sessions that are scattered throughout the various discs in the collection actually would have made the album's reputation better in the long run if they had been originally included, as they don't suffer from as much overproduction and commercial compromise as some of the music that made the cut (e.g. the traditional metal of "All Fired Up", or the loveably goofy sentiment of "Red White & Blue"). "Priest....Live!" was a live album culled from the "Turbo" tour, but lacks the same fury as "Unleashed". 1988's "Ram It Down" was sort of a transitional album of sorts, as it was partly made up of leftover songs from the "Turbo Sessions", and is considered a low point for the band (it's unclear if half the time, we're hearing a drum machine performing the percussion). Indeed, the band's desecration of "Johnny B. Goode" is a bit of a rock 'n roll sin, but there are some bright spots that survive scrutiny, namely the title track, the hyperactive "Hard As Iron", and the moody, techno-rock of "Blood Red Skies".
Thankfully, the band roared back to form in 1990 with "Painkiller", which was not only one of their most consistent releases, but also one of their most poundingly metallic. From start to finish, it is precise and merciless. "Hell Patrol", the punishing title track, "Leather Rebel", the nightmarish ballad "A Touch of Evil", the epic closer "One Shot At Glory".....not much else can be said. Sadly, this was to be the last album with Rob Halford as vocalist for quite a while. After a hiatus in the mid-90s, Judas Priest returned with Tim "Ripper" Owens as the vocalist, but unfortunately, the band's attempts to fit in with new trends in metal, combined with having a new lead vocalist, did not meet much success in the eyes of the public. By 2005, however, the rift between Halford and the rest of the band had been repaired, and "Angel of Retribution" was released with Rob Halford back on board. Although it's not as classic as "Painkiller", it's a solid metal album, and songs like "Judas Rising" and "Deal With the Devil" have a good energy about them, even if there's nothing too adventurous here. 2008's "Nostradamus" saw the band taking a bit of a risk, however, by releasing a 2 disc concept album, filled with various orchestrations, keyboards and guitar synths. Unlike the similarly tech-adorned "Turbo", however, the mood harkened back to the band's earlier days in terms of gothic ambition. Much of the album is mid-tempo, but Priest makes it work well much of the time. The collection concludes with the live album "A Touch of Evil", which isn't bad, considering how old the band is. It's no "Live After Death", but it makes a decent bookend for this collection, and also fills in the gaps in their live discography not filled by the earlier 2 live albums with Halford.
And there you have it. I was lucky enough to have bought this when the price was fluctuating here, and got the collection for somewhere south of $80, which is a good value. If you have a few Judas Priest albums here and there, but don't have the entire discography, this is probably worth it if you like what you've heard.
on September 22, 2013
First of all I'll start by saying the content is beyond great. Many of the albums are Masterpieces: Sad Wings of Destiny, Stained Class, British Steel, Screaming for Vengeance, Defenders of the Faith, Painkiller... along with their oddities like Turbo and Ram It Down, right down to their three live albums and their more recent outputs, Angel of Retribution and Nostradamus. Judas Priest are pionners of metal in both sound and image and their reputation stands strong, having influenced directly or indirectly a lot of the bands that followed them. Their body of work is impressive, with some of metal's landmark albums and incredible album's worths of music, they certainly deserve a box set containing and celebrating their career. It's worth noting that even though the box says The Complete Albums Collection it is not in fact, complete. It's missing the Tim ''Ripper'' Owens era studio and live albums. It was aware before purchasing and it's not a huge deal as most will want this solely and majorly for the Halford recordings alone, but if it says complete it would be nice if it really was. I'm not trying to be difficult I just think it would have been neat to have ALL the Judas Priest albums in one place, and that includes the Tim Owens years, regardless of preference or opinion.
On the positive, having all the albums in one place is fantastic. The box itself is nice but seems rather frail from being such soft cardboard. It nicely holds all 17 albums in a very compact space and it doesn't take much room. The booklet is nice and has liner notes at the beginning, and pictures and lists the songs and credit. Having the ''Killing Machine'' corrected on Hell Bent for Leather sleeve is a nice touch. My main grippe with this box set is the cardboard sleeves, mini vinyl replica sleeves that the CDs come in. I don't mind cardboard CDs cases, they may not be as strong as the more traditional jewel cases but they do the job and usually are for more special album treatments such as deluxe editions and they do feel nice. The problem here is that the discs are so tightly fit into their sleeves that it gets hard to pull them out and they tend to be more prone to scratches and damage.I'll give them that this was a great concept, having all the Halford years and there's a lot of good to this set (compact and the artwork on the discs etc) but the execution is just not what it maybe could or should have been.
Based on money value alone, I think that all of the 17 Halford outputs in one box for less than a hundred dollars is great value. I picked this up because while I owned many Priest albums, I didn't have any of the live albums, and I was missing 5 albums so it made sense for me to buy this since it had all those albums and looked like a cool box set and I would have paid just as much if not more to complete my individual Judas Priest CD collection. I really wish the box was made of more solid material as it feels like it could break in two very easily, plus the sleeves are just too tight for the CDs and again, having the Owen recordings would have made this a truly complete set. At face value, 17 albums for this price is absolutely great but the package takes it down a little. I would say it's more of a budget release than a real collector's item. 3.5 stars.