Black Sabbath invented heavy metal, but Judas Priest drove it forward, rapidly accelerating the genre’s development. The limited-edition 50 Heavy Metal Years Of Music isn’t their first rodeo at the box-set ranch, but in comparison with 2004’s 4-disc Metalogy and The Complete Albums’ (2012) vanilla round-up and omission of the Ripper Owens period, this 42-CD behemoth hits the motherlode.
All 18 studio albums and six live long-players are here, including their previously deleted Ripper-fronted output. For die-hards, there are eight newly mastered live shows (five previously unreleased) recorded between 1979 and 1991, offering full-throttle classics, a theme continued on Beyond Live And Rare’s collection of buried gems (including unreleased epic Mother Sun).
Rocka Rolla (1974) lacks the edge of later albums, though doomy showstopper Run Of The Mill telegraphs what’s to come. Sad Wings Of Destiny (1976) finds their classic sound crystallising (pre-figuring the NWOBHM) as Rob Halford’s uncanny lungpower blends with KK Downing and Glenn Tipton’s bone-crushing guitars, displaying an aggression rare for the time on Victim Of Changes.
Session drummer Simon Phillips adds double-bass drumming to Sin After Sin (1977), the band sowing the seeds of thrash on Call For The Priest, refined on Stained Class’s (1978) Exciter. The same year’s Killing Machine distils melody and ferocity into concise neck-snappers, a format refined with hitmaking flair (Living After Midnight) on British Steel (1980).
Point Of Entry (1981) alternates experimental tracks with brooding metal, before Screaming For Vengeance (1982) and Defenders Of The Faith (1984) hit a platinum-selling balance between sharp songwriting and blunt force trauma. Turbo’s (1986) lighter sound and guitar synths polarised fans, Ram It Down (1988) is uneven, but Painkiller (1990) is essential, face-melting Priest.
During Halford’s absence, Owens acquitted himself admirably on the brutal Jugulator (1997) and Demolition (2001), before the metal god’s return for the sterling Angel Of Retribution (2005) and rewarding concept album Nostradamus (2008). Redeemer Of Souls (2014) was a solid start for guitarist Richie Faulkner, this incarnation hitting its stride on the masterful Firepower (2018). An exhaustive summation of Priest’s intense studio creativity and onstage vibrancy.
The 50 Heavy Metal Years Of Music box set is available from the Judas Priest webstore (opens in new tab). A double vinyl highlights package, Reflections, is also available.