November 1, 2007

CD Review: Halford - Metal God Essentials Vol. 1

Why? Why have I never picked up any of the Halford releases? I have no explanation for that. Somehow they just never made it onto my radar. Well, all mistakes, even old ones, can be rectified. What better way to correct the past but with a "Best of" type collection? Seems as good a place as any to start. Metal God Essentials Vol. 1 is an excellent collection that, presumably, collects the best tracks from Rob Halford's solo career between leaving Judas Priest in 1992 and rejoining them in 2004. While Halford forged his legendary status with Judas Priest, when he split with them he did not attempt to recreate Priest under another name; rather, he forged a new direction. In doing so, Rob Halford continued to create first rate metal.

If you are only familiar with Halford through Judas Priest, this collection will be an absolute treat. Even if you are not familiar with him at all (and why aren't you?) this collection will go a long way towards proving his status as a Metal God to you and anyone else brave enough to wade into the waters.

Following his departure from Judas Priest he formed the band Fight. I remember seeing them back in 1993 on MTV's Headbanger's Ball. They were performing live in the studio, an absolutely electrifying performance that included all three of the tracks included on this set, "Into the Pit," "Nailed to the Gun," and their debut album's title track "War of Words." That debut album stands as an absolute classic of metal music; although, I tend to think that it, and Fight in general, are a bit underrated. This seems especially true when placed within the enormous shadow cast by Judas Priest. That album was filled with incredibly heavy riffs that are sure to get stuck in your head while you fist involuntarily punches the air over your head.

As good as those songs were, the versions included here are of a slightly different vintage. All three are demos from those early Fight sessions. This is not a bad thing at all, although I believe their inclusion was to get around ownership rights. It is interesting to hear these alternate versions, instantly recognizable but with a distinctly different flavor. The Fight songs are highlighted not only by Halford insanely great voice but by some great heavy guitar work from Brian Tilse and Russ Parrish. Those two are what really attracted me back in the day, what with those fantastic rhythms. Sadly, these are the only offerings from the Fight era. Nothing from Small Deadly Space are included. To think of what was left off makes me think this could have easily filled two disks.

Fight disbanded after the 1995 release of Small Deadly Space. Halford would return to the scene in a slightly different form in 1998 with a new project called Two and an album called Voyeurs. The less said about this failed experiment the better. It was a metal/electronic hybrid of Halford's music reinterpreted by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails). The result was not compelling and instantly forgettable. It is thankfully left out of this compilation. Shall we move on?

The vast majority of Metal God Essentials Vol. 1 is comprised of Halford's next band, simply called Halford. Halford has, so far, released three studio albums, including the iTunes exclusive collection of 1999 demo material (Silent Screams - The Singles), plus a live album. After hearing the songs on this collection I feel the urge to go out and pick up the complete albums. The music is classic sounding heavy metal that is undeniably Rob Halford, but has the aura of contemporary production values.

The collection kicks off with the title cut from 2002's Resurrection. I cannot think of a better song to start with as the opening moments feature Halford doing what few others can do, hit those high notes. Other strong tracks are the mid-tempo rock "Sun," the live recording of "Screaming in the Dark," and the emotion filled demo for "Silent Screams."

Beyond those songs there are a couple of new tracks. I believe both of these were intended for the upcoming Halford IV album. Those songs are "Forgotten Generation," and "Drop Out." Both of these songs are excellent metal tunes. Even though Rob cannot hit the high notes like he used to, these are songs not to be missed. In particular "Forgotten Generation" is one to focus on. There is something about "Drop Out" that reminds me of a Fight song but I cannot quite put my finger on which one. It is the way he sings the chorus; the cadence seems very familiar.

The final track is a remix of "Forgotten Generation" called "U.S. Hypocrisy Mix." It is interesting, but not a strong way to go out on the collection. Rob's vocals seem a bit buried in the wall of guitar and programmed drums. I would have preferred this be left off in favor of another Fight track, perhaps "Little Crazy"?

Want to know the great thing about this set? It doesn't stop with the CD, there is a DVD included that features a pair of documentaries and some videos.

The DVD kicks off with a trailer for the forthcoming DVD War of Words - The Movie about Rob's departure from Priest and formation of Fight. Fans will definitely want to get their hands on this when it comes out.

There is behind the scenes footage from the Resurrection sessions that includes footage from the vocal recording sessions, tour rehearsals, as well as live footage from the tour. We also get behind the scenes for the Live Insurrection recording. This runs for nearly 8 minutes.

The bulk of the DVD is made up of six music videos: "Made in Hell," "Betrayal," "In the Morning," "Silent Screams (live)," "Never Satisfied (live)," and "Forgotten Generation." All of them are very good, which probably goes without saying. No, they don't push any music video boundaries, but they are solidly made and feature excellent metal tracks.

All told, the DVD runs 38 minutes. Not too shabby for a bonus disk, especially considering all of its contents are actually worth watching. Although, you will probably only revisit the music videos.

Bottomline. It is doubtful that the metal world will ever see someone like Rob Halford again. Not that there aren't other greats, but Halford is a metal original. This disk collects some of the best from the Metal God away from the legends of Priest. From front to back, start to finish, Metal God Essentials Vol. 1 is filled with some great classic metal. Let your hair down, put your horns up, and bang your head!

Highly Recommended.


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