Various Artists – The Heavy Metal Box Set

Various Artists
The Heavy Metal Box Set

Compiling a history of any genre of music is no easy feat, but the folks at Rhino Records seem to have this sort of thing down to a near science. Perhaps best known for reissuing and expanding the Nuggets compilation they’ve since put together 2 more Nuggets volumes as well as comprehensive sets on seventies punk rock and eighties underground, marking the beginnings of what became known as alternative rock. Now heavy metal gets it’s due in all it’s fist pumping, head banging, Satan worshiping, leather & denim clad glory.

This set, like the No Thanks! The 70‘s Punk Rebellion and Nuggets sets, serve as an introduction to their respective genre. There isn’t anyone who isn’t already aware of The Ramones or The Clash, The Kingsmen or The Standells. And just as with The Heavy Metal Box Set everyone is already aware of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Motorhead. But if not for Rhino putting these sets together I personally would not have come to know Stiff Little Fingers, Ian Dury, Mouse and the Traps, or Los Hombres. Band such as Fastway, Rose Tattoo, and Loudness fall into the category of “who the hell is that?” (Extra points to the latter band who appear in iTunes as LOUDNESS.) Additions of the lesser known serve as further examples of how one form of music can give birth to so many different styles.

Heavy metal is also the area most favorable to parody. It is amusing to see the progression from Iron Butterfly to the loincloth clad Manowar. Kiss and Alice Cooper were just kidding when they wore make up but King Diamond is serious! And the ability to poke fun at the genre is apparent with the inclusion of Spinal Tap’s “Big Bottom” and the 4 discs packaged in a cardboard Marshall head replica with a volume know that goes to 11.

Rhino‘s song selections are at the same time obvious yet intriguing. For Scorpions’ “Rock You Like A Hurricane” or Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever” you’re met with “Still Of The Night” by Whitesnake. If you think you know what you’re getting with Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult, or Great White, think again. (The Sabbath choice is from the post-Ozzy period, making Ronnie James Dio the artist with the most appearances, not including an interview in the liner notes on how he apparently invented the devil horn salute.)

This is not all to say the set is perfect. No comprehensive history of any genre can ever be complete. Debates will rage as to who should and shouldn’t have been included or why one song over another. On occasion there are omissions due to licensing, which is why the Sex Pistols were not represented on the No Thanks! set. Their metal counterparts Guns N’ Roses go missing here as do to Van Halen, AC/DC, Motley Crue, and LA Guns. Also excluded for whatever reason is Steppenwolf, which since coining the phrase heavy metal, you think would have been included. These are actually easy to look past in comparison to the biggest flaw: the 2:54 single version of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” This is just unforgivable. All 17 plus minutes needs to be available. Five bands contribute songs over 7 minutes long and I know I would be willing to sacrifice Rush’s “Working Man” for all 17 organ soloing drum pounding freaked out minutes of Iron Butterfly. No one can name any of their other songs anyway, just let them, and us, have our moment.

However, where else can you pair Slayer against the bumblebee Christians in Stryper? (To this day “To Hell With The Devil” is one of the funniest song titles this side of Mojo Nixon.) There’s somehow justification in rocking out to Poison as long you follow it up with Megadeth. Yngwie Malmsteen’s “I’ll See The Light, Tonight” is disturbingly good, and who won’t have some fond middle school memories of Lita Ford’s “Kiss Me Deadly?“ Metallica gets 2 tracks and rightfully so. Once the opening riff of “Whiplash” kicks off it’s obvious they redefined metal; taking it to an entirely new level, influencing the likes of Pantera and Sepultura, who appear later on disc 4.

A set such as this is perfect for the few of us who were not really the outcasts in high school so much as the unnoticed. We didn’t listen to Kiss or Metallica, no matter how cool their logos were, but we also didn’t listen to Top 40 radio. We had siblings to get our tastes from, be it a older sister with dyed red hair or the brother of a friend that smoked something other than cigarettes. They introduced us to Jane’s Addiction, The Smiths or The Replacements. That’s the beauty of the Rhino box sets, they offer us a chance to catch up on what we missed for whatever reason; they’re like that cool older sibling. As a whole this compilation may not go to 11, but it’s pretty damn close. But beware, as Quiet Riot warns us, “metal health will drive you mad.”