"Black Box: The Complete Original Black Sabbath 1970-1978"
What we have here are two building blocks of heavy metal and of any future heavy metal museum. "Black Box" is an eight-CD, one-DVD box featuring Black Sabbath's essential early recordings. Judas Priest's "Metalogy" is a four-CD, one-DVD career retrospective. In other words, the key bands in the birth of heavy metal and what came to be known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal -- both from blue-collar Birmingham, England -- finally get their props.
Black Sabbath and Judas Priest are also co-headliners on this year's Ozzfest tour, thankfully with their most potent lineups. In the case of Black Sabbath, that's the original crew of singer Ozzy Osbourne, guitarist Tony Iommi, drummer Bill Ward and bassist Geezer Butler. For Judas Priest, it means singer Rob Halford reuniting with twin guitarists Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing, bassist Ian Hill and drummer Scott Travis. The myriad Ozzfest bands that are the spawn of Sabbath and Priest should all bow down before the ones they serve.
"Black Box" -- with a Spinal Tap-ish black cover and a 78-page booklet featuring only black-and-white art -- includes the eight albums Black Sabbath made before Osbourne left to pursue a solo career. Sabbath was hardly the first "heavy" band (Cream, Led Zeppelin, anyone?), but it was darker, denser and disturbingly dangerous: Thirty years on, Ozzy may have ended up a guest at the White House, but he grew up in Bleak House. Sabbath's first four albums remain crucial definers of the genre, from its 1970s eponymous debut, which established the blueprint for much of what was to come, and "Paranoid" (which included the classic title track, "Iron Man" and "War Pigs") to "Master of Reality" and "Vol. 4" and the sheer power of those albums is all the sheerer, thanks to extensive remastering. The other four albums have their charms, but they are lesser, the sounds of a band losing its focus and friendship. After Ozzy was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, it was musical chairs until the original lineup came together for 1998's live "Reunion" album. They have been on and off ever since, partly due to Ozzy's television career, a concept that still sounds stranger than anything on "Paranoid." The "Live at the Beat Club" DVD features 1970 performances of "Iron Man," "Paranoid," "Black Sabbath" and . . . Carl Perkins's "Blue Suede Shoes" on a German television show, prime Sabbath with a 23-year-old Ozzy still relatively coherent.
The second story of that heavy metal museum would surely include Judas Priest, who arrived in 1974 and pretty much peaked with the late '70s troika of "Stained Class," "Hell Bent for Leather" and the surprisingly radio-friendly "British Steel." Halford was a screamer on the same level as Osbourne, but Priest tempered its metal with speed and aggression, setting the stage for the '80s wings of thrash, speed and death metal. The 65 tracks include Priest's early mainstream efforts and the post-Halford "Ripper Owens" era, as well as B-sides, rarities and concert recordings (their cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust" fits each of those bills!), and it's all digitally remastered. There's also a bonus DVD featuring 17 songs from a Memphis concert shot during 1982's "Screaming for Vengeance" tour, here remixed in 5.1 sound. Halford reportedly rejoined Judas Priest when they collaborated on "Metalogy," which, quite appropriately, comes in a black leather, dog-collar-studded case.
-- Richard Harrington
Appearing Sunday at Nissan Pavilion with Slayer, Slipknot, Hatebreed, Black Label Society, Atreyu, Bleeding Through, Lacuna Coil and many others. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Black Sabbath, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8132; to hear Judas Priest, press 8133. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)