I have real issues with people who don’t like heavy metal music. I went through my own period where I tried to distance myself from the genre, replacing Iron Maiden albums with Sonic Youth, until it dawned on me that if I hadn’t had my Piece Of Mind I wouldn’t have arrived at my Daydream Nation.
I still have a few friends that are too caught up in their own elitist indie rock bullshit to appreciate heavy metal. Fuck them. They don’t know what they’re missing when they let down their metaphoric hair, raise up the devil horns, and have some fun with every syllable of juvenile sexuality, every pointless fret-burning solo, and every six-story skeleton mascot. And because these friends so easily dismiss metal, I am just as quick to dismiss what they view as worthy. How credible can they be when they can’t appreciate having a good time with music?
I still believe one of the most important philosophies in rock is, as Spinal Tap’s Viv Savage put it, is “to have a good time, all the time.”
I grew up in a small town in Iowa and heavy metal provided a soundtrack to many of those coming of age moments. So when Rhino records announced that they were releasing a box set of everything metal, I was intrigued. Rhino does a good job on box sets, effectively capturing both the nostalgia and the main players of the genre they are examining.
But when I looked at the track listing of their Heavy Metal Box, there were some glaring omissions. AC/DC, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Guns ‘N Roses, none of these bands were included in the set while Dokken, Poison, and Great White all managed to find a place.
Then there’s the blatantly obvious: where the fuck is Black Sabbath?
I couldn’t justify the $60 price tag on a box set that didn’t have one track from the original Sabbath line-up, possibly year zero for everything metal, regardless of the reason why Rhino couldn’t secure at least one fucking track from them.
Seriously, why even bother?
It was the packaging. Heavy Metal Box features an awesome replica of a Marshall amplifier head with a working loudness button that goes to eleven. The design alone prompted me to check eBay to see if I could get the set at a price that would end up making me a frugal hypocrite.
And there it was: a listing for a sealed copy of Heavy Metal Box with a current bid of $29.95. The most amazing thing was the location of the item: it was in my old hometown, that same community where metal was part of my high school soundtrack. It was as if the metal gods were talking to me, telling me to bid. I threw down a maximum bid of $33.33 (that’s half off the number of the beast) and, holy diver, I fucking won that thing!
Heavy Metal Box attempts to capture both the power and aesthetic of the genre by collecting 70 tracks over four discs arranged in chronological order. It’s a tall order and any fan will certainly find something to complain about (see above) while quietly admitting that, given the time represented (’68-’91), the compilers have done a pretty good job of hitting the required acts and players.
The liner notes, wonderfully informative and detailed, try to explain reasons for some of the aforementioned omissions. Each track is offered complete personnel descriptions and a brief paragraph on the song’s relevance. However, there is little insight provided as to why the fur-wearing muscle-bound Manowar or how Christian rockers Stryper are deserving of inclusion. Even if there were, such arguments could easily be picked apart.
Additionally, there isn’t much of an explanation of why Lita Ford or Living Colour are tapped (Ford even gets a special write-up on being “metal’s leading lady”) other than one artist is a chick and one band is comprised of all black members. Even if we’re looking at an example of the compilers feeling guilt that metal is such a white male dominated genre, they could have at least added some better examples: Ford’s prior band The Runaways comes to mind and Bad Brains could level Living Colour any day of the week.
For sure, there’s a few other bands that I would have like to see included (Saint Vitus, Napalm Death, Suicidal Tendencies, and yes, early Def Leppard deserves a nod), but there’s enough surprises for me to overlook my own carefully considered contenders.
The real joy is putting away the track listing and letting the discs run their course. You’ll find yourself uttering sighs of disappointment at some of the more embarrassing moments (Krokus anyone?), nods of approval at undisputed jems (Slayer), and a few grins at artists/songs that you’re not entirely familiar with, but end up appreciating thanks to their exposure here.
For me, it’s Diamond Head, whose “Am I Evil?” was a revelation. I’m embarrassed that it’s taken twenty years to learn about them, but ultimately, that’s a key ingredient to the success or failure of any comprehensive box set: what did you learn from it?
At the same time, how does one effectively learn when some of the most critical points are missing and when some better representation exists? These are the minor flaws that prevent me from wholeheartedly recommending Heavy Metal Box, particularly when considering the list price. But if metal’s a part of your past and you’re willing to devote a little extra time in securing a good deal on this admittedly awesome packaging, then it should fit nicely in your collection, just like that faded denim jacket sitting in your closet.
YouTube: Diamond Head – “Am I Evil?” (live in 1982)