For JUDAS PRIEST fans, it's referred to (and in some cases, mocked) as "the Ripper years." However, it was more than just that seven year stretch from 1996 to 2003 when Tim "Ripper" Owens realized the dream a lifetime (and its correlating nightmares) by stepping into the boots of heavy metal royalty. It began in 1992 when Rob Halford stunned the metal world by departing the mighty PRIEST to find his own way in music. For eleven years, The Metal God did the unthinkable by leaving PRIEST to flounder through the subpar "Jugulator" and "Demolition" era with Ripper Owens doing his best to emulate a position no other person than Rob Halford himself could. Noble as Ripper was in fronting, then stepping down when Halford returned to JUDAS PRIEST, his stay is not just a footnote in the band's history, it's nearly immaterial compared to what Halford did on his own.
Most fans can recall vividly when FIGHT emerged with Rob Halford in league with guitarists Brian Tilse and Russ Parrish (a.k.a. STEEL PANTHER's Satchel), bassist Jay Jay and of course, his PRIEST comrade Scott Travis on drums. People at first sneered at the thought of Halford engineering a new band away from JUDAS PRIEST. Then "Into the Pit" changed those minds in a hurry. Raw, fast-paced, nasty. It was a wicked shot to the dome as Rob Halford showed a dirtier side to his singing and exposed his skin art along with the waistband of his underwear to thug it up in response to the grunge and hardcore rap images taking over American music. "Nailed to the Gun", a power metal vet's punky answer to EXODUS's "Toxic Waltz", and lo, you had FIGHT's mangy, clobbering "War of Words" album that defied naysayers and gave Rob Halford new life.
Sony/Legacy Recordings brings you the latest in their "Essential" series, "The Essential Rob Halford", a 30-track collection spanning the Metal God's non-PRIEST doings ranging from FIGHT to TWO to the lauded HALFORD band. "The Essential Rob Halford" is stuffed largely with selections from HALFORD's "Resurrection" and "Live Insurrection" (including five JUDAS PRIEST classics from the latter). From the FIGHT period are "Into the Pit", "Nailed to the Gun", "Little Crazy" and "Immortal Sin" from "War of Words", plus "I Am Alive" and "Legacy of Hate" from "A Small Deadly Space". From the TWO (a.k.a. 2WO) album "Voyeurs" (produced by NINE INCH NAILS' Trent Reznor and featuring future guitar king John 5) is "I Am a Pig". The collection is naturally heavy-loaded from the HALFORD studio catalog including "Resurrection", "Crucible", "IV: Made of Metal" and the holiday-themed EP, "Winter Songs".
It might be said that much of what Rob Halford was doing throughout the 1990s was reactionary to the changing climate in heavy music, using the ALICE IN CHAINS touches upon FIGHT's "Immortal Sin" and the NINE INCH NAILS and WHITE ZOMBIE influences all over TWO's "I Am a Pig" as examples. While TWO's "Voyeurs" was dealt the same flopping fate as JUDAS PRIEST's "Demolition" the year prior, nobody still following metal at the time could've foreseen the greatness to come with the HALFORD band's "Resurrection" in 2000.
It's fitting that "The Essential Rob Halford" leans heavily upon the HALFORD band, much as a wallop as FIGHT proved capable of dealing. Metal Mike Chlasciak became an overnight sensation (along with producer Roy Z) and longtime drumming troubadour Bobby Jarzombek received his comeuppance as Rob Halford not only strapped the leather and studs back upon himself, but embraced the "Metal God" title justly bestowed upon him by an appreciative metal public.
With blaring power metal cuts like "Future World", "Made in Hell", "Cyberworld" and "Locked and Loaded" (all appearing here alongside "Silent Screams" and "Night Fall"), "Resurrection" was all that and a revved-up Cross Bones Harley. It felt like JUDAS PRIEST, but more so an encompassment of classic NWOBHM. One might go so far as to say it gave Rob the necessary spark to reclaim his spot in PRIEST while holding onto his HALFORD crew, one that's still a band, if waiting for their next moment to amp up following 2010's "IV: Made of Metal". That album felt like Halford's much-needed post-"Nostradamus" sanctum of self-healing, so it's curious what the wide acceptance of JUDAS PRIEST's "Redeemer of Souls" will do for Rob's lyrical mindset on the next HALFORD slab.
If you're not in possession of The Metal God's external work, "The Essential Rob Halford" gets to the meatiest of it. While shrewdly finding a way to tie in JUDAS PRIEST with the "Live Insurrection" covers of "The Hellion/Electric Eye", "Riding on the Wind", "Breaking the Law" and of course, "Metal Gods", ("You've Got Another Thing Coming" appears at the end of the second disc from HALFORD's "Live in Anaheim") "The Essential Rob Halford" is an economical way to blast through this intriguing and often exhilarating moment of time in Halford's creative life.