The Hierarchy of Hell

Ronnie James Dio, 66, wins. And Tony Iommi, 60, with the silver crosses inlaid into the neck of his ancient SG. Don't forget Geezer Butler, 59, and his lithe basslines. Even baby Vinnie Appice, 50, rocking his drums until they nearly crashed down upon him. Now billed as Heaven and Hell, the four deserve metaldom’s highest accolade: Black Sabbath.

That is, of course, the name they recorded both 1980’s Heaven and Hell and ’81’s Mob Rules under. One black t-shirt at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Sunday summed it up in simple white script, with “got ronnie james dio?” on the front, and “ozzy who?” on the back. Ronnie James Dio still roars down from high atop Mt. Olympus, while gods of the underworld Iommi and Butler peal the skin off molten doom blues – here at electric chair speeds – in lashing tides of primordial void.

Testament got 30 minutes at 5:30pm, Motörhead 45 at 6:30pm, and headliner Judas Priest hogged 90 minutes that ended at the stroke of 11pm. That left two New York Italians and two mustachioed musketeers from the industrial forests of Birmingham, England, exactly 75 minutes to reiterate The Rules of Hell.

In 1983, its founding year, Bay Area thrashers Testament practiced a form of musical retribution unheard of save for the same new template being put to hammer and anvil by neighborhood peers destined to amount to some kind of monster, Metallica. One quarter century and twice as many personal changes later, Andre the Giant’s could be little brother, Chuck Billy, huffs and puffs and Hetfields at a physical outsize Ronnie James Dio should inhabit given his monumental baritone. At the Verizon, Billy, 46, led Testament’s all-star line-up that once again includes axe murderer Alex Skolnick, 39, through a half hour blistering open with “Practice What You Preach” and anchored by a trio of relentless stroke-outs from new divinity The Formation of the Damnation. “Henchmen Ride,” Dick Cheney's bike bomb.

At 63, Motörhead executioner Lemmy Kilmister defies the laws of humanity simply by walking onstage every night. “We are Motörhead and we play rock and fucking roll,” he rasped when it was time to walk stiffly back off again, having proved that his Grammy-winning trio can still dual exhaust any metal bill strung together in the lower climes of damnation. Though their latest, Motörizer, began shelf squatting yesterday, 2004’s Inferno fired set highlights “Killers” and “In the Name of Tragedy” alongside rolling thunders ancient (“Over the Top”) and old (“Going to Brazil”) on the way to closing trump “Ace of Spades.” Guitar thug Phil “24 fucking years” Campbell and Mikkey Dee, motoring high upon the drum riser, completed a winning hand as only veteran card sharps can.

Shirtless and both spilling over and straining the seams of his leather jumper, tattooed behemoth Rob Halford, 57, can only elicit exclamations on the order of Judas Priest! Luckily, few “Metal Gods” concentrate on individual line deliveries with a laser point focus such as Halford’s. If only the almost 40-year-old UK institution had brainstormed a better set list. Conceptual Nostradamus call to arms and opener here, “Prophecy” proved an instant Judas Priest live staple, but where were brand new heretics such as the new album’s title track and “War”? Commendable were deeper LP cuts such as “Devil’s Child” off Screaming for Vengeance, from which came set highlight “Electric Eye” and closer “You Got Another Thing Coming,” but in Defenders of the Faith picks “Eat Me Alive” and “Rock Hard Ride Free” were missed opportunities for “The Sentinel” or even “Some Heads Are Gonna Roll.” Painkiller’s title pounder and “Breaking the Law” acquitted the Priest of anything less than yet another musical peak, as did their Fleetwood Mac standard “The Green Manalishi (with the Two Pronged Crown)” in the encores, but guitarists K.K. Downing, 56, and Glenn Tipton, 60, could be prowling “Desert Plains” to better effect rather than strumming blasphemous ballads on the order of “Angel.” David Allan Coe, meanwhile, might well have an image infringement case against Halford.

Which left the Sabbath flailing flesh off Heaven and Hell, including “Children of the Sea,” a ripping “Die Young,” and the extended theological grail of the title track, plus a trio of ferocious Mob Rules (opener “Mob Rules,” “The Sign of the Southern Cross,” and “Falling Off the Edge of the World”), and even a pair of songs from 1992's forgotten regrouping Dehumanizer (“I,” and “Time Machine”). In the searing tear of closer “Neon Knights,” Dio, Iommi, Butler, and Appice proved themselves ageless.

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Metal Masters live, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Motörhead, Testament

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