Various Artists

Covering 20 Years of Extremes

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Heavy metal may be a product of the 1970s, but the genre only really achieved full maturity and its commercial critical mass a decade later, with the advent of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the creative diaspora it engendered. So it stands to reason that most of the record companies specifically devoted to heavy metal have been celebrating milestone anniversaries during the new millennium's first decade -- those that survived this long, anyway -- including Roadrunner (founded in 1980), Metal Blade (1982), Earache (1987), and, specifically relating to this review, Century Media, which was founded in Dortmund, Germany, in 1988, and is therefore celebrating its 20th anniversary with this release. Now, usually, these celebratory packages have entailed exhaustive retrospective box sets, jammed with not always essential old catalog items spread across scores of CDs, but Century Media followed a very different tack for this two-CD, 32-song set, by asking some of the label's biggest bands to cover the classic tunes of other signings, past and present. So, for fans looking to experience new bands and/or well-known standards in a very different light, choice recommendations here include Arch Enemy roughing up Dream Evil's "Book of Heavy Metal" and the latter returning the favor by metallic-fying the former's "Let the Killing Begin," Warbringer's righteous thrashing of Unleashed's "Execute Them All" and Wolf's de-gothing of Moonspell's "Alma Matter," and Napalm Death's loving grind through Hellhammer's "Messiah" and Fu Manchu getting their doom on for Penance's "Words to Live By." Overall, this entire concept and package, while not quite as clever (or organizationally challenging), perhaps, as the Roadrunner United collaborations marking that label's 25th birthday, successfully celebrate Century Media's own special occasion with a welcome fresh spin on the classic material one would naturally expect to hear.

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