“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Ronnie James Dio – THIS IS YOUR LIFE (2014 tribute CD)
No preable from me: we all know how great Dio was. Let’s get to the tracks.
Anthrax kick off the festivities with a slamming “Neon Nights”. The storming opener couldn’t have been in a better slot. Not only is Charlie Benate heavy as shit, but the guitar solos are mental. Joe Belladonna handles the powerful vocal ably. Rob Caggiano is still in the lineup indicating this isn’t brand new. I suspect it was recorded at the same time as last year’s Anthems EP.
The guys that never get respect, Tenacious D, tackle the difficult second slot. No worries there; they chose “The Last In Line” which Jack Black sings with no difficulty. Uncle Meat has said it before: Jack Black is one of the best singers he’s seen live. “The Last In Line” proves his pipes, although some may not like his exaggerated, humorous vocal enunciation. Kyle Gass plays a cute recorder solo in lieu of guitar, but there’s not enough K.G. on this track. Brooks Wackerman kicks the drums in the ass.
And speaking of drums, Mike Portnoy is next with Adrenaline Mob. They demolish “Mob Rules”, although singer Russell Allen is certainly no Dio. He is completely overshadowed by Portnoy and the shredding of Mike Orlando.
Corey Taylor, Satchel (Russ Parish) and friends chose “Rainbow In the Dark” as their tribute to Ronnie. This has always been such a fan favourite, and a personal one as well. It is difficult to imagine anyone but Ronnie singing it. While Corey Taylor is not at all like Ronnie James Dio, you can tell he loves this song. It bleeds out of his performance. He does it in his own rasp, and it works.
The incredible Lzzy Hale and Halestorm are up next with another Dio classic, “Straight Through the Heart”. There is no denying the talents of Lzzy Hale, but her powerful pipes are almost too much. Perhaps she overpowers the song, rather than simply fueling it. Halestorm fans will love it, but I think Lzzy maybe should have reeled it in a bit. Or, maybe I just need to get used to it. “Straight From the Heart” does sound better after a few listens.
Biff Byford (Saxon) joins Motorhead on lead vocals for Rainbow’s “Starstruck”. There’s a bit of that Motor-slam in it, but if I didn’t know who it was, I never would have guessed Motorhead. You can hear Lemmy on backing vocals, but weirdly, he’s not credited on bass. Nobody is, but you can hear the bass clearly and it sounds like Lem.
I’m a little sick of the Scorpions doing ballads, but I admit that “Temple of the King” (another Rainbow classic) is stunningly good. One might almost mistake it for a Scorpions original. It has that regal Scorpions bombast to is, but Matthias Jabs’ lead work is just sublime. He’s an underrated player, absolutely. You can tell he’s a Blackmore fan.
An oldie from 1999, Doro’s cover of “Egypt (The Chains are On)” is excellent. It’s cool to hear female singers like Doro and Lzzy Hale sing Dio. Doro’s impressive pipes have always been astounding. Her version of “Egypt” is a little over the top compared to Dio’s, but that’s cool by me.
Killswitch Engage…hmm. “Holy Diver” starts great, super heavy, with some perfectly acceptable, melodic vocals. Then it all goes down the toilet at the bridge. That’s when it turns into hardcore shouting and blast beats…sorry, not on this song, thanks. I can listen to that stuff in moderation, but don’t sully “Holy Diver” with it. Fortunately the guitar solos are great, sounding like an Iron Maiden outtake from Powerslave. Shame about the growling and shouting. Skip.
“Catch the Rainbow” is a great song, and Craig Goldy plays guitar on this cover. He’s ex-Dio himself, and he’s backed by his former Dio-mates Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright. (Hey, that’s also 1/3 of Tateryche!) Glenn Hughes sings, but this song sounds out of his scope. His bluesy slant doesn’t work for me. Sorry Glenn, you’re still awesome!
I find it strange that two more ex-Dio members (Jimmy Bain and Rowan Robertson) chose to cover Black Sabbath. But who cares! They covered “I”, perhaps the greatest song from Dehumanizer (1992)! On drums is Brian Tichy, with Oni Logan (Lynch Mob, Dio Disciples) singing. It’s a perfectly authentic version and I love it. It’s absolutely thunderous, and I love Jimmy Bain’s bass sound. Always have. Of all the vocalists on This Is Your Life, it is Oni Logan that comes closest to nailing Dio’s vibe. Considering he’s in Dio Diciples, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I didn’t expect it though, based on what I knew of Logan from Lynch Mob. He fits “I” like a glove!
I was disappointed in Rob Halford’s version of “Man On the Silver Mountain”. It’s true that Halford did replace Dio in Black Sabbath for two shows in 1992. However, having owned a bootleg video of that show since that time, I knew that Halford’s and Dio’s styles didn’t really mesh. This is no different; I don’t think his voice works with the song and it unfortunately shows off the places where Rob’s voice has weakened. What is cool though is that the band (all ex-Dio: Doug Aldrich, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson and Scott Warren) take it to a swampy bluesy Whitesnake-y place for the intro. You can definitely hear Pilson covering the high notes in the chorus.
Finally we arrive at the mighty Metallica. Snicker if you like. If Metallica do one thing really well, it’s covers. If they do two right, it’s covers and medleys. The “Ronnie Rising Medley” is entirely made up of parts of Rainbow songs. “A Light In the Black” bleeds into “Tarot Woman,” where the vocals begin. It’s safe to say if you don’t like Metallica, you won’t like this. If the opposite is true, I think you’re in for a treat. Metallica do these classics in their own style, just as they have in the past when covering Maiden, or Mercyful Fate, or Thin Lizzy. Simply add Lars’ thuds, James’ growl, and some standard Metalli-licks, and you’ve got a medley that is enjoyable through its near-10 minute run time. Having said that, the weak point is definitely “Stargazer”, which is gutted of all its majesty. They do much better with “Kill the King” which is fucking perfect. They include the entire song in their medley!
Fittingly, the album ends on a ballad: Dio’s own somber “This Is Your Life”, performed by the man himself in 1996. I did not like the Angry Machines album, but if there was one song I would have picked as a highlight it would be “This Is Your Life”. Performed only by Dio and Scott Warren on piano, it is unlike anything else in Dio’s canon. The lyrics speak of mortality:
This is your life
This is your time
What if the flame
Won’t last forever?
This is your here
This is your now
Let it be magical
What a way to end a great album. As much as you can “miss” a person you have never met, I do miss Ronnie James Dio. In many ways he’s been my friend for 30 years.
As a nice added touch, the liner notes include photos of just about every performer on this CD with Ronnie!
Of note: the Japanese edition has a bonus track by Dio Diciples: “Stand Up and Shout.” It also has Stryper’s version of “Heaven and Hell” from their 2011 album The Covering, which I reviewed here.