ronnie james dio

VHS Archives #35: Ronnie James Dio talks Satanism in Metal (1987)

While out promoting 1987’s Dream Evil, Ronnie James Dio and Craig Goldy sat for an interview with MuchMusic’s Erica Ehm.  She asked him about Satanism in rock lyrics and videos.

REVIEW: Dio – Magica (deluxe edition)

DIO – Magica (originally 2000, 2013 Niji deluxe edition)

Although Ronnie James Dio was a very vivid songwriter, he only made one true concept album.  Magica was intended as a trilogy, but only the first part was completed before Dio’s death in 2010.  Magica was released in 2000 as a story of aliens, heroes, villains and magic.  Dio’s new band consisted of returning champions Craig Goldy (from the Dream Evil album) on guitar, drummer Simon Wright (Lock Up the Wolves), and original bassist Jimmy Bain.  The album, co-written by Dio and Goldy, was considered a triumph in its time.  It is a strong return to old-style quality metal after 1996’s questionable Angry Machines CD.  This deluxe edition collects the album and all related tracks together in one place.

Without getting into too much story detail, “Discovery” introduces aliens that serve as a framing story.  Alien explorers have found the ancient planet of Blessing, but are confused by the written records they find.  “Flesh can NOT be mutated into stone, and re-morphed back to the body once again.  Continue the investigation with special attention given to one word:  MAGICA.”

“Lord of the Last Days” is a dramatic and metallic start.  Dio’s slow grooves bring the melody and power of the riff to the fore.  “I love the night, so many shadows,” he sings as the villain character Shadowcast.  A segue brings us to the single “Fever Dreams”, a song so good that it was performed live in 2001 by Deep Purple with Ronnie as guest.  Goldy’s choppy riff is the stuff of metal dreams.  Fans who thought Dio strayed too far from the old school before were very pleased.

The music speeds up and becomes more menacing on “Turn to Stone”.   Evil has made its move!   “Turn to Stone” is classic Dio music, very much in line with Dream Evil (1987).  Goldy turns in some killer solo work here, before we move on to the robotic “Feed My Head”.   The album loses momentum on the long “Eriel”, and the truth is that the story gets too hard to follow without reading along with the liner notes.

Some smoking soloing introduces “Challis”, a memorable rocker that brings the album back on track.  The songs work best when backed by good old riffs.  “Challis” is quintessential hard rock Dio, but Dio also has a tender side.  The album’s ballad “As Long as it’s Not About Love” is long but exemplary.  Then it’s a celtic sounding jig on “Losing My Insanity”, before it transforms into something heavier and almost Sabbathy.

The deluxe edition of Magica contains the original Japanese bonus track, an instrumental called “Annica”.  This is on CD 2, but for the most authentic listening experience, you should move it back to where it belongs, on the first disc between “Losing My Insanity” and “Otherworld”.  This guitar piece really shows off Craig Goldy’s style and tone. Then “Otherworld” is the climax of the story, good triumphing over evil, and a nice dramatically heavy track.

The alien framing story returns with a reprise of “Lord of the Last Days”, indicating that the tale is not over.  Far from it.

The final track on the original album has been moved to CD 2: Dio reading “The Magica Story”, also included inside as text.  This is 18 minutes of some of the dullest narration you’ve ever heard.  Finishing it once is a challenge, listening to it regularly as a part of the album is madness.  Instead, skip to “Electra”, the only song they finished for Magica 2 (or 3).  “Electra” was the last single that Dio released in his lifetime, as part of a box set called Tournado.  It sounds like a part of Magica, perhaps indicating the next album would have been darker.  It’s sad but gratifying to know that the last song Dio put out was a good one.*

Five rare live tracks round out the set, all songs from Magica never released on anything else.  Live, the band featured Alice Cooper bassist Chuck Garric in Jimmy Bain’s place.  “Fever Dreams” is particularly good, a little bit faster than the original.  “As Long as it’s Not About Love” has more passion in the live setting.  Most fans have not had the chance to hear live versions of the Magica songs before this package came out.

When Magica was originally released, I was lucky enough to get the Japanese version right away.  I was hoping for something more like old Dio, and less like Angry Machines.  Judging from my time in the Record Store, I think many Dio fans lost interest in the band after Angry Machines.  One of my old customers, Glen, was turned around by Magica.  I recommended it to him, and he loved it.  Now, I’m recommending it to you.

4.25/5 stars

 

* Former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich recently stated that he is in possession of a complete demo with vocals of another Magica 2 song.  He has offered it to Wendy Dio to release.

REVIEW: Dio – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013)

DIO – Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 (2013 Eagle records)

The King of Rock and Roll rolled into Philly with a new axeman.  Vivian Campbell bitterly departed and was replaced by Craig Goldy of Ruff Cutt.  Goldy had a flashier style, a bit heavier on the shred.  The Sacred Heart tour was a big deal, and I can distinctly remember seeing TV ads for the Toronto show.  They had their big dragon on stage, a crystal ball, and Accept as the opening act.  The Philly gig was filmed, and so today we have this double live album to enjoy.

As it did on Sacred Heart, “King of Rock and Roll” opened the set with a flurry of speed.  Another newbie, “Like the Beat of a Heart” goes over well with an extended solo by Goldy including a nod to Blackmore.  “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is the first Dio classic in the set, though “Hungry for Heaven” was a top 30 single.

Dio had so much material to play (including his past with Rainbow and Black Sabbath) that a lot of the biggest songs are jammed into medleys.  “The Last in Line”, “Children of the Sea” and “Holy Diver” are truncated into eight minutes.  “Rock ‘N’ Roll Children” is joined with the Rainbow classics “Love Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” and “Man on the Silver Mountain”.  It seems a shame that there are guitar solos, a drum solo, and even a keyboard solo, but all these classics had to be crammed together into medleys.  “Heaven and Hell” is complete at least, but Claude Schnell’s keyboards sound out of place on this Sabbath cornerstone.

1986 was one of many prime periods for Dio.  Your perception of this CD set will largely hinge on how much you like Craig Goldy vs. Vivian Campbell.  Goldy was a fine replacement though his shredding often sounds like a green kid just going for it.  There is plenty of great Dio material to enjoy, all killer no filler from start to finish…solos aside that is.  There’s even a live version of the smooth “Time to Burn”, the first new song with Goldy from the Intermission EP.

There is a nice selection of live Dio available on the market.  Finding the Sacred Heart would be a great choice for most, but if you want Dio live with Vivian Campbell, probably best to go for the Donington 1983 & 1987 set.  This one certainly sounds excellent, it’s a beautiful recording and mix.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Dio – The Last in Line (deluxe edition)

DIO – The Last in Line (originally 1984, 2010 Universal deluxe edition)

Ronnie James Dio used to consider the second albums he did as inferior to the first ones.  Second Rainbow wasn’t as good as the first; same with the second Sabbath, according to Ronnie.  Is that also true for The Last in Line compared to the legendary Holy Diver?

Comparing the two is much like splitting hairs.  The two albums are so close in style and quality that it really doesn’t even matter.

A better opener than “We Rock” is hard to find.  The blitz of drums and riff was custom made for bangin’ on the stage.  It’s unusual to hear a song where the drums are a major hook, but Vinny Appice has a way of doing just that.  He gives you the urge to air-drum every time he throws down a fill.

Dio had an interesting pattern for his albums in the early days, up to Dream Evil (1987).  The albums always began with something fast.  In the song two position:  always the title track!  (The title track of each album always had a few lines of lyrics printed in the album sleeve too!) And so it is with “The Last in Line”.  The soft and ballad-y opening lures one into that “safe place”…before Dio lets it loose.  One of his best and most memorable music videos went with “The Last in Line”, absolutely one of the legendary man’s most notable songs. Its reputation is well earned, as all the pieces are in the right and you never get tired of hearing it.

We’ll know for the first time, if we’re evil or divine, we’re the last in line!

With the first two tracks being so legendary to Dio fandom, it’s easy to understand how the next batch often get lost in the shuffle.  “Breathless” lacks for nothing.  Vivian Campbell’s solo spot is blazing stuff, and the song is memorable enough for head banging.  Accelerating into “I Speed at Night”, hooks are sacrificed for tempo.  It’s quintessential 80s heavy metal when speed was such an important thing.  Not a bad tune, but one with only a single purpose — banging thine head.

“One Night in the City” takes the time to allow the hooks to percolate through.  Vinny and bassist Jimmy Bain lock into a mid-paced groove while Ronnie lays down one of his typically emotive melodies.  Though it simmers on a back burner, “One Night in the City” is hot just the same.  “Evil Eyes” is also a high quality tune, and if it’s familiar that might be because an earlier version was a B-side, included on the Holy Diver deluxe edition.  Naturally, the album version is more polished, but as for which is better, that’s up to the listener.  Then there is “Mystery”, arguably Dio’s most “pop” single.  Not such a bad thing, after all Ronnie James Dio also did right by “Love is All” from the Butterfly Ball.

We are lightning, we are flame, and we burn at the touch of a spark.

“Eat Your Heart Out” is the only stumble, but it’s soon paid back with “Egypt (The Chains are On)”, a Dio epic in true metal fashion.  Who doesn’t love a good plodding metal epic about Egyptian legends?  It’s a second or third tier metal motif!  Ronnie brings his own metal melodrama to the fore.

The Last in Line is already a great album, certainly up to the quality of Holy Diver with equally memorable material.  This carries over to the bonus CD included in the deluxe edition.  Four single B-sides from the era are included.  They are live versions of “Eat Your Heart Out”, with “Don’t Talk to Strangers”, “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” (all originally from Holy Diver).  The only two B-sides missing are “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” live at Donington 1983, from “The Last in Line” 12″ single.  These tracks however can be found on the 2010 CD release, At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 

Finally we have Dio’s entire set from the 1984 Pink Pop festival.  Naturally there is some overlap with the previous live tracks:  “Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Don’t Talk to Strangers”.  This is offset by a smattering of Rainbow and Black Sabbath classics:  “Stargazer”, “Man on the Silver Mountain” and “Heaven and Hell”.  The audio is quite good and Jimmy Bain’s bass has a nice full thump to it.  The Last in Line is one deluxe you’ll want to add to your collection

4.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime II (2006)

QUEENSRYCHE – Operation: Mindcrime II (2006 Rhino)

10 years ago, when this project finally saw the light of day, a lot of fans were expecting it to be 1988 all over again. However, there were many reasons why they shouldn’t have.

1. Longtime guitarist/songwriter Chris DeGarmo, such an integral part of the original Mindcrime, had been out of the band for quite some time.
2. Geoff Tate’s voice didn’t have that high-note power it once had.
3. The band never intended to pretend it was still 1988. This album is a continuation, 18 years later, and as such the music has changed somewhat as well.  The albums are meant to complement each other, not duplicate each other.

Scan_20160510 (2)The story picks up with Nikki, the anti-hero from the original Mindcrime, finally being released from prison, 18 years after the events of the first album. He begins to piece together his memories of what happened. He decides to pay Dr. X a visit (“X marks the spot”, goes the lyric), who is deliciously played by the late Ronnie James Dio.  For die-hard Dio followers, this was a real treat. Dio sings as if in a stage production, which I’ve never heard him do before. Pamela Moore reprises her role of Sister Mary, playing a larger role and appearing on more songs. She’s a great complement to Geoff Tate, who clearly revels in the chance to do something dramatic like this.

New second guitar player Mike Stone (ex-Criss) gels very nicely with Michael Wilton, playing dual guitar leads that Queensryche of old would have been proud of. At the same time, modern technology has creeped into the production in the form of sequencers and samples, to remind us that this was 2006.  Still, Eddie Jackson’s bass had never been recorded this well before; he should be very proud of his rumble. Scott Rockenfield’s back to playing some serious metallic drumming as well, leaving behind some of his tribal influences for the moment.

So, the actual sound of Mindcrime II is amazing. The songs however are not up to the very high standards that Mindcrime I set. There is no “I Don’t Believe In Love” or “Eyes Of A Stranger”, although some songs like “The Hands” come pretty close, with an amazing metallic riff and great chorus. (Did anyone else notice a few bars of music from “I Don’t Believe In Love” within “The Hands”? Listen again.) “I’m American” is lyrically fantastic, and angrier than anything Queensryche has done since Q2K. “Chase” is the one featuring Dio, and the one I keep coming back to.

The thing about Queensryche albums is, they do tend to get better with time.  Maybe they were always slightly ahead of the curve, or more likely they just take a few listens to absorb.  It’s been a decade now, and few of the Mindcrime II songs remain lodged in the my brain.  Meanwhile, I could hum any song from the first one.  In particular, the second side of Mindcrime II really takes a drop.  Tracks like “Fear City Slide” do not have the impact of “I Don’t Believe in Love”, and the closer “All the Promises” fails to deliver.  It’s a concept album after all, and the last song is like the last scene in a movie.  It should be memorable.

Will Mindcrime II ever become classic like the original? Doubtful. As soon as you name something with a “II” behind it, you’re painting yourself into a corner, but Queensryche have done about as good a job as the fans could have expected.  It seems many fans have warmed up to it over the years, though it certainly cannot be considered equal with the original.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Deep Purple – The Soundboard Series – Australasian Tour 2001 (12 CD box set)

The Deep Purple Project continues!  Here is one big solid chunk of rock majesty.

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DEEP PURPLE – The Soundboard Series – Australasian Tour 2001 (2001 Thames 12 CD box set)

One day in spring of 2002, I wandered into Encore Records in Kitchener.  I spied this lovely box o’ rock up front in their glass case, where they stored similarly awesome boxes of rock.

“What’s that?!” I asked, and was promptly handed 12 CDs of live Purple.  A quick glance, and “I’ll take it.”  Only a short while before, I bought yet another 12 CD live Deep Purple box set.  When I first noticed this box under the glass, I was hoping it was just a reissue of the same thing; something I already had that I could safely pass on.   It only took one close look to realize that this was a whole other animal completely.  Rather than a collection of bootlegs from the 80’s and up, like the one I had, this box chronicled Deep Purple’s 2001 tour of Australia, Hong Kong and Japan.  What special concerts those must have been.  Read on and you’ll discover why.

Each concert presented in this box is complete, and mixed from the 8-track soundboard DAT tapes.  No audience recordings in this bad boy, which is a good thing, since Purple were touring with numerous extra musicians and accoutrements that require sonic clarity.  Of the six concerts included, four are largely the same.  A lot of Ian Gillan’s song intros are the same from night to night, and the setlists are by and large the same.  Of course where Deep Purple are concerned, that means very little.  Their solos are never the same, and each performance is its own experience.  Steve Morse has never really repeated himself night after night, nor did Jon Lord.

There are some cool surprises in the sets.  One of the best tracks, and one of the most rarely played, is “Mary Long” from Who Do We Think We Are.  This rhythmic monster goes down smashingly well, and it’s a wonder that Purple never tried it any earlier.  There are some true buried gems on those early Purple albums, especially Fireball and Who Do We Think We Are, that were never given a fair shake in their day.  Deep Purple today are able to have more fun with their setlists than they were in the 70’s.  Another such track is “No One Came”, one of the strangest songs in the catalogue.  It benefits greatly from a three piece horn section (the Side Door Johnny’s).  There are versions with horns on some other live albums as well, such as Live at the Olympia ’96, so while horns are not unheard of in Deep Purple, they are rare.  “No One Came” and “Fools” (both from Fireball) are quite a treat any time you get to hear them live, which you didn’t get to do in the 70’s.  They also play the classic B-side “When a Blind Man Cries”, a blues that deserves the spotlight.

Of course Deep Purple always play new material, but what’s really surprising is that they only played one song from their last studio album (1998’s Abandon), and only one time, during the first four concerts!  At the first show, in Melbourne, they played “’69”.  Then it was dropped and the set slightly shuffled.  “Smoke on the Water” was moved from the middle to the second half of the set.  Speaking of “Smoke”, fans familiar with the Steve Morse version of Deep Purple are aware that he really likes to have fun with the intro.  He teases out several classic rock riffs, all instantly recognizable, as he tries to remember which riff is the one he’s supposed to be playing (or so it seems).  AC/DC’s “Back in Black” is the one that really stands out, and it’s remarkable how well it works with Deep Purple.  There are lots more, including “Whole Lotta Love”, “Heartbreaker” and “Stairway to Heaven”, that one normally does not associate with Deep Purple!    Other favourite riffs include “Sweet Home Alabama”, “Little Wing”, and even a Van Halen inspired version of “You Really Got Me”, but the one that surprised me the most was “To Be With You”, by Mr. Big.  Don’t forget, Mr. Big are absolutely huge in Japan, so when they played that little bit in Tokyo, I’m sure everybody knew it.

Also of note, Jimmy Barnes came out for “Highway Star” and “Smoke on the Water” for a couple Australian shows.  Sharp-minded readers will remember that Barnes was one of many singers who auditioned for Deep Purple in the late 80’s before they hired on Joe Lynn Turner.  He seems to have a blast screaming his way through “Highway Star”!  Must be like a dream come true.  Gillan’s in great voice too, by the way!

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For more thrills with special guests, we must go to the last two shows, in Japan.  Australia surely had a treat with the Side Door Johnny’s and Jimmy Barnes, but what Japan got was even better.  Fresh off their well-received Live at the Royal Albert Hall album from 2000, conductor Paul Mann joined Purple for two nights in Tokyo.  That meant a full performance of the legendary and almost never performed Concerto for Group and Orchestra, all three movements.  Mann and the New Japan Select Orchestra joined Purple on a number of their songs as well, including “Watching the Sky” from Abandon, but it was only played on the first night.  All that said, there was no greater thrill than the presence of Ronnie James Dio.  As he did on the Albert Hall album, Ronnie sang lead on two songs from the Purple solo catalogue.  He performs Roger Glover’s “Sitting in a Dream” and the delightfully bouncy hippy anthem “Love is All”.  Ian Gillan, meanwhile takes the lead on Jon Lord’s “Pictured Within”.   Dio also returns for “Smoke on the Water”, trading with Gillan, but what’s really special is that Purple actually performed two Dio songs at these shows.  Though Dio and Purple are two very different bands, Purple adapt and do great versions of “Fever Dreams” and “Rainbow in the Dark”.  The drum and keyboard parts are the most different, but nobody’s complaining!  It’s great that they did “Fever Dreams” from Dio’s Magica, a great album that deserved the recognition.  “Fever Dreams” is one of Dio’s best tunes from the latter period.

“Wring that Neck” and “Pictures of Home” were brought out of mothballs for the Tokyo concerts.  “Wring that Neck” is a jazzy version with the horns coming in strong, just like it was on the Albert Hall CD.  Undoubtedly though, the centerpiece is the Concerto itself.  Even though it put Purple on the map in 1969, it wasn’t particularly well liked by the members of the band (Jon Lord aside, obviously, since it was his creation.)  With Steve Morse in the band instead of Ritchie Blackmore, feelings softened and ideas like resurrecting the Concerto were possible.  The music however was lost.  It took Dutch composer Marco de Goeij years to re-create it, but once Lord helped him finish, it could be performed once again.  It’s incredible to think that they were able to take it to Japan and play it for those lucky fans, both nights.  You can absolutely tell the difference from the London version.  It’s fortunate that it was recorded so well (not perfect but damn well good enough!), and released for you to be able to own forever.

There is no point in breaking this down for a disc-by-disc rating.  If the box set could be faulted for anything, it is that there is so much repeat between the first four concerts.  For me, box sets tend to work best in the car.  I put this on a flash drive and took about three weeks to listen to the whole thing in sequence.  In that environment, I don’t bore of the songs.  Instead I enjoyed the slight differences.  “Oh, this is a little different than the way they introduced it, when I heard it a couple days ago.”  Obviously, only a true Deep Purple lover needs to own this.  But every Deep Purple lover should own it.

Discs 1 & 2 – Melbourne, March 9 2001

Discs 3 & 4 – Wollongong, March 13 2001

Discs 5 & 6 – Newcastle, March 14 2001

Discs 7 & 8 – Hong Kong, March 20 2001

Discs 9 & 10 – Tokyo, March 24 2001

Discs 11 & 12 – Tokyo, March 25 2001

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Rainbow – Live in Munich 1977 (vinyl)

Thanks for joining me this week for my Deep Purple Project. I admit that this review is a bit of a cop-out. I got dreadfully sick with the flu a week ago and was not able to finish any more Purple reviews for this week. I pulled an old one out of the hopper instead. This is close to Purple,  — the Man in Black himself, and Blackmore’s Rainbow. This review is for music writer Victim of the Fury!

RAINBOW – Live in Munich 1977 (2013 Eagle Rock 180 gram 2 LP set)

Something about listening to classic rock with that rich, warm sound of pristine vinyl played on nice big speakers for the first time…is there anything better?  Dropping the needle on side A, let us begin the ritual of properly listening to a double live album.

This 180 gram was a birthday gift from my sis, knowing my love of all things Ronnie James Dio. Not to be confused with the double CD Live in Germany 1976, this freshly mastered concert was recorded in 1977 for German television.  Dio was one hell of a powerhouse, especially in 1977.  Live in Munich contains what must stand as one of the best Dio performances caught on tape.  This was caught just before the album release for Love Live Rock ‘n’  Roll.  “Kill the King” was a storming opening and the live recording is all but flawless.  If Rainbow could be faulted for anything at this point in their brief life, perhaps they played too many long jams on stage.  “Mistreated”, the Deep Purple concert favourite, is the first of these.  As usual for the Man in Black, Ritchie Blackmore himself, the song is almost 12 minutes in length when stretched out live.

Lets not get into comparing Ronnie James Dio to David Coverdale. There’s no point to that.  As with Black Sabbath, you either like Ronnie’s interpretation or you don’t.  Regardless is it drummer Cozy Powell who detours most noticeable from the Deep Purple original, doing a busier blast than Ian Paice did.  As for Blackmore, his solo spans the entire spectrum delightfully.  He fluffs it for a moment, only to immediately take control and keep going.  This is a brilliant version of a song we have heard many times.  Ritchie then takes center stage for a delicate workout to “Greensleeves”, before blasting into the Rainbow barnstormer.  Once again, this is probably the best live version on tape.

IMG_20151108_111910Flipping the record to side B, we are treated to Ritchie seemingly tuning his guitar…melodically…working his way into a lengthy “Catch the Rainbow” including classical interludes.  There’s more than a little “Little Wing” within “Catch the Rainbow”, which Ritchie plays into.  Bassist Bob Daisley sings the angelic backing vocals, proving why he has been such an integral member to so many bands over the years.  In fact this would have to be one of the strongest Rainbow lineups, period.  Keyboardist David Stone rounded out the quintet, and he is kept busy on “Catch the Rainbow”.  The brand new song “Love Live Rock ‘N’ Roll” is next, and a few people in the crowd indicate they may already know the song!  It is presented more Deep Purple in style (hints of “Black Night”), perhaps a bit more laid back with nice flashes of organ here and there.

The second LP has to shuffle the track order out of necessity.  “Still I’m Sad” is 25 minutes, so it must occupy all of side C, even though it was played after “Man on the Silver Mountain” in concert.  There is something about a side of vinyl that contains one monolithic slab of music in only one track.  It feels like a challenge, a solo-laden endurance challenge.  Once it starts rolling, it becomes one of the most intense versions of the song yet recorded by Rainbow.  Then it goes all over the place as pretty much every member has moments to shine.  It’s way too much and it’s way over the top and taxing even to the staunching rock fans.  It was 1977 and this is the way it went down!

Settling in for the final slab o’rock, side D is also daunting with two tracks of 15 minutes apiece. Purple’s “Lazy” is teased out, as part of “Man on the Silver Mountain”. Lots of soloing and noodling abound, and the big weakness with this period of Rainbow is that they thought we needed this much of it. The segue into “Starstruck” is way more fun. More solos and a frantic “Do You Close Your Eyes” ends the concert. Stone’s keyboard solo is cheesy fun, but overall this is another great over the top performance from Rainbow. You can hear a guitar destroyed at the end of it all.

Double lives are best experienced on vinyl, and pristine 180 gram records fit the bill perfectly. If you’re going to go double live for Rainbow, do it with Live in Munich.

4/5 stars

A
1. “Kill the King”
2. “Mistreated”
3. “Sixteenth Century Greensleeves”

B
1. “Catch the Rainbow”
2. “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll”

C
1. “Still I’m Sad”

D
1. “Man on the Silver Mountain”
2. “Do You Close Your Eyes”

#453: What is Your Front-Person Style?

GETTING MORE TALE #453: What is Your Front-Person Style?

There are two types of people in this world:  those that can make music, and those that cannot.

After many years of trying, I have to admit it, that I fall into the latter category.  I can’t make music.  I tried.  I can make some noise and scream, but you wouldn’t pay money to see me in concert.  Instead I’ve focused my energy on two things:  writing about music, and playing air-music.

Air guitar (and to a lesser degree, air bass) is timeless, and I’ll wager that anyone with arms has done it.

Harder to fake, but much more rewarding due to the physical exertion, is a good air drum session.  It’s easy to fake an air guitar mistake, but it’s harder to cover up when you’re on air drums.

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It’s arguable that even more popular than these activities is lip-syncing to your tunes.  But why stop there?  After all, singing the song is only part of a vocalist’s job.  The other part is entertaining the crowd, otherwise known as fronting the band.  Think about it:  Is Ozzy Osbourne successful because of his singing, or is it the fact that he is generally listed as one of the top most entertaining frontmen in rock?  Same with W. Axl Rose.  Part of the allure of Guns N’ Roses is seeing what kind of mood Axl will be in that night.  What will he say?  What will he do?

I’ll admit that when I’m alone in the house, blasting the tunes, it’s fun to play frontman and pretend I’m in charge of the best air band of all time.  It’s even more fun to do this in the back yard; that’s just an “FYI” for those brave enough.  While I’ve never consciously set out to copy a singer, I’ve noticed that my personal style as “air frontman” has been influenced by many of the greats, Mr. Rose included.

Once Guns N’ Roses hit the big time for real, they were touring massive stadiums, indoor and out.  Their stage was phenomenally huge, and Axl would run from one side all the way to the other, usually while trying to sing!  Duff, he’d just walk it.  Not Axl.  Many of these stage runs would end with him jumping off a riser.  Not to be outdone in this regard is Brian Vollmer from Helix.  Starting from their club daze, he used to somersault from the stage onto tables.  When I saw him in Kitchener in ’87, during one song he climbed up onto the mezzanines, ran across the entire balcony, and then climbed back down the other side of the stage.  I’ve seen Helix a hella-lot, and Vollmer still has no problem jumping on tables.  He’s an awesome machine of a frontman, and he taught me that there are no boundaries between audience and band.  Looking up to guys like these, when I have the space, as air frontman I like to run and jump too!  I can’t do it like I used to in my teens, but I still do it.

Another frontman that heavily influenced my personal style was Paul Stanley of Kiss.  Sometimes, depending on the song, it just feels right to play air rhythm guitar too.  When performing to a song that felt this way, Paul Stanley became my model.  Nobody can dance with a guitar like Paul.  Much like Axl, Paul (especially in the 80’s when he wasn’t wearing platforms) was known to run and jump all over the stage.  I will sometimes catch myself doing a specific spin that I saw Paul do in the “Thrills in the Night” video.

When not wielding my air-axe, I tend to need something to do with my hands!  Who was the master of fronting a band with his hands and voice alone?  Why, that would have to be Ronnie James Dio himself.  I don’t tend to go for clichés like the devil horns; I make up my own gestures.  However there is no denying that Ronnie James Dio is my number one air frontman inspiration when it comes to my hands.  There are none better than Dio.  There never will be.

These four guys undoubtedly had the most impact on me as an air frontman, but there is one more who cannot be ignored, and that is Mike Patton.  My buddy Peter recorded a Faith No More performance from Saturday Night Live, and Patton was climbing up the scaffolding.  I’d never seen a weirder performer in a rock band.  What a bizarre, yet cool, image.  So, if the song called for it, I’d throw in some Patton weirdness.  Lurching across the stage, or flailing wildly, or even just standing stock-still, Mike Patton taught me a few extra bonus moves for my bag of tricks.

I don’t know how to dance.  I have no dance moves whatsoever.  I’m the Seth Rogen of dancing.  All I have is the “dice thing”; that’s all I got.  But when it comes to rocking the house as the best damn air singer around, I’ll take on all comers!

REVIEW: Dio – Holy Diver (deluxe edition)

DIO – Holy Diver (2012 Universal deluxe edition, originally 1983)

Ronnie James Dio often said that the best Dio album was the first.  Fans will always have their own favourites, but there is no denying that Ronnie was right about Holy Diver being a special album.  Dio had always had a knack for rallying talented people around him.  Just look at that lineup:  Ronnie and Vinny Appice had recently fled Black Sabbath.  Jimmy Bain had worked with Dio in Blackmore’s Rainbow, an integral part of that band’s lineup in the Rainbow Rising period.  On guitar – Vivian Campbell, from little known New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Sweet Savage.  A shredder he was, able to compete with the hot flashy players of the 80’s.

Very few people do speedy metal songs better than Ronnie James Dio.  “Stand Up and Shout” is the prototype of such Dio songs.  Youthful and rebellious, “Stand Up and Shout” was exactly what fans in 1983 were craving.  The band got to show off their chops a bit, with Vinny Appice leading the way via a hell of a drum performance.  Then it’s Vivian’s turn to shine on one of the speediest solos laid to tape.  “You are the strongest chain and not just some reflection,” sings Ronnie, inspiring the masses with his positive message of self-belief.

For the first four albums, Dio always put the title track second.  If this holds some special meaning, I do not know.  “Holy Diver”, with its ominous opening, still remains upon  the lofty peak of the best songs Ronnie has ever written.  The riff, written solely by Ronnie, is iconic.  Perhaps it is not recognized on the level of immortal riffs such as “Whole Lotta Love”, but among metal fans, it is held in high regard.  “Holy Diver” is the shiniest jewel in the crown, a massive track that just has everything.  Bain and Appice formed a tight rhythm section with the exact right amount of heft.  The song is flawless…shiny diamonds indeed.


Like the eyes of a cat in the black and blue, something is coming for you.

“Gypsy” is a knockout.  Ronnie belting in full voice with a solid mid-tempo song behind him is always a pleasure.  This is Vivian’s first writing credit on a Dio album.  The guitar solo could use some focus, but I think the directive here was “just shred”.  One of Dio’s most pop moments (in terms of melody only) is “Caught in the Middle”, one of his catchiest, most concise and direct songs.  Even Vivian sticks to point on the solo.  But “Caught in the Middle” is soon eclipsed by an even more exciting song:  “Don’t Talk to Strangers”.  The acoustic fake-out intro is a trick Dio pulled again later on “The Last in Line”, but when the song really starts, it’s friggin’ frantic.  It’s like the wind.  These guys had so much energy, it is remarkable.   “Straight Through the Heart” has balls to it, it’s a groovy tune.  I loved Halestorm’s cover of it immensely.  I think they really caught and emphasized what is great about the song.  Lzzy Hale is one of very few people who can do Dio justice vocally.

The slow intro to “Invisible” reminds me of a 1987-era Whitesnake ballad.  This is another trick!  It stops and abruptly turns into another Dio stomper of high quality.  There is very little letup on this Dio album.  The momentum is maintained by the stunning single “Rainbow in the Dark”.  That’s Ronnie on keyboards, by the way.  I have a story about this song.

Our local rock station, 107.5 Dave Rocks, has a 3:00 contest called the Tedious Tiresome Trivia in the Tri-Cities, or the TTT in the TC.  What makes it so tedious and tiresome are the callers.  Craig seems to attract the…how should I say this? The most “interesting” callers.  The most notorious of these is “Bore-linda” who has a legion of haters who can’t stand her perky tone.  (She’s actually a very nice lady in real life.)  Craig Fee would receive emails from annoyed listeners saying, “Hang up on Bore-linda!  Play some Dio!”  So that’s exactly what Craig did, and he chose “Rainbow in the Dark” as the song.  And Bore-linda calls in a lot.  And Craig hangs up a lot.  For a while, “Rainbow in the Dark” was played almost daily between 3 and 4 o’clock.  And you know what?  It never got tiring.  Every single time it came on was a fist-pumper.

Holy Diver deserves a dramatic ending, and that would be “Shame on the Night”.  Copying the template of a song like Sabbath’s “Lonely is the Word”, it occupies the same kind of slow-paced dark metal space.  Vivian’s guitar intro is very cool, but the song just pounds.

The bonus CD is chock full of Dio goodness.  Deluxe editions should always present a complete set of B-sides.  This has the three from this era, including the studio cut “Evil Eyes”.  This excellent, cruisin’ tune was re-recorded for The Last in Line, and the B-side version has remained obscure until now.   Vivian has a lot of different solos on this version, and they are all cool.  Then, essential cuts “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” are both live B-sides, every bit as electrifying as the originals.  They are simply more raw, probably a little faster, and there is nothing more powerful than Ronnie James Dio’s voice live in the raw.

The balance of the disc is fleshed out by six live songs recorded for radio by the King Biscuit Flower Hour.  They sound excellent, thanks to King Biscuit.  You get “Stand Up and Shout” a second time, but the rest of the live songs are not repeats.  In the mix are some Sabbath (“Children of the Sea”) and some Rainbow (“Man on the Silver Mountain/Starstruck”).  Of the two, “Children of the Sea” fares better from the Dio band’s interpretation.  To be fair, I think Tony Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore both have so much personality, that it is daunting to cover them no matter who you are.  I think Vivian’s style works less well on the Rainbow song than it does with Sabbath’s material.  The rest of the songs (“Holy Diver”, “Rainbow in the Dark”, “Shame on the Night”) are all quality Dio tracks.  Although the market is now inundated with live Dio packages, it is still a delight to have these early recordings on CD.

I needn’t divulge that this deluxe edition is loaded with cool liner notes and pictures.  You have come to expect that from a good deluxe edition.  And Holy Diver is quite good indeed.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Dio – Angry Machines (1996)

DIO – Angry Machines (1996 Spitfire)

I have never liked Angry Machines.  Right from the moment it came out, to today, I do not like Angry Machines.   It’s not because I don’t like this Dio lineup.  I’m quite fond of the Strange Highways record, which features the same band (Jeff Pillson – bass, Vinny Appice – drums, Tracy G – guitars).  Given my fondness for that previous record, and the awesome cover art emblazoned upon Angry Machines, I was looking forward to this album.  Now, all these years later, even cranked to max volume it has failed to grow on me and remains my least favourite Dio album by a fair margin.

When Dio gets his hands on a treacherously slow heavy metal song, he can sometimes wring great things from it.  Angry Machines, however, is bogged down with many agonizingly slow, soundalike trudgy songs.  The opener “Institutional Man” almost resembles Born Again-era Sabbath at times for sheer slow chug, but it lacks any sort of hooks.  Ronnie is bellowing as incredibly as he always has, but he’s grasping for a melody to hang his powerful voice on.  The saving grace is a razor sharp guitar solo by Tracy G.

Thankfully “Don’t Tell the Kids” is a speed metal rocker.  I didn’t expect Ronnie to take it to Motorhead tempo, and that’s cool.  Lack of hooks is the problem again, so you’re left with little but the smoking instruments to carry you through.  MVP: Vinny Appice who has never sounded so lively!

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The disc gets stuck in the mud after “Don’t Tell the Kids”.  The atonal “Black” doesn’t do anything for me, although I do admire the stripped-back production (by Ronnie and engineer Wyn Davis).  I dig Jeff Pilson’s bass hook on “Hunter of the Heart”, and the chorus is pretty good, but the song is mostly forgettable.  Then is the slow and boring “Stay Out of My Mind”, a real snooze.  A 7-minute snooze with an extended keyboard segue!  Continuing with the mind control theme, “Big Sister” isn’t much to write home about either, except in terms of Vinny’s relentless sticks.

“Double Monday” has cool acoustic segment, very unlike typical Dio.  Unfortunately this one section does not save the song which is otherwise dreary and grating.  Up next, I enjoy the vintage groove of “Golden Rules” but again there’s not much of a song here.  Same goes for the penultimate track “Dying in America”.

You may already be familiar with the best song on Angry Machines, a piano ballad called “This is Your Life”, that was re-released on the 2014 tribute album of the same title. When I reviewed that excellent CD, I had this to say of “This is Your Life”:

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.”

The always lucky Japanese fans received a bonus track with the cool title of “God Hates Heavy Metal”.  Although I am intrigued I have not been motivated enough to search it out.

2/5 stars

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