Satchel

REVIEW: Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life (Tribute)

NEW RELEASE

“I’m letting them pick what songs they wanna do in the way they wanna do it.” Wendy Dio

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0001VARIOUS 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.

THIS IS YOUR LIFE_0004

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.

4.5/5 stars

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.

REVIEW: Fight – War of Words (1993)

Click here to check out the LeBrain Facebook page!

Part 1 of a miniseries on Rob Halford’s solo career!

FIGHT_0002

FIGHT – War of Words (1993 Sony)

I was devastated when Rob Halford left Priest.  I was so heavily invested emotionally in the excellent Painkiller album, I couldn’t believe it was over!  Last I had heard, the band were going to be working on two new songs for a greatest hits album (Metal Works) and then Rob would take a break to do a solo album.  Instead, the band split completely!  Halford and drummer extraordinaire Scott Travis formed Fight with guitarists Russ Parish and Brian Tilse, and the bass player from hell, Jay Jay.   (Today, Parish goes by the name “Satchel” when he plays with Steel Panther!)  Regarding Jay Jay, Halford says that he did a number of Rob’s own tattoos.  Rob figured if he could play bass as well he he tattooed, he was in.  Jay Jay also does the grunt-metal backing vocals.

The resulting album, War of Words, is a Pantera-esque thrash-fest, one of the heaviest things Rob had ever done (until Halford’s Crucible album), undeniable brutal, scream-laden, and punishing from start to finish.  Halford had cleverly assembled two shredding guitar players with differing styles too:  Tilse specialized in the noisy speedy solos, while Parrish played the more melodic and traditional speedy solos!  War of Words is solo nirvana for fans of Rob and Priest.  And Rob wrote every single song by himself.

The twin openers, “Into the Pit” and “Nailed to the Gun”, are two of a kind:  they are rip-yer-head-off thrashers with Rob’s patented glass-breaking screams.  The song structures on War of Words are simpler than what we heard with Priest, no doubt since Rob composed the songs by himself.  This simplicity serves to make the album feel even heavier and more relentless.

The lyrics, just as simple and aggressive.  “Into the Pit” doesn’t feature much in the way of poetry:

Conspiring, for sation
Malfeasance, on high
Obstruction, of duty
Disorder, will rise

Rob takes the pace back a bit on the third track, “Life in Black” which I don’t think you can fairly call a ballad, to me it’s more Dio-era Sabbath with a very vintage-Dio sounding solo.  (Rob had just helped out Sabbath live after Dio left, singing lead for two shows while opening for Ozzy Osbourne.)  Meanwhile “Immortal Sin” bears a slow groove with a melodic chorus, downtuned but a bright spot in the proceedings.

The title track opens with the American First Amendment (Rob was living in Phoenix).  It’s another aural assault with Rob keeping his vocals in the upper register.  Travis’ incredible drumming punctuates every venomous word.  Considering that less than three years prior, Rob (with Priest) was in court defending his band during the infamous “suicide trial”, the words are apt.

Dream Deceivers, directed by David Van Taylor, the excellent documentary on the Judas Priest trial

It’s back to dark haunting territory next:  “Laid to Rest” ended the first side of the album.  I find this one to contain one of Rob’s best vocal performances of the album.  It’s reminiscent of “A Touch of Evil” by Priest, but downtuned and slightly exotic.

Side Two’s opener, “For All Eternity” is really the final reprieve.  It is most definitely a power ballad in vintage Priest vibe, but again with the modern downtuned guitars.  A song like this really proved Rob’s songwriting chops.  He’s capable of writing emotive, catchy powerful music completely on his own, and the song is an achievement.  The bridge around 2:25 is just awesomeness, but Tilse’s guitar solo completes the picture.  As if that wasn’t enough, Rob returns to full on scream mode for the end.

“Little Crazy” was a critically acclaimed heavy metal blues, and the second single/video.  I’m struggling to describe it beyond “heavy metal blues”, but this song is definitely a highlight.  Rob puts everything he has into the slinky lead vocal, while band fuse the blues feel with heavy metal’s precision.  I recall reviews of the time saying, “If Rob wanted to drop metal and go full-on blues, he could.”  Now that would be interesting.

The rest of the album is no-holds-barred.  The triple threat of “Contortion”, “Kill It”, and “Vicious” is almost too much.  Each song strips everything down to the basics:  simple riffs, violent words, relentless drums, without much in terms of melody.  This is the most difficult part of the album to penetrate.  In time the three songs grow.  “Contortion” protests what we are doing to the Earth with angry frustration.  “Kill It” is about TV preachers (whom I’m sure had their opinions on Priest during the trial).  “Vicious” was always my favourite of the trio:

You cheating, lying, mother-fucking son of a bitch..

Vicious, vicious,
Fucker, fucker!

I was going through an angry phase at the time!

Rob saved the best track for last.  “Reality: A New Beginning” is a weighty epic, a perfect closer, slightly exotic and successfully combining Fight’s heavy side with Rob’s ability to write great melodies.  This is simply an incredible song, a jewel in Halford’s crown, and a song which definitely deserves another look.  The lyrics seem to be autobiographical:

This time, when I’m leaving,
Who cares where I’ll go?

There was a hidden CD bonus track (not on cassette) after a five minute silence, a jokey song called “Jesus Saves”.  Rob’s voice is electronically manipulated to sound…well, not sure what he’s supposed to sound like.  An angry elf, I guess.

4.75/5 stars

There are some supplementary releases available:

1. This one is on my wishlist, I don’t own a physical copy:  In 1994 Fight released a Christmas CD single called “Christmas Ride” with a message from Rob!  They later reissued this as a free download from Rob’s site, but that is no longer around.

2. The live/remix EP, Mutations (next up in this series of reviews).

3. In 2007, a demo album called K5: The War of Words Demos was released.  This featured demo versions of most of the album, plus five more.  These include four new songs, and “Psycho Suicide” which was later remade for the second Fight album, A Small Deadly Space.   The demos reveal that a much more conventional-sounding metal album was initially planned.  (“The Beast Denies” is a very different version of “Reality: A New Beginning”.)

4. The 2008 Fight box set Into the Pit contains remixed versions of War of Words (again without “Jesus Saves”) and A Small Deadly Space.  But the cool thing it contains is a DVD, Fight Live In Phoenix.  The band rips through the entire album, in sequence (no “Jesus Saves”!) and then Rob’s solo track, “Light Comes Out of Black” (from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie soundtrack).

5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer original motion picture soundtrack.  This is the only place you can get the studio version of “Light Comes Out of Black”, featuring his backing band…Pantera.  All of Pantera.

I like “Light Comes Out of Black”, but it’s a lot easier to swallow than Fight is on first listen.  I remember a M.E.A.T Magazine interview with Glenn Tipton and KK Downing, where they trashed it.  “If it were on Painkiller, it would be one of the weaker songs, if not the weakest,” said KK.

KK might have been right about that to a certain extent, but only because Painkiller consists of 10 awesome songs!