Scott Warren

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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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.

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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: Neon Nights: 30 Years of Heaven & Hell – Live in Europe

HEAVEN & HELL – Neon Nights: 30 Years of Heaven & Hell – Live in Europe (2010 Armoury)

Even though there was a double live CD (Radio City Music Hall) shortly before this, I don’t think anybody was complaining.  Obviously, with Dio now gone, this is his final live album. There was also a studio album in between these two live albums (The Devil You Know) and there are three songs from it here. The fact that none of these albums are released under the name “Black Sabbath” means nothing, to me this is Black Sabbath by any other name.  Please excuse me if you find me using the names Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell interchangeably.

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Obviously Ronnie was not a young man when he died, and the human voice changes naturally with age. This is not the same sound as the guy who recorded Mob Rules or Heaven and Hell. The older Ronnie had a deeper voice, the range reduced noticeably. However, it is still Ronnie James Dio, one of the most powerful charismatic metal singers of all time. It might be an older, wiser Ronnie, but he knows how to work around his voice’s limitations to still deliver stirring versions of these songs.  He made stylistic changes to compensate.

The band itself is cooking. Tony’s riffing and soloing sounds straight out of 1980. Vinnie’s drumming is more fill-laden than it was on The Devil You Know which was very sparse. I’m happy about this.  Geezer is playing those rolling, rollicking bass lines that only he can compose.  This helps define that “Black Sabbath sound”. Geezer played on 3/4 of Black Sabbath’s studio albums, and his bass sound is part of that identity.  Most importantly, Heaven & Hell were having fun, showing the world why these guys together were as Black as any Sabbath. This is the way it should have gone with the Dehumanizer tour. That reunion should have lasted a long time, should have produced tours like this one, and should have produced a live album. I guess there were still egos and wound and the band weren’t ready to stick it out back then. This then is our last chance to appreciate the Iommi/Butler/Appice/Dio gestalt of Black Sabbath.  They should have but didn’t get all the glory back in ’92, the last time they tread the floorboards of hockey barns nationwide.

The track listing is just fine and dandy if brief. I would have preferred a double CD like Live Evil or Radio City Music Hall. Highlights for this listener included the three new songs, especially “Bible Black” and “Fear”. I also loved the new version of “Heaven and Hell,” which has some new tricks during the extended middle. I guess the guys were being creative right up til their last.

Because the keyboards are handled by Scott Warren (Dio) and not Geoff Nicholls (Sabbath 1980-1995),  there is a slightly different sound to the backing keyboard parts. He uses different voices than Nicholls did. Not a huge deal but an observation worth mentioning. Speaking of voices, I don’t like the way that Sabbath have been using tapes/samples on the backing vocals. This is especially noticeable on “I,” where you can hear several distinct Ronnie’s singing backup vocals while the “live” Ronnie sings lead. I guess Sabbath lacks a good solid backup singer, and Ronnie couldn’t hit the same notes anymore, but I feel cheated. I am firmly in the category of people who like their live music to sound live.

4/5 stars. Still a crucial part of the Sabbath live canon and necessary to all fans as Ronnie’s last stand.