thrash metal

REVIEW: Sword – Sweet Dreams (1988)

scan_20170121SWORD – Sweet Dreams (1988 Capitol)

Canada’s mighty Sword took another swing on their second and final album Sweet Dreams.  They recorded a fine debut in Metalized (1986), but as with any band, growth is expected on album #2.  No problem for Sword.

Metalized was relentless, thrashy, fast, and punishing.  Sweet Dreams is heavy but diverse.  This is immediately obvious on the opening title track.  The tempo is condensed to a slow metal Zeppelin stomp.  The melodies are more focused.  The sound (thanks to Gggarth and Jack Richardson) has more oomph and depth.  What the band sacrificed in speed was paid back in other qualities.

Capitol records released “The Trouble Is” as the first single/video. Rick Hughes’ enviable voice makes it sound like Sword, otherwise it could have been one of Dokken’s heaviest tracks. The lyrics are surprisingly still valid in 2017: “People are lying, they keep on trying, to live where they can be free. They jam into boats with a knife at their throats…” It hasn’t changed much in 30 years. “Land of the Brave” tackles war, a popular metal topic ever since Black Sabbath wrote “War Pigs” back in 1970. The screams of Rick Hughes mimic the horrors of the battlefield. An apt comparison would be Iron Maiden, with a little bit of Metallica. For some rebellious attitude, check out “Back Off”, which hits the gas pedal during the chorus. Another popular metal topic: “Back off preacher, stay away!” Ozzy would have been proud. Guitarist Mike Plant blasts through his solos effortlessly, showing off a variety of rock styles. “Prepare to Die” (also heard on the recent Live Hammersmith CD) is the thrashiest of the bunch on side one, sounding like vintage Sword.

Cool thrashy shreddery kicks “Caught in the Act” right in the nuts to commence side two.  It switches up on “Until Death Do Us Part”, focused by the stomp of the beat.  If Sweet Dreams has any weakness it is that there are two Swords.  The speedy metal of “Caught in the Act” and “Until Death Do Us Part” are a contrast to the more accessible rock of “The Trouble Is”.  One of the most stunning tracks on the album is “The Threat”, on which all the ingredients mix perfectly.  (They get bonus points for naming themselves in the lyrics:  “Ride with the sword in your hand, and some day with the sword you will die.”)  For a real surprise check out the slide guitar grease of the incredible “Life on the Sharp Edge”.  It’s all over with “State of Shock” which will knock you senseless for all the headbangin’ going on.  Seems Motorhead must have rubbed off on them a bit.  “State of Shock” goes out like a champ leaving you punched out drooling on the mat.

Sword stopped after two albums and Rick Hughes moved on to the mainstream rock band Saints & Sinners.  (Check out a review of that album by Deke.)  Sweet Dreams succeeded as a second album should.  It pushed the sound outwards.  Hughes and company should be proud of both of their records.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Sword – Live Hammersmith (2016)

scan_20170103SWORD – Live Hammersmith (2016)

30 years ago, there was a heavy metal band from Quebec named Sword.  They only released two albums (Metalized and the more ambitious Sweet Dreams) before disbanding at the end of the 1980s.  Lead singer Rick Hughes is one talented guy though, and he gave it another shot with a hard rock band called Saints & Sinners in 1992, who were produced by Aldo Nova.

Hughes has remained active in Canada, though Sword are now long gone.  Fortunately the internet has given old metal bands like Sword a way to get back in touch with their fans.  Thanks to the web, you can now buy a live CD recorded in 1987 on Sword’s opening tour with Motorhead.  Lemmy took the band under his wing early on and fortunately this live tape survived.  They played two nights at Hammersmith Odeon and recorded them to 4-track tape.  The liner notes do not state which gig the CD is from, or if it is a mixture of both.  Considering the age of the tapes, Sword’s Live Hammersmith CD stands up remarkably well.  There is a real sense of “being there” at Hammersmith, in spite of (or because of) the sonics.

Ripping through all 10 tracks from their debut album, Sword made the most of their opening slot.  Even so, they still had time for a brand new song too, “Prepare to Die” (later released on Sweet Dreams).  With 11 songs and only 36 minutes, Sword’s already thrashy material seemed faster live.  Sword’s songs had the goods, too.  These blazing aggressive tunes weren’t simple or easy.  Most importantly, Rick Hughes’ incredible metal shrieks were 100% intact in the live setting.  Hughes’ voice was critical to the Sword sound, being their most unique characteristic.  It is always disappointing when you hear a band live, and the singer can’t scream like the album.  Not a problem with Sword.

The singles “F.T.W.” (“Follow the Wheels”) and “Stoned Again” are the immediate highlights.  The gallop of “F.T.W.” sounds like a heavier Iron Maiden, while “Stoned Again” goes for the groove.  If anything, the songs have more impact in the live CD setting.  It is quite possible that Sword were one of those bands who were better live than on album.  They were, at the very least, flawless live.  Rick Hughes didn’t miss a note, word or scream.  Dan Hughes (drums) was also bang-on.  You can’t get a live album like this without the rhythm section doing it right.  Dan Hughes and bassist Mike Larock were right there, locked in, and driving the machine forward.  Larock had the groove, and also a knack for throwing in catchy bass runs.  As for the lead work, Sword were a one-guitar band, so Mike Plant had to switch from rhythm to lead seamlessly, and he made it all sound easy.

Inhabiting the fine line between metal and straight-up thrash, perhaps Sword were not unique out there in the 80s trying to make it.  This CD proves that they did have the talent.  As Henry Rollins says, live is “the only way to know for sure”.  A soundboard recording like this is as close as you will get.

As an added bonus (always appreciated in these frugal days), the Sword CD is signed by all four members and comes in a jewel case.  A very nice reward for the devoted fan.  You can buy Live Hammersmith from the Sword Facebook page.

4/5 stars

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REVIEW: Megadeth – Countdown to Extinction (Remixed & Remastered) #200wordchallenge

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Scan_20160826MEGADETH – Countdown to Extinction (2004 Remixed & Remastered edition, originally 1992)

Dave Mustaine is a visionary, there is little question of that. He knows what he wants with each record and goes for it. With this one, “precision” was the word of the day. Recorded digitally, Countdown to Extinction is perfection embodied. Not one bum note, every beat is metronomically correct. So what could possibly be improved on a remaster?

This excellent series of Megadeth remasters are actually all remixed from the original tapes. This was done with Dave himself at the helm, still the perfectionist. Countdown being flawless already, I’m sure he didn’t have to do much remixing. You can hear some changes and some additional effects added here and there, and some different takes of instrumental tracks. In general though, the differences are the kind only diehards will notice. This CD sounds three-dimensional even on the cheapest of sound systems.  Dave Mustaine, this is your Sgt. Peppers!

I won’t even bother discussing the tunes. You know them all anyway.  “Symphony of Destuction”, “Sweating Bullets”, “Foreclosure of a Dream”…they are all excellent examples of technically sharp and aggressive heavy metal.   For bonus tracks, you get one hard-to-find B-sides and some interesting demos, but not the coveted rare Trent Reznor remix.

4.5/5 stars

 


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REVIEW: Metallica – “Hardwired” (2016 single)

METALLICA – “Hardwired” (2016 single)

YES!  Now this is what I’m talking about.  Metallica haterz can leave the room now, because there is nothing here they will enjoy.

“Hardwired” is the first single from the forthcoming album Hardwired…To Self Destruct due in November.  There’s plenty here for the fans to sink their teeth into.  A very punk-like metal track, “Hardwired” is promising.  Even Lars sounds on top of it. The drums are one of the hooks of the song.  Jaymz drops an F-bomb for that street cred, but what matters most is that this is pure rock.  Call it metal, call it thrash, whatever — doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that Metallica are rocking the fuck out with a great, heavy and blazingly fast track. I love how Jaymz just spits out the words. “We’re so fucked — shit out of luck.” Metallica’s worldview is just as rosy as it was in 1984!

I don’t think anybody reasonably expects Metallica to turn back the clock, or discover some crazy new direction with this album. Fans will dig it, haterz won’t listen with an open mind, but where the single could succeed is bringing in young metal fans who might never have bought a Metallica album before. It sounds just as energetic as a new band.

As it was with Death Magnetic, the new album will be available in a variety of formats including deluxe box set.  The last single, 2014’s “Lords of Summer”, will be on one of them.  Get ready for another onslaught of Metallica.

4/5 stars

TALLICA

TRACKLIST

Disc One

Hardwired
Atlas, Rise!
Now That We’re Dead
Moth Into Flame
Am I Savage?
Halo On Fire

Disc Two

Confusion
Dream No More
ManUNkind
Here Comes Revenge
Murder One
Spit Out The Bone

Disc Three (Deluxe Edition Only)

Lords Of Summer
Riff Charge (Riff Origins)
N.W.O.B.H.M. A.T.M. (Riff Origins)
Tin Shot (Riff Origins)
Plow (Riff Origins)
Sawblade (Riff Origins)
RIP (Riff Origins)
Lima (Riff Origins)
91 (Riff Origins)
MTO (Riff Origins)
RL72 (Riff Origins)
Frankenstein (Riff Origins)
CHI (Riff Origins)
X Dust (Riff Origins)

REVIEW: Evilyn Strange – Evilution (2016 EP)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160301EVILYN STRANGE – Evilution (2016 limited edition promo EP)

Well alright alright alright!  2016 has been a stinky year so far with the winter “blahs” and far too many musical deaths.  It’s time for something new and something positive.  Thankfully the trio Evilyn Strange have picked this time to return with their new EP, Evilution.

I like a sense of continuity in cover art, and lead singer Phillip Strange is responsible for this one.  I like that you can immediately tell it’s the same band.  With the last album, Mourning Phoebe, I couldn’t quite tell what kind of music I was going to find inside.  Evilution on the other hand looks like rock and roll and nothing but.  Are you ready to be slain?

I was surprised by the heaviness and speed of the opening track “Let It Rain”.  Great riff, great vocal melody, and tasteful use of backing keyboards — I get a sense of 80’s metal meeting the modern age, and I like that just fine.  In particular it’s the menacing double bass of “The Ghost” (drums/keys) that drives the song into your skull.  Once it’s in there, it ain’t coming out.

“Invisible Man” grooves rather than thrashes, but again the tasteful backing keyboard adds nice accents and moods.  Phillip kicks ass on this vocal, imbuing the song with melancholy power.  Throw on a smoking solo by Mikael Johannesson and step back because this baby explodes!  I can’t say who this song reminds me of.  It has elements of lots of bands that I enjoy, from Sabbath to Whitesnake.  But “Storm Clouds” is thrash metal, pure and simple.  I can’t find a more appropriate tag.  The Ghost’s slamming on it, while Mikael riffs away faster than I can headbang.  The only thing unlike thrash metal is Phillip’s singing, always melodic.  This is challenging, impressive stuff — maybe a bit too busy?  It packs more into one song than most hard rock bands put into an entire side.

More Strange-like is “Never”, a powerful metal ballad.  Phillip injects the song with the required angst and there’s even a hint of some bluesy slide guitar.  A proper soft ballad ends the EP on a dramatic note.  This song “Stay” couldn’t be more different from “Storm Clouds”, only two songs prior.  Somehow it all works as a fairly cohesive EP.  That’s the vocals of Phillip Strange holding it together, I think, tying the songs.

Evilyn Strange named this EP appropriately.  They are evolving, as all bands must.  That they took such a strong lean on old, classic thrash and metal influences was a delightful surprise to me.  I didn’t see that one coming.  But much like evolution in the biological world, old traits still remain.  These are the memorable riffs, melodies and musical themes.  What’s very interesting however is that Evilyn Strange have a full-length album coming later this year, and it’s entirely new material.  Can we expect another evolution?  I think it’s possible….

Check out Evilyn Strange at evilynstrange.co.uk, where you can buy this limited edition CD for a piddly £3.99.  Click the link on their page if you prefer iTunes.  Do what you need to get this in your ears!

4.5/5 stars

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For Deke‘s review over at 80’s Metal Shatz N Giggles, click here!

For Aaron‘s review at KeepsMeAlive, click here!

For Jon‘s review at e-tainment reviews, click here!

REVIEW: Death Angel – Act III (1990)

ACT IIIDEATH ANGEL – Act III (1990 Geffen)

I am no stranger to Death Angel.  In the 80’s, I knew them as that thrash band from San Francisco, that grew up listening to Love Gun.  I also thought they were a bit too heavy for my hemispheres.  Whatever “too heavy” means, anyway.  Then I received a review request, from Uncle Meat.  “I want this man to review Act III by Death Angel .   I think it’s a good’er.”

Very vintage Anthrax-like is “Seemingly Endless Time”, and excellently produced by Max Norman too.  The vocals are in the Belladonna range, and the pace is rangingly fast, while paradoxically grooving heavily.  However you want to describe it, it’ll slam you right in the face.  It’s that whole Bay area thrash vibe, honed to a killing edge.  The chorus has an Ozzy-like melodic power.  Then, “Stop” chugs like the heavier side of Testament.  Mark Osegueda has a versatile voice, at times recalling young James Hetfied.  There are plenty of time changes and surprises on this track, enough to challenge the meek.

Speaking of surprises, I didn’t expect the acoustic guitar opening “Veil of Deception”.  Singer Mark Osegueda really gets to show off his pipes on this one, but it’s the guitar duo of Rob Cavestany and Gus Pepa that really impress with their ability and diversity.  Then, “The Organization” (also the name of their next Osegueda-less band) is bone-shaking fast and heavy.  There are still the slithering guitars and melodic vocals to sink your teeth into.  This is top notch metal.  Andy Galeon lays down some complicated beats for “Discontinued” on which he has a writing credit.  It’s Dennis Pepa’s funky bass that reminds me of where guys like Mike Muir were going with thrash.

I remember the ballad “A Room With a View” being played on MuchMusic in ’91, so it is familiar.  Ballads seemed to be working for bands like Metallica and Testament at the time, but it seems more fitting for a diverse album like Act III.  Layers of vocals make it special, as does the acoustic guitar solo.  “Stagnant” opens bright and slow, but shortly an avalanche of menacing guitars is upon us.  This transforms into a funky assault that sounds like 90’s stoner rock.  Then “EX-TC” is old-style screaming thrash, as is “Disturbing the Peace”.  The final track, “Falling Asleep” is anything but sleepy.  It returns to the chugging that works so well for head banging.

I understand now why Death Angel was so critically acclaimed back in the 80’s.  Their ability and musical intelligence was off the charts.  Too bad they were one of the bands that didn’t survive the 90’s.  I’m glad I had the chance to check out this thrash metal cornerstone.  The Devil’s metal indeed!

4/5 stars

All songs written by Rob Cavestany, except where noted.

  1. “Seemingly Endless Time” – 3:49
  2. “Stop” (Cavestany, Mark Osegueda) – 5:10
  3. “Veil of Deception” – 2:35
  4. “The Organization” (Cavestany, Andy Galeon) – 4:16
  5. “Discontinued” (Cavestany, Galeon, Gus Pepa, Dennis Pepa) – 5:50
  6. “A Room with a View” – 4:42
  7. “Stagnant” (Cavestany, Galeon) – 5:33
  8. “EX-TC” (Cavestany, Osegueda) – 3:06
  9. “Disturbing the Peace” – 3:53
  10. “Falling Asleep” – 5:54

Credits and art from Wikipedia.

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Painkiller (1990)

PAINKILLER_0001JUDAS PRIEST – Painkiller (Remastered, 1990 Sony)

In the late 80’s, after the robotic Priest…Live! and the false start that was Ram It Down, a lot of metal fans wrote off Judas Priest as a vital metal band.

They were a tad premature.

Perhaps it was Halford inking a few too many tattoos into his noggin, perhaps it was the long overdue departure of Dave Holland on drums, or maybe they were just pissed off. The band had spent the summer of 1990 defending themselves in the United States against accusations of murder. Not directly, but through “backwards messages” supposedly embedded on the ancient Stained Class album.* It was a show trial designed to blame bad parenting on someone else. But the band triumphed, and came back meaner and angrier than ever before.

Having written songs with a drum machine, Priest now needed a new drummer.  They selected Scott Travis of Racer X, the band that also spawned Paul Gilbert among others.  Travis, an American, was on board and the band bunked down in the studio with veteran producer Chris Tsangarides.  What resulted from this potent mix was the best record they’d done since at least Defenders, if not far earlier. Decks had been cleared, the band meant business. Travis threw down the double bass, a thrash metal sound previously unexplored by Judas Priest.  While looking forward, the album also distilled the sounds of Priest over the last 10 years.  It  put the turntable from 33 1/3 all the way up to 45 rpm.

PAINKILLER_0002This is over-the-top metal, shiny and mean. Halford’s screaming higher and harder than any time before, almost to the point of caricature, but not quite. This chrome plated beast blew away all reasonable expectations. Tipton and Downing still thought they were interesting enough guitar players to do lead break credits on every album, but it’s a touch I like. Tipton is the more experimental one and Downing the fast and reckless one. As a combo it works; the solos are interesting, adrenaline packed and suitable to the songs.

PAINKILLER_0004The production is loud and clear; at the time I felt this was one of the best produced metal albums I’d ever heard. The drums are so loud and clear that it hurts.  Travis is doing some serious steppin’ on the double bass. To steal a phrase from Halford, this is “primo thrash metal”. More accurately, speed metal.

Almost every song is worthy. Only a few fall flat. Painkiller was more about the overall direction than individual songs,  Yes, the lyrics are cartoony, but “Nightcrawler” takes it too far and is too repetitive with a spoken word section that should have been chopped. Also embarassing is “Metal Meltdown”, a speed metal blaster that tries but fails to be as dramatic as “Painkiller” itself.  On the positive side are the incendiary title track (still classic today), the ballad “A Touch of Evil”, and the riff-by-riff metal of “Leather Rebel”, “Hell Patrol” and “All Guns Blazing”.  You wouldn’t expect an album like Painkiller to have a lot of melody, but some of these tracks may surprise you.

Bonus tracks are the out-of-place “Living Bad Dreams” (a ballad which spoils the record) and an inferior live cut of “Leather Rebel”.

Still, quite the album!.  It really gets the blood pumping, even today. I wish it came with a DVD with the insane video of the title track. Check that out if you want to have a sweat.   A mighty if imperfect return.

4.5/5 stars

* The song in question, “Better By You, Better Than Me”, was pointedly re-released as a B-side on Priest’s next single, “Painkiller”.

REVIEW: Metallica – “One” (Japanese 5 track single)

It’s the end of the Week of Singles 3!  Since it’s Friday I have to leave you with something a little more special.  If you missed any of this week’s singles or EPs, click below!

METALLICA – “One” (1989 Sony Japan 5 track single)

While there is no doubt that this single is indeed rare, when T-Rev and I shared an apartment together in the late 90’s, we both owned a copy.  We figured we must have had the only living room in the country with two Japanese copies of the “One” single by Metallica.  I believe both of us acquired our copies via the record store.  (Unfortunately, neither of us had the obi strip.)

Along with the full 7 1/2 minute version of “One”, this single presents Metallica’s excellent cover of Budgie’s “Breadfan”.  Metallica’s take, which emphasizes the heavy parts, is awesome.  It was “Breadfan” that inspired me to check out Budgie, and then discover yet another one of my favourite bands.  “Breadfan” was always a monster; Metallica simply turned it up.  It is a song that they were born to cover anyway.  The unusual thing is that “Breadfan” is one of Budgie’s most notably bass-heavy tracks (from a bass-heavy band anyway), but Metallica’s cover comes from Metallica’s least bass-y period.  I’m sure Newsted must be digging in deep to play those Burke Shelley bass rolls, but you can’t hear him clearly enough.

Next are two live bonus tracks:  “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)” from Dallas, Texas, February 5 1989.  (The 7″ and 12″ singles contained different live tracks:  “Seek & Destroy” and “Creeping Death” respectively.)  I think this period of live Metallica is among their best.  Hetfield’s voice had filled out to max out on the menacing scale.  Newsted was an able replacement for the late Cliff Burton, and I enjoyed his backing growls on “Sanitarium”.

Last and rarest is the original demo version of “One”.  It was recorded to four-track tape:  drums, James’ guitar, vocals, Kirk’s guitar.  That’s right – because it’s only four tracks, there’s no bass!  (Insert jokes about the …And Justice For All album right here: _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .)  This demo was recorded in November 1987, and unlike many Metallica demos, this one has lyrics.  “One” was a fully-formed song in the demo stage, with only a couple parts unfinished.  It’s remarkable and I’m sure Metallica had no idea in 1987 that what they were writing was going to become a rock classic.  As confident as they probably were, I’m sure nobody in Metallica said, “In 25 years we’ll be playing this at the Grammy awards.”  Yet it’s all there; 95% of the very song that would be played at the 2014 Grammys, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang.

This is a great little treasure and I’m sure “one” day (stinky pun) I’ll add the 7″ and 12″ singles to my collection to get the other two live tracks.

5/5 stars ONE_0003

REVIEW: Anthrax – Live from Sonisphere Festival 2010 (picture disc EP)

Welcome back to the Week of the Singles 3! Each day this week we’ll be looking at rare singles and EPs.

MONDAY: OZZY OSBOURNE – Ultimate Live Ozzy (1986 CBS picture 12″ record)
TUESDAY: BON JOVI – Livin’ On A Prayer (double 12″ EP)

ANTHRAX – Live from Sonisphere Festival 2010 (picture disc EP, Record Store Day exclusive)

I don’t get these Record Store Day exclusives, honestly.  I saw this thing for a reasonable price on Amazon and bought it without even knowing it was some kind of “exclusive”.  I sure didn’t buy it at a record store, but I won’t turn this into a Record Store Day rant.

This is a very nice looking picture disc. I wouldn’t recommend playing it too often, you know how quickly a picture disc can wear out. If you’re lucky enough to own the Big Four Live CD box set, you won’t need to play this.   I don’t have that very limited set, but these two Anthrax performances make me want it! “Medusa”, an oldie from the Anthrax days of yore (Spreading the Disease), is just as powerful as ever.  Belladonna’s voice has changed, but not enough to matter.  The song has been tuned down, but that really only makes it heavier.

“Only”, the first single from the John Bush era of the band, is on the other side.  This is one of the best Anthrax songs ever, in my opinion.  Joey certainly turns a more than able performance.  He sounds at home, and I quite enjoy his version, especially when he starts shrieking before the guitar solo.

I loved this single, and I was surprised how awesome Joey sounded. I really lost track of Anthrax after the We’ve Come For You All period and haven’t been too excited about all the rotating singers since then. However since Joey’s been back (for hopefully the rest of the band’s life) I’ve been a lot more interested, and that’s why I bought this. I didn’t know how good he would sound on the Bush-era stuff, and “Medusa” smokes with furious intensity too.

Good single, I’d really like that box set.

4/5 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.

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.