Vinny Appice

REVIEW: Jim Crean – The London Fog (2019)

JIM CREAN – The London Fog (2019 Visionary Noise)

Vocalist extraordinaire Jim Crean is back with two new solo albums.  Not only is there a 16 track covers album called Gotcha Covered, but also The London Fog, a new original CD.  As usual, Crean boasts a killer hitlist of special guests, including Carmine & Vinny Appice, Mike Tramp, Rudy Sarzo, Chris Holmes, Steph Honde and plenty more.  Buckle up — it’s a heavy duty trip.

The London Fog goes wide open from the start, with the two new songs Crean released on last year’s Greatest Hits:  the excellent “Scream Taker” (tribute to Ronnie James Dio) and the riffy “Conflicted”.  “Scream Taker” features Dio alumni Vinny Appice and Rudy Sarzo.  These tracks follow the traditional blueprints of classic 80s metal, particularly “Conflicted”.  (The dexterous bassist that I initially mistook for Billy Sheehan is actually A.D. Zimmer.)

Want more riffs?  Then get “Broken”!  There’s a great chorus here: Melody and power, with some tasty licks from Steph Honde.  “Aphrodisiac” takes things to a more nocturnal place, but more menacing.  Still, there’s always room for some dirty rock, and that would be “Lady Beware”.  If Dokken’s classic lineup released another song today, it would probably sound a lot like “Lady Beware”.  This is the kind of rock we all miss, and have a hard time finding today.

Jim Crean is equally at home on rockers and ballads.  “Let It Go” (with Honde on piano and keyboards) has an epic quality for a ballad.  It might be a bit Scorpions, Whitesnake (circa 1987) or Guns N’ Roses…the comparisons are up to the listener.  The keyboard solo is a cool touch.  Then heavy sounds circulate on “Loaded” (more Zimmer on bass), but yet Crean maintains a knack for melody.

A familiar voice welcomes you on “Candle”, a Mike Tramp (Freaks of Nature) cover featuring Tramp in a duet.  The song is new to these ears, and I like how the parts shift and change moods.  A riff for the ages follows, on an original track called “1981”.  Again I’m reminded of Dokken, the classic era.  It’s hard to recapture a time period with such clarity, but Jim Crean has a talent for writing that way.  Some of his originals could very well be from another time.  (Drummer Colleen Mastrocovo gives “1981” a serious kick.)

Another obscure cover:  Robin Zander’s 1993 solo track “Time Will Let You Know”, a classy ballad from an underrated album.  Jim doesn’t try to sound like Robin Zander, but does it justice.  Then it’s Rod Stewart’s dance classic “Passion”.  Very few singers have the right rasp to do Rod Stewart justice, but Jim Crean is one of them.  That’s the always slick Tony Franklin on bass.  And get this!  Franklin’s Blue Murder bandmate Carmine Appice, the same guy who played on the the original “Passion”, also plays on this cover.  He approaches both versions very differently.  Rod’s version is slick dance rock, and this is more like metal that you can dance to.  Same song; familiar but a completely different arrangement.  If John Sykes ever played with Rod Stewart, maybe this is what they could have sounded like.

“Passion” could have closed the album and you’d be completely satisfied, but there’s more.  A funky “Fool” sounds like Aerosmith, and who’s that on guitar?  Ray Tabano, the original Aerosmith guitarist before Brad Whitford joined the band!  This song is more Aerosmith than anything that band has recorded since 1993!  Then it’s another lesser-known cover and duet:  Angel’s “Don’t Take Your Love” featuring original Angel singer Frank DiMino.  Great melodic rock songs are always welcome, and this one is truly great.

Finally comes the metallic closer “Tears” featuring Chris Holmes (W.A.S.P.).  The contrast between the heavy riffs and Jim’s melodic vocals is what makes this style work so well for him.  The riff has a W.A.S.P. vibe, but Crean takes it in a totally different direction.

Another fine album from Jim Crean and friends.  Fans of hard rock “the way they used to make it” will thoroughly enjoy.

4.5/5 stars

Check back for a look at Gotcha Covered, coming soon.

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REVIEW: Jim Crean – Greatest Hits (2018)

In a surprising turn of events, Jim Crean has been named the new singer for Vinnie Vincent! So it is a perfect time to review Jim Crean’s Greatest Hits.

JIM CREAN – Greatest Hits (2018 Visionary Noise)

Buffalo’s Jim Crean has four solo albums under his belt.   That’s a good minimum before you release a greatest hits.  There is enough material here for a solid listen, including two new songs from Crean’s forthcoming fifth album.

Several of the best tracks are hard rockers from Crean’s Insatiable. “Touch” remains a standout, a great song any rock songwriter would be envious of.  Not to mention Crean’s power-pipes lay waste to the chorus.  Check out the metal riffing on “Follow Your Heart”, too.  These taffy-sweet tracks claw into your cranium via your ear canal.  All you can do is surrender to it.

Crean’s also capable of standout ballads.  “Make It” and “Can’t Find My Way” (a duet with Mike Tramp) are fantastic.  Then he goes vintage Aerosmith on “She Goes Down”, a song that could have fit nicely on an album like Toys in the Attic.

There are a handful of covers on the 16 track album, and interesting choices too.  “Caught in the Middle” is, of course, Dio, performed with Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice.  “Over the Edge” is early 90s L.A. Guns, an excellent groove.  Crean also covered fellow Buffalo band the Goo Goo Dolls with the acoustic “Cuz You’re Gone”, one of the Goo’s finest ballads.

What about the new songs?  “Scream Taker” sounds like a Ronnie Dio tribute, with the lyrics cut and pasted from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio songs.  “Scream Taker” indicates that Crean has gone heavier on his fifth record.  The other new song, “Conflicted” has a strong traditional metal riffy vibe.  (Is that Billy Sheehan on bass?)  Both these new songs hint at a great album to come.  Guitarist Steph Honde, who plays on both new songs says that while the new Crean album will be a bit heavier, there will also be some great ballads.

Don’t have any Jim Crean yet?  Pick up his Greatest Hits to catch up.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Appice – Sinister (2017)

APPICE – Sinister (2017 Steamhammer)

Vanilla Fudge, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, Dio, Cactus, Blue Murder, King Kobra…those are just a handful of the bands who have boasted an Appice in their ranks. Drumming brothers Carmine and Vinny have been recognised by fans and critics alike for their rhythms and associations with amazing bands. Now they step out on their own, with a duo album called Sinister.

The musical directions are all alloys of good ol’ heavy metal.  “Sabbath gave us metal!” goes one line (more on that later).  You know what you’re getting.  There’s even a Sabbath medley called “Sabbath Mash”.  Joining the Appice brothers are familiar names such as: Craig Goldy (Dio), Tony Franklin (Blue Murder), Robin McAuley (MSG), Paul Shortino (Ruff Cutt), Joel Hoekstra (Whitesnake), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N’ Roses) and Jim Crean (who regularly plays live with the brothers).

Many tracks have both drummers, with Vinny panned to the left and Carmine to the right.  It’s not immediately obvious, but if you listen, the drums sound huge!  Double drummers are not something we’re used to hearing, so pay attention and listen to the individuals and what they’re doing.  You won’t be bored, even if you’re not a drummer.

Everything rocks — no ballads.   You’ll find a sludgy Sabbath vibe on some tracks such as “Killing Floor” (lead vocals by Chas West).  Jim Crean kicks ass on “Danger” which comes from the brisk Dio end of the spectrum.  Another Crean song, “In the Night” is the most immediately memorable.  It takes a few listens to absorb Sinister.  Headphones may help, but give it a chance because it’s not an immediate listen.  Other tracks are familiar.  Blue Murder’s “Riot”, with Robin McAuley singing, is a damn fine heavy explosive.

What about drum instrumentals?  Well, of course!  You would feel ripped off if the two brothers didn’t go head to head.  “Drum Wars” is exactly what you’re looking for.  What Vinny and Carmine have done is create drum parts that compliment each other and work in unison, creating a fuller sound.  You’ll also get a kick out of “Brothers in Drums”, which tells the story of the Appice brothers.  “Is that my brother, on TV?  That’s what I wanna be!”

The album goes a little sentimental on “Monsters and Heroes”, heavy as hell, but the lyrics may bring a tear to your eye.  “Sing a song, singer, you’re the man on the mountain…”  Yes, it’s a tribute to Ronnie James Dio, with lyrics by Shortino, who worked with Dio back in 1985 on Hear N’ Aid.  Sabbath gave us metal indeed, but “Monsters and Heroes” captures a little bit of why we miss Dio so much.

Not every song brilliant, and 13 is a large number of tracks, but Sinister grows as you listen.  (Stay tuned to the end!) It’s a grower thanks in no small part to some great performances by an assortment of rock n’ roll veterans.  Any fan of heavy metal will find something to enjoy with Appice.  Serious Sabbath or Dio fans should consider adding it to their collections, as an extension of the discographies.  Bonus:  there’s a poster inside!

3.5/5 stars

 

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: Jim Crean – Insatiable (2016)

NEW RELEASE

JIM CREAN – Insatiable (2016 Rocker Records)

If you’re not familiar with Jim Crean, that’s OK.  You probably know of his famous friends.  Crean sings lead with the Appice Brothers (Carmine and Vinny) for their Drum Wars live shows.   Both brothers appear on his solo CD, Insatiable, along with other stars such as Phil Lewis (LA Guns), Mike Tramp (White Lion), Tony Franklin (The Firm/Blue Murder), Phil Naro and more.  But it doesn’t matter how many guests you fill your album with if you don’t have the tunes.  Crean has not only the tunes, but also the voice.

In a way the weirdest track is the intro by Don Jamieson from That Metal Show.  He pronounces “Appice” differently for each brother.  Carmine is “Appeece” and Vinny is “Appicee”.  Very odd.  The title track “Insatiable” features Vinny, but the song does not address the pronunciation controversy!  If you’re a fan of 80’s sunset strip rock, then “Insatiable” is for you, like Faster Pussycat but fed a steady diet of heavy metal.  Crean has range and rasp, and the result is the kind of rock that people miss today.

Vinny might be best known for his stint in Dio and Black Sabbath with Ronnie James.  With the late Jimmy Bain on bass, Appice and Crean re-created Dio’s “Caught in the Middle”.  Having original players and writers on it lends it a credibility that most covers can’t match.  Best of all, Crean can pull it off!  Singing Dio is, to put it mildly, not easy.  Crean pulls it off with confidence and ability, just as he does with his own original tune “Touch”.  Not to exaggerate, but “Touch” has to be one of the best songs to come out in 2016:  killer mid-paced rock, besides the riffs and that voice!  Another fine cover, L.A. Guns’ “Over the Edge” is performed with assistance from Philip Lewis.  A more obscure choice from 1991’s Hollywood Vampires, it’s a powerful slow rock track with a Zeppelin-y groove.  Guitarist Steve Major also needs to be singled out for a fine performance on this one (and all the tracks).

The most star-studded song is the lead single, “Can’t Find My Way”, a Mike Tramp cover.  Mike sings on it, as does Phil Naro, with Tony Franklin on bass and Carmine on drums.  (Tony and Carmine make it 2/3rds of the original Blue Murder, minus only John Sykes.)  This ballad is a bit slow, a bit long, but kicks in for the chorus. I actually prefer Jim’s original material. “Follow Your Heart” is one such original, this one featuring ex-Dio guitarist Rowan Robertson. It has a distinct Dio-ish vibe, aided and abetted by Vinny’s incomparable drum sound. The final three originals (“Shut Your Mouth”, “Turn it Around”, and “Miss Me”) are all very strong hard rock songs. Crean wrote all his originals himself. What a talent. Such a voice, with sharp songwriting chops. This guy has more talent in his pinky than CC Deville has in his entire body.

Two bonus tracks close it out, both covers: Mr. Big’s rockin’ “The Whole World’s Gonna Know”, and “Magic Touch” by Kiss. Sharp fans will recall that Crean contributed “Magic Touch” to Mitch Lafon’s Kiss tribute CD, A World With Heroes.  If you missed that now sold-out CD, you can at least get Jim’s version of the song here.  “Magic Touch” is, of course, great.  It always was, but now here’s a chance to hear it without the disco (Kissco?) trappings.  As for “The Whole World’s Gonna Know”, Jim’s version may surpass the original.

Added Can-Con bonus:  Much of the album was recorded in Toronto, just a stone’s throw away from Jim’s base in Buffalo, New York.

Added extra bonus:  My copy included a DVD with the “Can’t Find My Way” music video.

If you like hard rock with integrity the way they used to make it, then this album is for you.  If you buy one new release this week, make it Jim Crean’s Insatiable.

5/5 stars

 

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!

DIO ANGRY MACHINES_0004

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

DIO ANGRY MACHINES_0003

REVIEW: Dio – Intermission (1986 EP)

IMG_20150129_173910DIO – Intermission (1986 Warner EP)

Intermission was Dio’s live EP, bridging the gap between Sacred Heart and Dream Evil. At the time it came out, Dio was very busy with the Hear N’ Aid project as well as replacing Vivian Campbell on guitar. Maybe that’s why he opted for just a Dio EP to tide fans over.  For a long time this unavailable on CD; it has recently been reissued in its completion as bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of Sacred Heart.  Good news, I’m sure, for those fans without the equipment to play vinyl.

The band was in a transitional period.  They had recorded the five live tracks with Vivian, but replaced him with Craig Goldy in the middle of the tour.  For years, fans were wondering who played on Intermission.  Goldy’s picture is on the back, but the solos are clearly Vivian.  There were no credits either, but today we know that Vivian is indeed the guitar player on the live tracks.  And so is Craig!  They overdubbed Goldy over Campbell on the live rhythm guitar parts!  Why he decided to do this, aside from spite, I have no idea, but I strongly dislike tampering with live recordings. (Yes, that makes me a hypocrite since I rated Kiss Alive! a 6/5!)

Goldy plays all guitars on the soul newbie, “Time To Burn”.  This new studio cut was a really excellent one; a mid-tempo burner (no pun intended).  He co-wrote it, probably contributing that cool riff.  The song has melody to spare and is definitely a diamond among Dio’s early solo material. It sounds similar to the Sacred Heart era, but with a higher level of songwriting quality.

As far as I’m concerned, they may call it an EP, but this is essentially an album, clocking in at 32 minutes.  That makes it slightly longer than Van Halen’s Diver Down.   It may only have six tracks, but one is a 10 minute medley of Dio and Rainbow classics.  “Man on the Silver Mountain” sounds incredible; Ronnie was singing powerfully on this tour, and despite the tampering the band does sound great.

The Dio songs sampled here include obvious choices like “We Rock” and “Rainbow in the Dark”, but the two biggest hits (“Holy Diver” and “Last in Line”) are absent.  Diligent fans already had live versions of those two on the last Dio single B-sides. The more puzzling inclusion is “King of Rock and Roll” which was already released live on the last album!  Ultimately though I’m satisfied with the songs selected on this EP.  The vinyl used to be frequently played around these parts, though it has no been collecting dust since the reissue of the songs on the deluxe Sacred Heart.  It remains a great sounding mini-album, if you will!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live Evil (remastered 2 CD version)

NOTE:  This is basically a review of the Deluxe edition of Live Evil.  I own The Rules of Hell (2008) box set of Dio-era Sabbath, so I did not need to buy the later Deluxe of Live Evil.  The 2 CD edition inside The Rules of Hell is sonically the same.

BLACK SABBATH – Live Evil (1982 Warner, 2008 Rhino)

Live Evil: Not only a palindrome, but also the last gasp of the Dio/Appice/Iommi/Butler lineup of Black Sabbath.  Hard to believe that their first “official” live release was with Ronnie James Dio at the mic and not Ozzy Osbourne! This infamous live album was the last thing Sabbath did before Dio left (the first time) and it’s actually a lot better than people generally give it credit for.

Some folks may not enjoy that live, there’s only one guitar.  When Iommi takes a guitar solo, the gap is filled by bassist Geezer Butler and keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.  The audible keyboards in the middle of a heavy metal song like “Neon Nights” do take a little getting used to, admittedly.  In the end though, it’s part of the scenery.  Black Sabbath didn’t do much with live keyboards in the original Ozzy era, but they were a part of every Sabbath lineup since.  There was also apparently a lot of behind the scenes bitching about instrument levels and whatnot that supposedly lead to the disintegration of the band.  This remastered edition of the CD leaves me with few qualms about the sound.

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Back in the 80’s and 90’s, you used to see a lot of fan rivalry.  “Dio sucks!” or “Dio rules!”  Today we all have the perspective to know that you can have both Ozzy and Dio, like having your cake and eating it too.  Well, until Dio’s heartbreaking 2010 death, that is.  It is true most singers that Sabbath have had couldn’t do the Ozzy material convincingly. Ozzy sounded genuinely disturbed and terrified on “Black Sabbath”. (“What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me. Turn round quick and start to run. Find out I’m the chosen one…oh no, please God help me!”) Dio camps it up quite a bit, which is not my personal preference. The same goes for “War Pigs”.  I also find that Vinny Appice just can’t cop the vibe that Bill Ward got on the drums. Ward played it very subtle, almost tribal, and Vinny plays it straight ahead. But I’ve yet to hear any lineup that can do that song as well as the original album version, including the reunited (1997-2012) Sabbath with Ozzy and Bill.  (Appice also gets a drum solo on “War Pigs”; thunderous but not necessary.)

The set list for this album was pretty cool, including Mob Rules favourites “Voodoo” and an absolutely killer “Sign of the Southern Cross”. This version, melded with a long extended “Heaven and Hell”, is among the very best moments in Dio’s career. Basically, all the Dio-era material here is excellent, while the Ozzy-era stuff leaves you feeling just a little bit underwhelmed. Not to say they’re bad, they’re just…different.  Two completely different singers with their own personalities.  The fact is that Dio made it work live as best he could, and that’s commendable.

MVP:  The super slinky Geezer Butler.  The remastered edition allows us to hear with real clarity every massive note, and his bass is like a jolt of caffeine to the brain!

Since this is a 2CD set, all the between-song banter that was deleted on single disc versions has been restored. That’s important. Dio talks a lot between songs and that’s part of the album. Otherwise there is no bonus material. There are ample and interesting liner notes, and the front cover looks absolutely stunning. This is one of Sabbath’s all-time best covers (perhaps second only to their first album) and it definitely shines in this edition. (But don’t let that stop you from tracking down a vinyl copy so you can see it in its 12×12 glory!)

LIVE EVIL_0001

Shame that this was the last album of the original Dio era, but of course Dio and the band felt there needed to be additional chapters later on. And so there were. Live Evil remained a controversial album for a decade after its releasing, dividing fan and band opinions.  I asked two of my esteemed Sausagefest rock scholar friends for their opinion on it, to make sure we’ve covered all the bases. This is why they had to add:

Uncle Meat:  “As good as Dio was as a singer, I never really liked some of his takes on Ozzy Sabbath songs. He kinda over-sings them. It’s like he is bored with them and he appeases the singer in himself. Also the mix is pretty horrible as well. The truth is, the only great Sabbath live album isnt even a Sabbath album. Ozzy’s Speak of the Devil still sounds great today.”

Dr. Dave:  “I don’t love or hate it. I like it. The most interesting thing for me, besides Dio, is the Vinny Appice take on the whole thing. More of a groove, less of a swing than Bill Ward. Not saying better, just neatly different.”

Final note: The liner notes correct Dio’s name to Ronnie James Dio.  The original LP and CD had his name printed as simply “Ronnie Dio”, as a bit of a “fuck you” to the singer.  They do not, however, reinstate Vinny Appice as an “official” member, having his name under “special thanks”!

3.5/5 stars. The most historic of the Sabbath live albums.