Holy Diver Live
2006, Eagle Records
Dio, "Holy Diver Live"
This one is long, even by my standards, so I'll cut to the chase right up front - this double CD is a must have for Dio fans and is well worth investigating for trad metalheads. For those of you with time on your hands, here's the rest of review:
Okay, honesty is the best policy - so right up front, I have to tell you that Dio is the man behind me devoting most of my life and cash to heavy metal. It was Ronnie's work that caused me to identify myself as a "metalhead". Before I heard him, I just liked metal - after being exposed to The Voice, I lived it. So Ronnie James is beyond reproach in my book. I dig his work with Elf, worship his three Rainbow albums, sacrifice small woodland critters in deference anytime I hear the words "Heaven & Hell" or "Mob Rules" in combination, hail "Holy Diver" and "The Last in Line" and enjoy the rest of his solo career (including "Strange Highways" and especially "Angry Machines" - one of the most undeservedly hated albums in metal history - it's way fuckin' better than "Sacred Heart", you trad metalhead pansies). So what Iím saying is, Iím Dio's bitch. I cannot be objective about any of his releases, because after three decades of music that helped shape my life, I am... wellÖ his bitch. That sums it up quite nicely, really.
So all that aside, I will point out the negatives first. Ronnie is not in the finest form on this live set. His voice is road weary and husky and he cannot nail the highs and he does not try much of the time. Dio still roars like a cornered lion and emotes palpable venom, but he doesn't soar with the angels at all the prescribed times. Dude is over 60 years old, so I cut him a huge amount of slack on that end, as he still runs around on stages and sounds very fuckin' metal. Let me say that again - dude is over 60 and he still runs around on stages and sounds very fuckin' metal. How many of us will be able to say that if we get to be his age? If we can, we'll be able to thank Ronnie for setting the pace. Dio has always avoided telling his true age - I really wish he'd quit that and fess up. His age is a badge of honor, not a detriment. Dude is an inspiration to me in so many ways, and it's utterly awesome that he's still belting it out when most men of his years are playing golf, getting hip replacements or just plain dying. Horns up, bitches!
Oh yeah - the album - right. Well, sadly it features an extended drum solo by Simon Wright and a lengthy guitar wank by Doug Aldrich. Dio does need time offstage to catch his breath, so I reckon that stuff's unavoidable, but I still find it tedious. Wright is no virtuoso, so at the end of his solo the keys provide some classical music samples for him to pound along with, interesting to a point, I guess. Aldrich's chops are more impressive, but nothing spectacular by today's standards. It is cool when he plays a somber blues interlude and the crowd claps along as it conjures images of Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow days, but all too soon he dives back into the mind-numbing note crunching. Then the keys come in and it's back to a blues thang and then more histrionics. So yeah - it's really, really long - so smoke 'em if ya got 'em, dude cuz it's, like, the '70s all over again (which I guess is fitting for a nostalgia trip). The crowd isn't mixed too well - would've helped had we heard more of them. Ronnie's stage banter has never been engaging, but he also never makes an ass of himself as many singers do, so I reckon we hit par on that one. So that's the negatives.
The positives are: it's a new Dio album! Horns up, bitches! At this point, every release from him is a gift, and this one is a nice nostalgia trip to boot. Currently there's a trend for veteran acts to play a classic album in its entirety, so there's a gimmicky feeling attached to this record when it presents "Holy Diver" from start to finish. To appease critics of this phenomena, the second CD features some gems in "Tarot Woman" (woulda preferred "Stargazer", but this was an interesting pick and not as hard on Dio's voice), "Sign of the Southern Cross" (utter classic), "One Night In The City" and "Gates of Babylon" ('nother classic). To finish up, we have the usual dose of timeless anthems "Heaven & Hell" and then the encore of "Man On A Silver Mountain", a bit of (unlisted) "Catch the Rainbow", "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll" and "We Rock". So along with the renown "Holy Diver" album in its entirety, you get a slew of classics and a few nice surprises.
The sound is clean and doesn't appear to be too doctored with overdubs (not that it would be possible to detect that in this era of computers). Ronnie's voice is way up front, as it is on the studio discs, but bass is quite audible and the drums sound solid. Keys, when prominently featured as on "Rainbow in the Dark", are mixed too hot, but it's not a problem on most of the two discs (they sound damned good on the Rainbow cuts). Aldrich bounds off on his own when performing some solos, but he does stick to the classic notes long enough to maintain the feeling of the originals. The attractive booklet is a quad-fold, featuring an informative intro from rock critic Dave Ling and pictures of the band - notably lacking is Doug Aldrich. Not too surprising as it's rumored that Ronnie is pissed at him for leaving the band to play with David Coverdale - but if that's the reason, it's petty. Dude played on the record, his picture should be included.
Despite my misgivings about drum and guitar solos, I'm having a blast every time I put these discs in the player, and Iím sure you will too if you have any affinity for the vocal sorcerer and his merry band of musical mercenaries (Aldrich replaced the ailing Craig Goldy on guitar for this tour - who had replaced Aldrich after he left Dio to join Whitesnake - and it's got an even more complicated history than that, but this damn review is long enough as it is. Rudy Sarzo took on bass duties after Jeff Pilson bailed. Wright and keyboardist Scott Warren have been with Ronnie for ages now). So that's it all. Iím not a fan of live albums, but this one is alotta fun for an old dog like me - so say it with me now - Horns up, bitches!
Heaven & Hell