Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Man on Metal Mountain—Ronnie James Dio: This is Your Life

The dark poet of heavy metal, Ronnie James Dio, has been departed from those of us in the rock ‘n’ roll community for almost four years, having died in May 2010. Though a man of slight stature, he left behind a towering musical legacy to which all sectors of the metal brotherhood continue to pay homage. In that spirit, titans of the genre united to record cover versions of some of Dio’s greatest work from the Rainbow, Black Sabbath and Dio—his eponymously named group—eras on “Ronnie James Dio: This is Your Life,” with all proceeds dedicated to the Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. The record has been out since early April 2014 and has charted at No. 20 on the Billboard Top 200 list.

But for all his success as a member of supergroups along with the likes of Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow and Tony Iommi in Black Sabbath and phenomenal solo work, Dio’s music was about beautiful, surrealistic lyrics evoking paradoxical imagery of “shadows shining ever-bright” and “rainbows in the dark.”

But more than anything else, Dio wrote anthems that made people jump out of their seats and wave the two-fingered, so-called “devil’s horns” salute. Most of the cuts on this tribute to Dio are of the full-throttle anthem variety.

To prove the point, Anthrax comes out all guns blazing on “Neon Knights” to start. Just like the original version from Black Sabbath’s first collaboration with Dio on 1980’s “Heaven and Hell,” Anthrax sounds like a B-52 bomber with a full payload carpet-bombing the Viet Cong with napalm on the Mekong delta. Joe Belladonna channels the vocals of Dio spot on and Scot Ian shreds on the Iommi riff.

What may be the best track on the album is turned in by Adrenaline Mob covering, naturally “Mob Rules” from the Black Sabbath album of the same name. Anchored by Mike Portnoy, the drummer of Dream Theater fame, the Adrenaline Mob thunders ahead with this fist pumper. There’s nothing quite like cruising down the freeway with the moonroof open and this track singing your eardrums with the volume at 11! The full visual power of Dio’s lyrics comes to the fore as the song opens with “Close the city and tell the people that something's coming to call | Death and darkness are rushing forward to take a bite from the wall, oh.” Adrenaline Mob lives up to its name upping the pace and the volume in salute to Dio.

Garnering a lot of attention and a big piece of the room on this disc is Metallica covering not one but four Dio songs from the Rainbow era in a medley aptly called “Ronnie Rising Medley,” melding the original tunes “A Light in the Black,” “Tarot Woman,” “Stargazer” and “Kill the King.” Metallica hasn’t sounded this good in years, with James Hetfield back to his old surly self from the “Ride the Lightning” and “Master of Puppets” period, barking out lyrics like a drill sergeant. Kirk Hammett scintillates on lead guitar as always. And Lars Ulrich keeps it all very martial sounding on the kit. Hetfield has been quoted as saying the group couldn’t settle on one song and that jamming on all four was something they’ve done in the past, so it came together very quickly. A definite highlight for any dyed-in-the-wool Metallicat!

Other nice performances are turned in by Scorpions on “The Temple of the King” and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford on “Man on the Silver Mountain.” Both tap the spiritual energy of Dio with understated performances.

Overall, an excellent album. And an excellent cause. Well worth the price of admission. “This is Your Life” is available at Amazon and any record stores remaining near you!

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener

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