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One aspect of the live CD that is often ignored is it's function as a testimonial to the artist's ability to put on a great show. It is not a substitute for being at the concert, nor does it contain the visual aspect that a DVD would, but it is a piece of history preserved for the sake of those who could not view the tour in question. In the field of putting on a great show, Dio has never waivered, even as he enters his 60s he is still going on as strong as ever.
However, even the greatest of performances can be tainted if the play itself is not of the highest caliber, and here lies the flaw in this album. This is taken from the trough of Dio's fall from significance in the realm of music (before the resurgence that occurred with Magica's release), the Angry Machines tour. As such, we have two tracks from Dio's weakest release, accompanied by an overloaded collection of early work from the first 2 studio albums and Ronnie's past work with Rainbow.
Although all parties in question perform well, the lack of anything new or fresh on here is quite disappointing, though not unexpected. If you replaced the Angry Machines songs and "Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost" with songs from the Sacred Heart album, you would have the exact same set list that can be found on the Sacred Heart video. All of this screams out a single message, Dio is considered a has been and thus is limited to playing only the classics.
One advantage to this CD, however, is that because of Tracey G's radically different approach to soloing and his highly dark sound we get a radically different take on many of the older Dio material. "Holy Diver" and "Heaven and Hell" sound much more doom oriented than on any other live compilation containing these classics. "The Last in Line" has a more agitated sounding solo, probably because it's a difficult solo to pull off so Tracey retailored it to fit his own style.
Out of all the material covered on here, the material off the "Holy Diver" and "Last in Line" albums are the strongest. The two best songs on here are "Straight through the Heart" and "We Rock". By contrast, the Rainbow material and "Heaven and Hell" are performed quite poorly. "Man on the Silver Mountain" is played way too damn fast, and up until Doug Aldrich joined the band for the Killing the Dragon tour, they never lived up to the dramatic studio version of Heaven and Hell.
The newer stuff is a mixed bag, owing mainly to inconsistencies between the 2 albums that Tracey G had played on before hand. "Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Ghost" is a stand up performance, well worthy of being the opener of the show. "Double Monday" is not bad, it's one of the less disjointed and confused songs off of Angry Machines. "Hunter of the Heart" is an utter bore fest, owing completely to it just being a lousy song. You could have Tony Iommi play this song and it would still suck.
In conclusion, I can't really give this live album a strong recommendation because of the large number of alternatives out there, particularly in the video format. The release onto DVD of footage from the tours of the first two albums would be preferrable to this, although more recent fans of Dio should probably pick up "Evil or Divine" on DVD. This CD may find a home with core Dio fans who liked Tracey G's playing style, but it's recommended audience is not large by any standard.
As an icon of metal, ol' Ronnie has his reputation set in stone. Nothing he could do now can damage his reputation or the admiration that the metal masses bear him. That lion-like roar is part of the essential DNA of the genre, an everflowing stream connecting metal's murky past to its foggy future.
On the flipside, alas, the image most people have of Dio is just as impermeable and changes little over time. Most people could care less about the crushing heaviness of Lock Up the Wolves and Strange Highways, the pure finesse of Dream Evil and Magica. For them, the buck stopped at Sacred Heart, or for the more cynical perhaps The Last in Line. As evidenced by this live set, Dio is very much aware of this fact.
A pair of Sabbath numbers (nothing modern mind you), three Rainbow classics, and a Deep Purple cover round out a collection that highlights the seminal Holy Diver and Last in Line records, and not a lot else. Well, actually there are a number of songs from the generic Angry Machines record, but they're unremarkable to the point of being filler. In fact, it's possible that the only reason that the emphasis is so heavy on the old stuff is so that Vinnie Appice needn't bother learning any of the stuff done during his absence.
While I can't entirely snub an album with over twenty-five years of metal classics in its grubby wizard's fist, the majority of the performances seem to lack fire and inspiration. Tracy G's guitar solo is truly 'boring as fuck', and the man absolutely slaughters "The Last in Line". The song can't be that tough to play, but is it so hard to stick to the damn song and not attempt to fill every single space with guitar squeals? Let it breathe!
I have similar derision towards this version of "Man on the Silver Mountain". Dio (the band) has NEVER gotten this song right, as the band seems intent on upsetting the measured alchemy and pacing that made this song so perfect by turning into irritating half-thrash. Worse, the classic phrasing in this song is rendered obsolete and Ronnie is forced to sing in a way that just seems so,,, off. I've heard the Dio interpretation of the song many times, and I'm still unable to sing along with it. It just fails.
I've gotta say though, the more rip-snortin' mid-tempo juggernauts in the Dio catalogue really pull their considerable weight here. "Straight Through the Heart" is a behemoth, "Holy Diver" actually plays to G's love of the squeal, and "Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Ghost" features a positively gothic performance from the main man (goblin?). Hell, even "Double Monday" works passably. Unfortunately this features one of the weaker versions of "Heaven and Hell" on record. The song should be one of peaks and valleys, but this one just plods until Appice decides to give the group a nice boot in the rear to get thigs moving. You really start to miss songs like "Dream Evil" and "Lock Up the Wolves" because I am convinced they would just explode on this stage.
I tend to hate meandering jams on my live records, but "Misunderstood/Catch the Rainbow" is just perfect. Sensible guitar solo's, a really dreamy feel, and just a solid groove that gives Ronnie plenty of time to show off. Does he ever... this is easily one of his best performances to date, emphasizing the underused lighter side of his vocal repertoire, truly soulful and moving which, however effusive the praise laid at this or that front man's door, is truly a rare gift in the genre we all know and love.
In summation, Sabbath's Live Evil or Dio's recent DVD release would be much better representations of the band's live majesty. For the collector only.
Stand-Outs: “Straight Through the Heart”, “Misunderstood/Catch the Rainbow”, “Holy Diver”
Dio's first full-length live album in 15 years time and what a dissapointment it turned out to be.
First off there is the incredibely bad timing - this album is recorded on the tour for what must be the weakest Dio album in history ("Angry Machines") and with a guitarplayer whose style is largely incompatible with most of Dio's old material (not to mention the Rainbow and Sabbath tracks).
Then there is the setlist - which passes up on no less than 3 complete albums and mainly consists of "Holy Diver" and Rainbow / Sabbath tracks, totalling 10 tracks out of 15 (not counting intro and solo's) which imo opinion is a complete disgrace - i'm sure plenty of fans would have rather heard "Dream Evil", "Evil eyes", "Sacred Heart", "Lock up The Wolves" or "Born On The Sun" than for example a "Mistreated" or "Long Live Rock & Roll".
However it has to be said that the album isn't complete trash - the production is well above average, and like always, Dio's singing is top notch. It's just a shame that this album could have been so much more than what it actually turned out to be - as it stands it's just an above average record, only intended for die-hard fans of the band.