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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”