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Rising belongs to a rare category of albums because at once it contains elements that mark it as a clear product of its time, while simultaneously anticipating trends that wouldn’t appear full-fledged for another decade. For every second that points forward towards Maiden and Helloween there’s another moment that sounds like early Rush or Uriah Heep. That said, there are reasons Rising became one of the albums everyone mentions when talking about how metal evolved from a disparate collection of vaguely heavy rock bands to a single, definable scene.
First, there are no weak links in the group in terms of musical ability. Ronnie James Dio always did his best work when surrounded by his musical equals, whether the riffs were handled by Blackmore or Iommi. His albums with lesser guitarists tend to be more vocals-oriented and they don’t work as well. Thankfully that doesn’t happen here. Richie Blackmore knows how to craft exciting riffs, whether they be fast proto-power-metal (“Tarot Woman”) medium boogie-woogie (“Run with the Wolf”) or epic doom (“Stargazer”). Bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Cozy Powell can play along with Blackmore’s flying changes, and keyboardist Tony Carey is every bit Blackmore’s match in terms of soloing. When this version of Rainbow found their groove, they were the best band in the world.
Unfortunately they didn’t always find it. Three of the album’s six songs are essentially standard 70s hard rock tunes, and only one of them, “Run with the Wolf,” works. It’s swung a-la .38 Special and features a lot of bluesy stop-start riffing. The verse and chorus, where Dio just repeats the title phrase, are nothing special in terms of melodies or harmonies. Fortunately, the pre-chorus bit in between with the chromatic descent (“There’s a hole in the sky, etc.) presents enough of a style change that the song stays exciting.
That can’t be said about the other two “mainstream” songs on here, “Starstruck” and “Do You Close Your Eyes.” Memorable riffs are decidedly absent from both tracks, and worse, the lyrics are really lame. I understand that metal was different in 1976, but trying to seduce women with clever phrases and having to hide from a crazy groupie are about as unmetal as you can get, especially for a bona fide deity like Dio. Dio does what he wants, he doesn’t have to ask! At least “Run with the Wolf” was about werewolves. You can hear the lack of inspiration in his voice on the other two songs.
On the other hand, Rising’s longer songs, “Tarot Woman,” “Stargazer,” and “A Light in the Black,” are so ahead of their time they might as well be called power metal. “Tarot Woman” gallops through shifting keys, RJD wailing away about witches and dark forests and the night sky, while “Stargazer” and “A Light in the Black” match Tolkeinesque lyrics with an appropriately epic lengths and blazing solos from Blackmore and Carey. Here, Blackmore clearly understands that in melodic metal of this sort, there must be harmonic excitement to underscore the lyrical and vocal drama above, and he crafts riffs and progressions that lead inexorably onward, yet are always surprising. I could just listen to the transitions in and out of the “Where is your star?” section in “Stargazer” and be happy forever.
Overall, what you’ll remember after listening to Rising are the monster, building riffs and quite honestly one of the greatest vocal performances of any genre at any time in history. Yes, a couple of the songs suck, but they are easily skippable and don’t take up much space on the album. So, if you don’t mind a little melody in your metal or are looking for one of the great leaps forward in the history of music, this is an album to get now.