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The Gospel of Rhoads, Book Two - 90%

OlympicSharpshooter, December 9th, 2005

Coming off of the effusively praised debut record, Ozzy's solo band had a tough task ahead of them. How could Daisley top the unforgettable pop hooks of "Crazy Train" and "I Don't Know", how could Ozzy be more plaintive and appealing, and most importantly how could Randy ever possibly manage to dazzle us as he had so stunningly did time and time again on Blizzard? The band raced back into the studio after touring to strike again while the iron was hot, the Oz racking his depleted brain cells to find new ways to bring moat metal to the masses. Would the magic ever be recaptured?

Of course not. The band crashed and burned. Diary of a Madman will always be remembered as the record that destroyed Ozzy's career and shunted Randy Rhoads off of the path to legendary status, relegating the man to a mere footnote in the annals of metal while Piledriver and Nutz took hold of the failing flame and conquered... wait a minute. That isn't what happened at all. I just got hit so hard in the head by another patch of obliterato shred par excellence that I temporarily forgot who I was, how much this album rules, and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin (actually, I still have no idea what that means).

Diary of a Madman is like the juiced up older brother to Blizzard, always conscientiously holding open the door for its drooling happy semi-special needs sibling while simultaneously bludgeoning the ravages of time with an enormous cricket bat (you know, 'cos Ozzy's English). Everything that was good on the previous LP is back but bigger, more mature, heavier, catchier, faster, and Randy-er. There's genuine aggression and a bit of danger in the mix, that slack smile taking on a bit of an edge when looked upon from certain angles, a cunning light behind previously empty eyes.

Crack open the door to the madman's room will ya, survey the whirlwind of torn up papers and the flickering light of near-melted candles. You're looking for something very specific here. You're looking for something, anything really, that is bad about this album. Yeah, rifle through the drawers, look under the desk, overturn the bookshelf, hell, check to see if there's anything nasty in the conspicuously modern mini-fridge. I have looked and looked and time and time again all that I find is good. Pretty much the only reason that this album isn't scored even higher is that it doesn't quite have the same sense of discovery or quite as much historical significance as Blizzard (the only logical one, it also doesn't score higher because there are a fair number of albums I simply genuinely like better).

So, Mr. Vague, why are you tossing this thing into the Valhalla of Hard n' Heavy? Well, as I mentioned earlier this is not too terribly dissimilar to the preceding LP, meaning that the songs are accessible melodic metal with anthemic pre-hair tinges, with elements of 70's singer-songwriter pop, built around a framework of clean mid-tempo power chords, with a whole heapin' helpin' of classically-influenced scale-dancing baroque shred. Within this framework the band manage to craft an album that is quite cohesive and yet not afraid to stab out in a number of directions, a hallmark of Oz's career from the Sabbath years through to the much maligned Down to Earth.

However, its the word cohesive that reveals another reason this album is such a step over Blizzard: the experimentation doesn't feel out of place or unnatural, and the ballads feel less like goofy one-offs tossed out to appease foolish phantom record execs who think that the Oz might somehow someday appeal to an audience outside of adolescent boys and friendless sociopaths (the fact that they somehow ended up being correct in the matter doesn't make it any less silly). I mean, compare "Goodbye to Romance" to its closest kin on Diary, "Tonight". "Tonight" is, on every level, a sappy power ballad sans-power but it feels so much more professional and doesn't grate on the nerves nearly so much, while retaining the honesty and adding a wondrous guitar solo to the mix (GTR's was merely standard excellence). The soft-rock kiss of death horns and tinkling piano just add to the Beatlesesque perfection of the melodies, Randy somehow finding a way to make guitar squawks into a thing of astonishing prettiness. The unfortunate side effect of this, of course, is the number of hair band hacks who thought that stealing Randy’s licks but playing them in some sort of ugly Page-mutated blues box would not be totally out of place in a song about how much you adore some chick.

Compare also the somewhat stodgy, stilted "Mr. Crowley" which seemed hellbent on bringing a little seriousness to the table and instead became almost a parody of snobby pseudo-intellectual British metal (see: solo Bruce Dickinson), to the insane "oh shit the D&D convention hall has burst into flame and it was full of fireworks" strafing proto-power of opening barnstormer "Over the Mountain" and the nimble aquatic existentialist canoodler "S.A.T.O." (which is the kind of song that probably had Michael Schenker pouting into the eager breasts of a groupie with only the foggiest idea of who he was) and you’ll see the difference a year can make. Even "Flying High Again", the cheery beer-swilling ambassador to the audience has a certain strident quality to it, amps cranked louder and just delivered with an all-around breezy confidence that far outstrips even the craziest trains of the previous album.

All of the heavy tracks seem to be drinking from the lead-poisoned waters of "Suicide Solution" or, as "Suicide Solution" is a more straight-up Sabbath trip than most of Diary, the monstrous heavy riffing of "Revelation (Mother Earth)". Again though, and I hate to start sounding like a broken record, but the experience of touring together has really tightened up the loose bolts of the rather rock-scrabble bunch of bemulleted mutts they were previously and the album tracks are just much better. “Suicide Solution” stood out as a particularly solid track on Blizzard, but here it would actually have to counted as a bit of a runt in the face of the crushing “Believer” (that moving, shrieking solo is just about the prettiest piece of business ever committed to tape) and the grinding “Little Dolls”. Hell, even the arena rock anthem “You Can’t Kill Rock and Roll” makes a little room between Ozzy’s grandfatherly pronouncements to open up a skin-flaying riff/solo combination that is capable of crumbling bricks.

... and that’s another thing, where Ozzy was usually a victim on the last record, or at best a powerless observer here the man is wrapped in wizardly robes, commanding and fascinating with tales of shifting geography and transcending time with the powers of his mind. Oz the adventurer, Oz the rescuer, Oz the captain of his own destiny, the day he’d surrender the wheel to the she-wolf far away, the only portent being the title of “S.A.T.O.” which stands for Sharon Adrian Thelma Osbourne.

So, I figure I’ve run this review pretty much into the ground by now so I’ll use the mention of that scum-sucking mantis to address the remaster issue. The bass and drum tracks were completely re-recorded as with the previous LP due to a royalties dispute with bassist Bob Daisley, who co-wrote every song, and drummer Lee Kerslake, who was in Uriah Heep and therefore deserves lots of money. The production on this record is nearly identical to that of Blizzard, but here the wall of guitars sounds a bit thicker and therefore the new rhythm tracks don’t sound as off. The throbbing bass at the beginning of “Believer” at least sounds good. I do want to listen to the original rendition of the title track however, as the version on my copy seems a little too sparse during the intro sections and may be the victim of the butchering of Rhoads’ guitar mixes that marred Blizzard (basically some of the guitar tracks were apparently fiddled with in order to accommodate the new bass tracks).

From a moral perspective, this is one of the most reprehensible acts I’ve come across in metal, basically as low as you can go without actually committing a crime (Mayhem, Emperor, Faster Pussycat...*giggle*). This has the fingerprints of Sharon and her ruthless business practices all over it. The fact that she would conscience maiming the albums her husband is most loved for to avoid paying two musicians who were partially responsible for giving Ozzy a career says more about her character than she probably thinks, but its just another brick in the wall she’s built between the metal faithful and our patron saint. For shame. (pasted from Blizzard review since I said it pretty well there)

So, before I mercifully let this review go I’ll dedicate the last paragraph to Randy. When one listens to the title track to this album, one grasps fully what the metal community lost when Randy’s plane went down. From the “Supertzar”-style chants to the tubular bells to the lonely violin that flits in with schizoid grace for a few brief moments, “Diary of a Madman” represents an ornately cinematic quality that had been unseen in metal since Sabbath’s progressive years. The song is all about storytelling, and I feel that it is one of the templates for the metal operas of Savatage, and its influence is also reflected in the chanting choirs and gothic despair of Queensryche’s “Suite Sister Mary”. But when you’re listening, this doesn’t register because you’re so immersed in Randy’s blinding light, encapsulated in the stabbing violin-like jerking riff, the most significant marriage of classical composition and metal since Lord and Blackmore began to duel.

The metal world misses Randy, and if you don’t yet you will. Get this album.

Stand-Outs: “Over the Mountain”, “S.A.T.O.”, “Believer”