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Blackmore, Dio: Meet Cozy Powell - 89%

GasGiant, January 29th, 2005

The previous incarnation of Blackmore's Rainbow (as performed on the 1975 eponymous debut LP) consisted of the band Elf, minus guitarist (Ritchie Blackmore didnt need help). Clearly the most valuable of these Elves was the one and only Ronnie James Dio, because he's the one and only one left for the follow-up, 1976's Rising.

Having belted the instantly-classic single "Man on the Silver Mountain" on the first LP, Dio had clearly and unalterably been delivered as the Voice Of Rainbow. They stepped it up a notch for Rising -- a stronger band was assembled around Dio and the ever-pissy Mr. Blackmore: keyboardist Tony Carey (who had a minor solo hit in the '80s with "Why Me"), bassist Jimmy Bain (who remains Dio's bassist and songwriting partner to this day) and drummer Cozy Powell (known more for his glam records previous to this). This unit as a whole is solid beyond belief, largely due to the addition of Powell; his status as a legendary drummer begins right here. The most powerful thunder Blackmore had yet had to work with, and it complements his equally thunderous riffing perfectly.

As if to signify the change in direction, the first noise you hear on Rising is atmospheric synthesizer tweakage. Rising anticipates the future of heavy metal in quite a few ways, and while the synthesizer emerges as a legit metal instrument here, it doesn't serve to take the edge off the rock, as was its purpose throughout the '80s. This is no "The Final Countdown." It probably has more in common with Bitches' Brew-era Miles Davis, and is a prominent shift from the boogie-oriented ivory-ticklage prevalent on the previous LP.

Leadoff track "Tarot Woman" is not necessarily first-song material, but it's suitably chugging as you prepare yourself for side one's more substantial gifts: "Starstruck," lyrically an enraged dismissal of an overzealous groupie, is boogie with ten times more nutsack than the entirety of the "Blackmore's Rainbow" LP, thanks as always to monsieur Powell's punch. "Do You Close Your Eyes" is another prime example of this particular Rainbow's clairvoyance, as the dirty chords and four-on-the-floor approach anticipate sunset strip bar-chord raunch, thankfully devoid of similar posturing and/or visual aesthetics. Faster Pussycat would have neutered each other to sound this powerful.

The band stretches out for side two. You can look at that as a good or bad thing, depending on which half of the '70s you lean toward. Keeping some of the dinosaurish elements that would soon become boring enough to necessitate the rise of punk, yet sonically breathing fire. There are but two songs on side two, each of them 8+ minutes long, hence the dinosaur comparisons. Luckily, the dinosaur is more T-Rex than brontosaurus -- both songs are powerful enough to justify such gratuitousness.

Yes, both songs are sort of endless but they do indeed make the most of the jam time. "Stargazer" is caught somewhere in between "Kashmir" and "The Last in Line." Eastern in musical and lyrical theme, plodding in a sense but blasting, and masterfully helmed by Dio, his voice as majestic as it ever was. This man has never once emitted a squeal. Pure authority... But I have to say "A Light in the Black" is this record's shining jewel. A barrelling locomotive of a backing track, rivalling anything Deep Purple ever attempted. Blackmore, Powell, Carey and Dio all give their finest performances on this one (bassist Bain is the odd man out, production-wise); Carey in particluar makes an amazing case for his inclusion in such a band. It sounds like Keith Emerson getting the beating of his life. Blackmore is, of course, Blackmore, and appropriately both his rhythm pickage and solo squalling are full of fireworks and renaissance references. Powell is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Clearly influenced by Keith Moon but absolutely focused, his rhythm is powerful and his power is rhythmic. He would stick around for 1977's Long Live Rock 'n Roll -- together, the two LPs could constitute a Cozy Powell greatest hits record. Credit must be given to producer Martin Birch for getting such an incredible, full drum sound. And Dio. Dio. DIO! Here's the record where his lyrics start taking on more underworld-ish aspects, but he could sing the Denny's menu and it'd still get me all woozy. You know it's funny -- I have early Dio performances with him singing rockabilly/early rock 'n roll in 1962 and it's still a metal voice. The man found his calling when he joined Rainbow.

Although I give Long Live Rock 'n Roll a slight edge in the Rainbow sweepstakes (no 8-minute songs!), Rising is possessed of incredible power and thoroughly jaw-dropping playing. I am not one who favors a lot of twiddling and wanking in the general sense. I just dig superhumans, and Rising is a superhuman record. Go git it.