Various Artists/Ronnie James Dio | This Is Your Life (Rhino)

cd dioIt is time for you to get a fresh dose of Dio pumping through your blood.

 

The entirety of the artistic contribution to this disc is a fittingly humble and carefully crafted tribute to the powerful voice and music of Ronnie James Dio, and to the insight that we all find in his words.

Back in 1984, right after The Last in Line tour had just rumbled through the Lou, I was on an adventure through a remote part of the Yucatan with my dad. I was standing on top of the pyramid of Uxmal watching a lightning storm roll over the jungle toward us, hearing the words to “Rainbow in the Dark” ringing in my head (while wearing my concert t-shirt, of course!). Right then, there was a huge clap of thunder and then all of sudden there was a local kid standing next to me, shouting, “Dio! Dio rocks, man!” and pointing at my shirt. At that moment, I could almost feel the universal power of Dio’s voice reaching across the sky and transcending distance to remote parts of the world, empirical to the Earth as though something that was always meant to be.

At first, I was conflicted about some of the tracks in this tribute. What I wanted to hear was the music played right, and recorded right—you know, the way you’re used to hearing Dio, with deliberate and calculated heaviness, the clarity and intensity in his voice telling us of mysteries that he has seen revealed. In any such case, I dare say that I would demand that any tribute be done with respect and attention to detail to the original recordings. But, on the other hand, there is a fascination to hear the influence that Dio has had on other musicians, and where they could take the direction of his music from here.

After a closer listen, it turns out that this disc has a fulfilling representation from both sides of the sword. There are tunes spanning Dio’s entire career, some of them are done by established bands working as a whole, and others recorded by supergroups compiled from a league of veteran musicians who have worked with or known Dio throughout the years.

The disc appropriately kicks in with “Neon Knights,” just the way you would expect if you threw on Heaven and Hell’ Anthrax knocks this one out of the park and very much holds true to the spirit of the song and tonal aesthetics of the vocals and instrumentation. I also dig that Scott Ian’s guitar solo reflects the nuances and inflections of Tony Iommi’s phrasing, but then expands just a bit into his own styling at the tail end of the solo section.

Next up is Jack Black and Tenacious D laying down a very unique and creative version of “The Last in Line,” complete with a solo being ripped out on a recorder flute and a three part harmony. It’s a quirky tune, but Black really belts out some feeling. As far as I am concerned, he has every right to stand up and be counted with this unbelievable collection of bad-ass musicians, as he has done so much to spread the awareness of Dio to a whole new generation.

Adrenaline Mob puts forward a solid rocking version of “Mob Rules.” Leading the charge is legendary drummer Mike Portnoy, formerly of Dream Theater and currently in the top-notch group The Winery Dogs with Billy Sheehan and Ritchie Kotzen. They took a few more liberties with the tone of the individual instrument tracks, using their established sounds, but still kept very true to the feeling of the original Sabbath version.

“Rainbow in the Dark” makes an intentional sidestep away from trying to replicate the original. First of all, the keyboard part is played on the guitar, and is actually a pretty cool fretboard fingering arrangement for it. In addition, they are in a drop D tuning and also tuned down a half step or two. Just by those things alone, the song is going to be different than the original, so at that point they are free to lay out their own interpretation.

My favorite track of the disc is “Straight through the Heart” as performed by Halestrom. Lizzy Hale convincingly owns the vocal in this version, and the sound of the recording captures the spaces in between that magnify the power of sound by contrast.

I recently rediscovered how absolutely cool Rainbow is. Those songs still stand the test of time and capture a direction in rock ’n’ roll that should not be forgotten. It is a real privilege to hear the Scorpions perform this version of “Temple of the King.” This is so well done on so many levels—you just have to hear these seasoned pros putting their hearts into something collectively meaningful. This song has been a part of many pivotal moments in my life and I am thankful that it is a part of this celebration.

“Holy Diver” by Killswitch Engage is a complete travesty; they are guilty of heresy. This song is unlistenable for me. He goes into that new-metal barking crap, which to me is an insult to everything that Dio stands for. That style of singing is devoid of subtlety and incapable of communicating meaning or emotion, beyond that of some kind of maniacal, undirected hatred. It needs to end and become a part of the past—seriously, leave that barking shit at the Klan rally.

At the intro to “Catch the Rainbow” on this tribute with Glenn Hughes and Rudy Sarzo, they play just little bit of the beginning guitar phrase from the song “As Long as It’s Not About Love,” which is a brilliantly powerful song on Magica that should not be overlooked if you don’t already know it. The song “I” is another one that has an incredible production value and is an overall amazing recording. I went to Berklee College of Music with this drummer, Brian Tichy, and let me tell you he has always been a bad-ass.

“Man on the Silver Mountain” has the incomparable Rob Halford on vocals and the mega lineup of Dio’s original drummer, Vinnie Appice, Jeff Pilson on bass, Scott Warren on keys, and Doug Aldrich ripping the guitar. This is a very respectful version, and Halford restrains from any trademark screams that were not typically characteristic to Dio’s style. (I had a chance to talk with Aldrich at a Michael Schenker show over at Pop’s a couple years back. He was in town to play with Whitesnake the next night, and they had set the schedule so they all could catch this show. In our conversation, Aldrich mentioned how important it is to go out and see our heroes whenever we can. I asked him about his work on the Dio album Killing the Dragon (2002), and he said that working with someone who is such a master of his craft taught him just as much about life as a whole—plus, on top of it, Dio was “the nicest guy in the world.”)

Metallica roars in with a well-arranged medley of Rainbow tunes, including a couple of my favorites that really seem to suit them well, such as “Stargazer” and “Kill the King.” This is another example of intent to show the influence of Dio on a band. The musical style we all have come to recognize as being uniquely Metallica clearly shines through in the tone and pace of the tune, which to me also succinctly points out the character of the original Rainbow recordings.

This tribute closes out with some words from the man himself, with a newly arranged and remastered ballad “This Is Your Life,” complete with piano and orchestrated strings. It is a haunting voice, reminding us all that now is the time to make the most of the life we have.

At the end of it all, this magnificently well-thought-out homage clearly leaves one revelation: There is no replacement for Dio, but that it is for us to lift up his music and carry the torch forward for the future to know. After hearing these very cool interpretations, I guarantee you will want to pull out the original recordings (or, better yet, download new copies if you no longer have a cassette or record player) and see how loud your speakers can go. It will feel soooo good…I’m telling you, it is time for you to get a fresh dose of Dio pumping through your blood.

If, however, you wish there was a way to get some new Dio that you haven’t heard on the radio too much, then I seriously recommend you pick up a copy of the disc Magica (2000). Tony D wrote some really amazing riffs and guitar hooks for that themed concept album, in which every song tells the chapter of a story.

This Is Your Life lets you hear the far-reaching effect Dio’s music has had on our world. For the most part, you will dig hearing all of the metal greats we grew up with, putting forth their best work to honor the legacy of the power, insight, and inspiration Dio has blessed us, and left us with. | Derek Lauer

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