Holy Diver Live (2 CDs)
posted on 4/2006 By:
This week of reviews has turned into quite the stroll down memory lane, as after covering the new Judas Priest retrospective, I get the chance to revisit another piece of metal that I devoured during my formative years--Holy Diver, an undisputed classic. This album and I go way back. It was 1983, so I would have been twelve years old, and I was sitting in my neighbor’s bedroom. We’d heard "Rainbow in the Dark" on the radio the day before, and we were hooked--totally caught up in the heaviness and unshakable keyboard melody. We called the local rock station and requested the song, and then sat in front of the radio for what seemed like hours, hoping the drive time asshat would actually play the song. Get this–we had my tape recorder ready to hold in front of the radio speaker, to record our new favorite song as soon as it came on. We didn’t even have a radio with a built in tape deck. If they were common then, our little asses didn’t have one yet. Of course, the DJ never even played the damn thing. I’d never heard of Ronnie James Dio, and knew nothing of Black Sabbath at the time, much less Rainbow. But I was still hooked. And when I found enough cash to pick up the tape, Holy Diver became one of the albums that helped a prepubescent headbanger to be make the transition from hard rock like Kiss, Van Halen, and AC/DC, to traditional metal. Excuse the effusive nostalgia, but this yarn does have a point. Not only is Holy Diver a traditional metal classic, but Ronnie James Dio has been doing this a looooooong time. Things changed–the availability of music and its formats have certainly changed. Musical trends have come, gone, and come again. And fans have grown from quite young to well into adulthood. Through it all, Dio has been Dio. For close to four decades he’s been doing his thing. The essentialness of his output over the last twenty years (since 1984's Last in Line) is debatable–there have been good times as well as lean ones. But Dio’s contribution to metal is beyond question. Holy Diver Live celebrates some of those contributions, not only his solo debut but also songs from its follow up, as well as selections from RJD’s days in Rainbow and Sabbath.
The other reason Dio’s longevity is such a relevant talking point is that unfortunately, the years are catching up to him. This is less of a criticism as it is an observation. After all, the guy is somewhere in the ballpark of 60 years old, and is singing material two to three decades old. And doing it live. His voice sounds as good as can be expected–it’s just a little disarming because the guy has always had such a massive voice. Holy Diver Live finds him working a lot harder, and still struggling to keep up at times. His voice does warm up as the night wears on, though. The show starts with a recording of RJD reading a brief intro made up of sentences made from the titles of the songs on Holy Diver. Vintage Dio. The band then kicks into the uptempo intro to "Stand up and Shout". The band, consisting of Doug Aldrich (guitar), Rudy Sarzo (bass), Simon Wright (drums), and Scott Warren (keyboard) delivers the material with punch, and despite his diminished capacity, there can certainly be no complaints about RJD’s work rate. He’s certainly putting forth the effort you’d expect. The band plays the entire album front to back, and only deviates from the original versions in order to stretch things out a bit for the live setting. Simon Wright gives a lengthy drum solo on "Gypsy", and as the band returns a symphonic interlude is added. The jury’s still out on that part of the arrangement—it’s interesting as a variation, but doesn’t blend in a completely convincing way. During album closer "Shame on the Night", Aldrich plays an extended guitar solo and after a brief jam, the band revisits the song and reprises "Holy Diver". This extends the track to sixteen minutes and the original album’s playlist to an hour. Hearing Holy Diver played live emphasizes how well the album is constructed, as the tempos, melodies and power are well balanced and keep the album flowing well and the intensity high.
The second disc also focuses on Ronnie James Dio’s classic period, both as a solo artist and with Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Two songs from Last in Line make an appearance, in “One Night in the City” and the obligatory show closer “We Rock”. Highlights from the Rainbow years include standards “Long Live Rock & Roll” and “Man on the Silver Mountain”, but fans are also treated to renditions of “Tarot Woman” and “Gates of Babylon”. Finally, two songs from the Black Sabbath days, the godly “Sign of the Southern Cross” and “Heaven and Hell”, round out the set. As the show proceeds, Dio’s voice gains in strength, and oddly enough, the material on the second disc has a bit more intensity than the stuff from disc one. Holy Diver was unquestionably the star of the show, and its performance is much of what makes the offering intriguing, but hey, the second disc doesn’t exactly dip in quality. The whole show is made up of nothing but essential material. It’s unfortunate that RJD’s vocal constraints keep this from being a no brainer of a recommendation. It’s still the voice you know, but just a little less of it. It would be fantastic to see a performance of Holy Diver, and releasing it on album and DVD sounds like a great idea. It just seems that, all things considered, this show is something that most fans would love to experience once as opposed to continuing to return to the performance. Whether that makes the collection worth the sticker price is debatable. Casual fans should approach with caution. Dio completists, on the other hand, will be in heaven. But the other group that might enjoy Holy Diver Live is made up of fans that loved this album, along with other classic Dio, but haven’t spent much time with it over the last decade or so. Flaws aside, this album is a reminder of what a powerhouse Holy Diver is, and serves as a new way to experience an album heard hundreds of times before.
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