Friday, May 4, 2012

He has songs of wildebeests and angels, he has soared on the wings of a demon

Was on a Ronnie James Dio trip yesterday, which started with downloading the re-issued Rainbow Rising before progressing through several hours on youtube watching various RJD-related clips.

Rainbow Rising is unbelievably good.  It's also got to be, along with Judas Priest's majestic second album, the heaviest record released in 1976.  Between Ritchie Blackmore's towering guitars, Dio's charisma, Tony Carey's spacebound Moog, and the rhythm section's relentless battery, it's an early high water mark for a then-new thing called heavy metal. Listen closely, and you can hear a young Steve Harris taking notes as he headbangs in front of his hi-fi.

The re-issue includes three different mixes of the album - a NY mix, an LA mix, and a raw mix that drummer Cozy Powell recorded straight from the soundboard (that has existed as a bootleg for decades).  I'm partial to this last version; you can feel the electricity in the studio air that day.

Of course, the first thing that comes to mind when you mention Dio is "Holy Diver.".  With Dio's impassioned delivery and between-verse exclamations ("LOOK OUT!"), it's perfect for metal karaoke (and according to at least one aging punk rock icon, it's the ultimate post-breakup music).

When I saw Killswitch Engage at Mayhemfest in '09 (waiting for Slayer, natch), they closed with a "Holy Diver" cover.  While there's a lot that's just plain off in their version (BOOOO breakdown in chorus!) I think any metal lifer would have his heart warmed by seeing thousands of mallcore kiddies singing along to a hesher anthem written at least a decade before they were born.  Plus, the video they made was a pretty funny spoof of the original.

But the ultimate RJD tribute has to be from Tenacious D.  In 2001 when they released the song "Dio," the subject of their affection was consigned to releasing albums on a tiny metal indie, to a dwindling legion of die-hards and true metal cultists.  No small amount of credit is due to Jack Black and Kyle Gass for putting the man back into the pop-culture dialogue (not to mention a bad-ass cameo in their movie).

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With the second anniversary of Dio's passing coming up in a few weeks, I figure it's time for me to delve deeper into the man's oeuvre (besides spontaneously singing "Heaven and Hell").  More Dio on the way.