Heaven and Hell/Megadeth/Down
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Vancouver, BC Canada
***Review and all live photos by Lord of The Wasteland
It first dawned on me back in the summer of 2005. Witnessing Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal meltdown on stage in Seattle at that year’s Ozzfest (read review HERE), it was clear that something had to change within the Black Sabbath camp. Fast forward a few months and guitarist Tony Iommi was quoted as saying that he had been working with former vocalist Ronnie James Dio for the first time in fourteen years on three new songs for an upcoming collection of Dio-era Sabbath tracks. Soon, it was revealed the band would be doing a run of live dates under the moniker “Heaven and Hell” (legalities allegedly kept them from using the “Black Sabbath” name) that would feature a setlist drawn exclusively from the albums that Dio sang on—1980’s HEAVEN AND HELL, 1981’s MOB RULES, 1992’s DEHUMANIZER and the new songs from BLACK SABBATH—THE DIO YEARS. The best news was saved for last, though, as it was soon announced the tour would begin right here in Vancouver!
To say this bill is the metal tour of 2007 is an understatement. Motorhead was originally rumoured to be the second act, but that was quickly squashed as thrash metal titans, Megadeth, and stoner/sludge “supergroup,” Down, filled out the touring lineup. Dio, one of the most revered vocalists in heavy metal history, created music that had all but been forgotten during the ten-year “reunion” of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward and the band was obviously growing tired of trotting out the same set, year after year, while waiting for Osbourne to write new Sabbath material between juggling reality shows, Ozzfest and his own solo career. Even though Heaven and Hell is banking on the nostalgia factor of material that is a quarter-century old, it still seemed like a welcome break—for fans, as well as Iommi and Butler (Ward has stepped aside for Vinny Appice to play drums)—from the endless parade of “Paranoid,” “War Pigs,” et al, once again.
Which takes us up to the present as the energy level at the Pacific Coliseum was at Def-Con 4 waiting for the proceedings to get underway…
Down, consisting of vocalist Philip Anselmo (ex-Pantera; Superjoint Ritual), guitarists Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) and Kirk Windstein (Crowbar), bassist Rex Brown (ex-Pantera) and drummer Jimmy Bower (Crowbar/EyeHateGod/Superjoint Ritual), made their first appearance in quite some time in a large venue. The band has been hunkered down in the studio recording their third album (tentatively titled DOWN III and due in stores summer 2007) and their last recorded output was 2002’s DOWN II. The previous two years saw the band’s personal and professional lives ravaged by tragedy; first the murder of Anselmo and Brown’s former bandmate, Dimebag Darrell in December 2004, and the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe that decimated the band’s hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana the following summer. The anger, frustration and suffering endured by its members has clearly rejuvenated the band into a leaner, tighter entity. In recent years, Anselmo’s descent into erratic behaviour, long-winded stage rants and drug problems created uneven live performances that became well-known for all the wrong reasons. With only six songs in their set, and all but one coming from their debut album, it was a regrettably brief return for Down but one that hopefully opens a new chapter for the band. Gone are Anselmo’s shaved head/Mohawk and heavy-lidded eyes and in their place is a vocalist who was bright-eyed, clear-spoken and full of energy (Anselmo still admitted to smoking dope every single day despite nearing his fortieth birthday). Brown and Bower, whose kick drum reads “Bower Power,” formed a thunderous rhythm section and the low, sludgy southern riffs of Windstein and Keenan on tracks like “Lifer” (dedicated to Dimebag) and “Bury Me In Smoke” reminded everyone what made NOLA such a fabulous album way back in 1995. “Stone The Crow,” the band’s best-known song, allowed fans to sing along and the circle pit generated during “Underneath Everything” and “Hail The Leaf” had the band noticeably taken aback. Anselmo took several opportunities to express his gratitude to the fans and it was clearly coming from the heart. An overly-excited admirer that jumped on stage near Anselmo was quickly knocked back out by the band’s burly security guard, no doubt on edge after outlandish threats made toward Anselmo following the death of Dimebag. A surprise appearance by Skid Row guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo, whose 49th birthday was celebrated by a chorus from a few thousand close friends, and Anselmo’s cringe-worthy, set-ending salute to “Live long, live legendary and eat pussy ‘til your jaw breaks in half” had everyone thinking what could possibly be coming next.
DOWN SETLIST (45 Min.)
Lysergik Funeral Procession
Hail The Leaf
Stone The Crow
Bury Me In Smoke
Dave Mustaine has a lot riding on Megadeth’s upcoming album, UNITED ABOMINATIONS. A questionable change in style on 1999’s ironically-titled RISK saw the once-fearsome speed metal band descend into a commercially-driven, pop-metal act and its largely-forgotten follow-up, 2001’s THE WORLD NEEDS A HERO, did little to put Mega-Dave back on metal fans’ Christmas card lists. However, 2004’s THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED album and Mustaine’s highly-successful Gigantour brought Megadeth a career revitalization that shocked everyone. Yet another new lineup featuring Eidolon guitarist Glen Drover and his brother drummer Shawn Drover, as well as ex-White Lion/Black Label Society bassist, James Lomenzo sees Mustaine ready to take on the world once again. Backed by a drape of the UNITED ABOMINATIONS cover art, Megadeth suffered through a disappointingly-short forty-five minute set that was plagued with sound problems and a major feedback issue. Mustaine’s vocals were too low but any attempt to turn them up resulted in hideous squelches of feedback which clearly angered him and it shone through in the band’s performance. Opening track, “Sleepwalker,” taken from UNITED ABOMINATIONS, was rendered almost unlistenable and “Wake Up Dead” (which may well have happened to the sound guy the next day) suffered a similar fate. Despite these unfortunate shortcomings, the fans became so wild and were crowd-surfing so much, the venue’s security asked all photographers to exit the photo pit halfway through the third song, a blistering version of “Kick The Chair.” As for the new material, “Washington Is Next” and “Sleepwalker” show serious potential in the live setting following the momentum built upon material from THE SYSTEM HAS FAILED, with plenty of speedy riffs and shredding guitar solos. “In My Darkest Hour” was a surprising omission and Mustaine’s only words to the crowd were “I guess I should say good evening, huh?” before launching into “Peace Sells” but with only 45 minutes, time was of the essence. Thankfully, the band returned for a one-song encore of “Holy Wars…The Punishment Due” which caused the already rabid crowd to erupt into chaotic madness as Mustaine and Glen Drover traded shredded licks, while Shawn Drover sat dwarf-like behind his gargantuan drum kit. Overall, Megadeth played an excellent set but hopefully their technical glitches will be resolved for future dates, as seeing Mustaine bickering with the sound man at stage left throughout the band’s performance was a major distraction.
MEGADETH SETLIST (45 Min.)
Wake Up Dead
Kick The Chair
Washington Is Next
Symphony of Destruction
A Tout Le Monde
Holy Wars…The Punishment Due
Words cannot describe the excitement felt by myself and the REAL fans (yes, those of us who do this for the love of the music, not who get sent blindly on some dreaded assignment by our editor) that toil for metal webzines hunkered down in the photo pit prior to the Heaven and Hell’s debut. Myself, along with fellow local scribes from The Megalith, Metaleater and Absolute Underground, were as giddy as schoolgirls wondering what was behind the forty-foot high curtain that shrouded the stage in secrecy, what would be on the setlist and how the first night’s gig would go off. It had been ten years since Ronnie James Dio played Vancouver on his ANGRY MACHINES solo tour, eight years since any version of Black Sabbath had come and the one-and-only time a Dio-fronted Sabbath lineup had ever graced our fine city was way back on April 26th, 1982 at the very same venue, so to say the crowd was wound up was truly an understatement.
As the lights went out and the curtain dropped, ten thousand screaming metal maniacs went berserk upon hearing the pre-recorded intro of “E5150.” Once a bath of blue light began to rise, the massive stage set became apparent: a medieval castle with a giant wooden door, metal gates, torch lamps and five-storey brick walls surrounded the band. Three small video screens high above the stage projected the cover of 1982’s LIVE EVIL album as first Appice, then Butler, Iommi and Dio emerged from the gallows for “After All (The Dead).” Iommi remained stoically evil as always, dressed head to toe in his trademark black with long leather jacket, blue-tinted glasses and ever-present cross hung around his neck. The guitarist rarely changed expressions except for a few noticeable grins of pleasant surprise to his bandmates at the enormously positive reaction from the crowd. Iommi’s solos on tracks like “Voodoo” and “I” demonstrated how he inspired three generations of guitarists through his unique tuning and style. Butler, equally unassuming and who would be nearly forgotten at stage left if not for his fleet-fingered bass skills, kept a low profile throughout the show, often disappearing in near darkness in front of Appice and the wall of amps. It was Dio, though, who impressed everyone in attendance with his absolutely flawless vocal performance and stage presence. From his soaring, high vocals to wicked growls, the man is a testament to class and talent, his sixty-plus years becoming a moot point every time his voice resonates on the Sabbath classics. Dio’s sincere thank-yous and utterance of “Vancouver, you ROCK!” at the end of Heaven and Hell’s nearly two-hour set were the icing on the cake, but as the band convened at centre stage for their bow, the singer made sure that the focus was on all four members, not just him.
Musically speaking, hearing tracks like “The Mob Rules,” “The Sign of The Southern Cross,” “Heaven & Hell,” “Voodoo,” “Neon Knights,” “I” “Falling Off The Edge of The World” and “Die Young” were as close to heaven (hell?) as one could get. All three of the band’s newly-penned tracks—“Ear In The Wall,” “The Devil Cried” and “Shadow of The Wind”—were given their debut here, as well. “Ear In The Wall” is a bizarre, mid-tempo track that features an excellent vocal from Dio. The real gems, though, are “The Devil Cried” and “Shadow of The Wind,” both of which embody the slow, ultra-heavy doom vibe and groove that is instantaneously recognizable as that of Black Sabbath. Iommi’s tuned-down riffs are punishing and Butler’s basslines are gut-churning. A deliciously evil-sounding Dio sets the mood perfectly, as well.
The band developed a spectacular light show that was as much a part of the show as the musicians themselves. Two blue charges of neon lights simulate a roof over the castle, while during “Heaven & Hell,” a single white spotlight illuminated Dio for an improvised dialogue with “heaven,” while a minute later, a brilliant red light shot up through a grate from below the stage as an effect was given to Dio’s voice creating a moment with Satan himself. Dio flashed the devil’s horns many times and seeing thousands of pairs of hands replicating it was truly a sight. The band was incredibly tight considering this was their first time playing together since 1992 and it was clear all involved were pleased with their performance.
I’m sure I can speak for many who simply did not want Heaven and Hell to leave the stage, hoping for that one obscure track that they had been waiting years to hear. The diverse crowd was made up of mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings but a few old dogs clearly were first in line to pick up HEAVEN & HELL the day it was released on vinyl, while an eight-year old boy (with a horrific mullet) enthusiastically flashed the horns on his father’s shoulders. Due to an 11PM curfew, the band was forced to drop “Lonely Is The Word” from the printed setlist, but no one could really complain about what they had just witnessed. The only real negative aspect lies in the solo of Vinny Appice. While well-played, considering such gems as “Time Machine,” “Turn Up The Night” or “Slipping Away” could have filled the seven-minute drum solo, and neither Iommi nor Butler were afforded the same honour, it seemed like a strange and unnecessary inclusion.
HEAVEN AND HELL SETLIST (110 Min.)
After All (The Dead)
The Mob Rules
Children of The Sea
Ear In The Wall
The Sign of The Southern Cross
The Devil Cried
Vinny Appice Solo
Falling Off The Edge of The World
Shadow of The Wind
Heaven & Hell
Lonely Is The Word (**dropped due to curfew**)
Walking out of the venue, hopes rose again as a flyer was being distributed by the Spitfire Records’ street team announcing a Heaven and Hell live CD/DVD would be released in the fall of 2007. With one last gift handed out, the tired, but still-excited crowd buzzed with recollections of the show. Were “Paranoid,” “N.I.B.,” “War Pigs” or “Iron Man” missed? It seemed not, especially since, in my opinion, Ronnie James Dio always sounded awkward singing Ozzy’s songs anyway. Accolades were heaped upon Heaven and Hell, many were surprised by Down’s rise from the ashes and the unfortunate glitches that Megadeth suffered had many reminiscing about the band’s previous two stops in Vancouver with Exodus (read review HERE) and Gigantour. Still, considering this was the first night of what is sure to be a colossal tour this spring and summer, the impression left by all three bands will have many people remembering what a special night—a true historical moment in heavy metal—this was for Vancouver. As for the rest of the world, get ready non-believers because this Heaven and Hell is real.
***Thanks to Kelli at House of Blues Canada for the press pass.