Released: 2006, Eagle Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Alongside Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford and Geoff Tate, Ronnie James Dio is widely considered to be among the elite of metal’s all-time vocalists. He made his first record in 1957 (!!) and after a landmark career fronting such bands as Rainbow and Black Sabbath, he is also able to boast a solid string of solo releases, with 1983’s HOLY DIVER being the most well-known and beloved. When Dio announced that, like contemporaries Deep Purple did with their magnum opus, MACHINE HEAD, he would be performing the album live—front to back—for the first time ever, it was met with great excitement within the metal community. Naturally, such a momentous occasion had to be preserved on tape which brings HOLY DIVER – LIVE to fruition. This two CD set features the HOLY DIVER album performed in running order on disc one and a second CD that covers highlights from Dio’s years in Rainbow, Black Sabbath as well as his solo work. It doesn’t sound like there are any overdubs or “after the fact” studio fixes based on a few musical faux pas that can be heard but what really cements this fact is Dio’s voice. It seems almost incomprehensible to say but Dio sounds to be having an off-night with several tracks played at a lower key to compensate for his raspy, scratchy voice that is initially almost devoid of his soaring upper range. Unfortunately, the novelty of hearing HOLY DIVER in its entirety wears thin surprisingly quickly as a result.
After a spoken word intro that features all of the tracks worked into a narrative, Dio croaks through “Stand Up and Shout” and even seems out of breath on the title track. A bloated and unnecessary six-minute drum solo from Simon Wright weighs down “Gypsy” but Vivian Campbell’s killer solo is nailed by Doug Aldrich on “Don’t Talk To Strangers” and Dio himself ends the track with a suitable wail. Aldrich gets his turn in the spotlight during a break in “Shame On The Night.” His ten-minute solo runs the gamut from a Clapton/Gary Moore-like bluesy croon to a full-on shred that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. In fact, Aldrich is almost more of a recommendation on this set than Dio himself! I doubt anyone has spent the last 23 years yearning to hear “Invisible” or “Caught In The Middle” played live but those who have, it is interesting to hear them and in this format, you have to take the good with the bad. Despite the original HOLY DIVER clocking in under 42 minutes, the live version gets dragged out for just over an hour to facilitate the various soloing and between song banter. Is it cool? Yes, but not without its faults.
On disc two, Dio really digs into the vaults with the Rainbow gems “Tarot Woman” and “Gates of Babylon,” as well as a snippet of “Catch The Rainbow.” Tracks like “Long Live Rock ‘n Roll” and “Man On The Silver Mountain” are expected parts of Dio’s live show but pulling nuggets like this out is a real treat. The Sabbath classics “Sign of The Southern Cross” (in abbreviated form) and a blistering version of “Heaven & Hell” (stretched to eleven minutes) are among the highlights here. The fans really get into it here as Dio is accosted by an over-zealous fan (look for that on the upcoming DVD of this show due in May 2006) amid chants of “Whoaa Ohhhh Ohhh Ohhh” to the latter. THE LAST IN LINE gets nods with the rarely-played (if ever?) “One Night In The City” and set staple “We Rock.” Nothing newer than 1984 is played on either CD, so fans of “old” Dio will surely rejoice in being spared the dreck from ANGRY MACHINES that plagued 1998’s tepid double-disc release, INFERNO: THE LAST IN LIVE.
HOLY DIVER – LIVE serves its purpose to chronicle the golden ticket in Dio’s solo career. SACRED HEART and THE LAST IN LINE both had their moments but DREAM EVIL, LOCK UP THE WOLVES, STRANGE HIGHWAYS, MAGICA…come on, nothing touches HOLY DIVER. Metal’s most respected elfin geriatric is pushing 65 and one has to question when the end is near. Will Ronnie James Dio continue throwing the Devil’s horns ten years from now when his hand has morphed into an arthritic claw or is a final career retrospective/farewell tour around the corner? Let’s hope HOLY DIVER – LIVE is not it. In fairness, Dio seems to get most of the cobwebs out by “Straight Through The Heart” but the first half hour of disc one is quite painful to hear and had me initially write the voice of one of the founding fathers of heavy metal off as “done.” In all honesty, Dio on an off-day is still better than many vocalists in their prime but hearing HOLY DIVER played in its entirety is not as magical to hear as the idea was on paper solely because of Dio’s ravaged voice at this show. For a completist, HOLY DIVER – LIVE is a no-brainer but for your everyday metalhead, he or she would be advised to seek out last year’s EVIL OR DIVINE, or even better, the WE ROCK DVD featuring shows from 1983 and 1984, to hear the man still in top form. At the very least, hold out for the HOLY DIVER – LIVE DVD to witness the spectacle that would go along with such a special show because the flaws almost outweigh the benefits of this CD.