Review and photos by Marko Syrjälä
There are always lots of speculations and rumors flying in the music world, and sometimes those turn out to be true. After fifteen years, the classic lineup of Black Sabbath: Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio, and Vinny Appice decided to put their pieces together and do a world tour under the name Heaven and Hell. “The Dio years” collection was released before the tour, and it also included three brand new Black Sabbath, I mean, Heaven and Hell tracks. The band kicked their world tour in the U.S last April, and in early June, they reached Finland and Helsinki.
To my surprise, the Helsinki show wasn’t sold out, but I would say that there were about 5000 people there. As usual, I managed to miss the opening act, so let’s jump directly into the “real thing.” The classic intro “E5150” started to hum from the speakers, and the light systems went on little by little, showing the massive stage composition which possibly was meant to be some churchyard built of stones or something like that, including gates and all kind of stuff what usually belongs on places like that. In the background, a group of three screen windows showed them pictures of devils and angels = symbols of Heaven & Hell. In brief, the stage looked perfect and proper. I haven’t seen such large stage systems used here in a while, at least not here in the old Ice Hall of Helsinki. At the end of the intro, Vinny Appice appeared behind his massive drum kit, and everything was ready to go.
Tony Iommi walked to the stage and immediately started playing the opening riff of “Mob Rules.” Ronnie and Geezer come up a few seconds later, and the entire gear was on. The band sounded terrific, at least in the front of the stage in the photo pit. “Children of the Sea” from the album “Heaven and Hell” was played next, and the crowd was really into it. At this point, I have to admit once again that Ronnie James Dio is still a great frontman in every aspect. Although he can’t reach all the highest notes anymore, he was still singing like in the old days, and his stage presence was conclusive. Ronnie used his trademark “Devil Horns,” and he ran across the stage like a young man. He’s simply a fantastic guy.
“I” from the album “Dehumanizer” was the third song on the set. As I slightly expected, people didn’t recognize it too well. It was the same thing that happened in Swedenrock a few days earlier. Before and after the show, many people criticized: “why they are doing songs from that album and why they are doing some new stuff instead of classic material only.” Still, I would say that it’s great that the band is playing songs from its entire career, including some more recent stuff also. Besides, “Dehumanizer” is a great album. For some reason, it’s very underrated, which is a shame. In my ears, “I” sounded fantastic, and so did the next track, “Sign of the Southern Cross,” which seemed to be a good crowd favorite here. I have witnessed Dio playing live as a solo artist more than ten times during the years, and he always has a “habit” to play some tracks from his former bands Rainbow and Black Sabbath. At his point of the show, the songs that Heaven & Hell had played so far, I had heard all of them at least once played by Dio. Still, the following three songs were something that I had never heard live before: “Voodoo,” “Falling off the Edge of the World,” and another “Dehumanizer” track, “Computer God.” Perhaps that “trilogy” was a high point of the show for me, and also, the band seemed to enjoy playing them.
Tony Iommi played an extended guitar solo which was like, dump, to be honest. There’s no doubt that Tony is a great guitarist, he’s the riff master of all time, but he has not much to say in his solo. It must be said he looked much more relaxed now compared to shows when he’s been on stage with Ozzy under the Black Sabbath title. He was doing his walking both backward and forward like always, but his face, which commonly is very acute, was now smiling, and he seemed to have fun on stage. Perhaps there’s less pressure within this band, or then it’s merely functional diversity for him to play these forgotten and rarely played songs for a change instead of always doing “Paranoid” and “Iron Man. The same description would fit perfectly for bassist Geezer Butler also. His fingers still worked very quickly, and he was headbanging on his side of the stage like in the good old days.
The new track “Shadow of the Wind” wasn’t in my cup of tea at all. It’s a boring song in one chapter, and it should have replaced with “Devil Cried,” which has even got such a lot of radio airplay in Finland and is a way better song than this. Nothing more to say about that one, but it was a low point of this otherwise great concert. The band did a short break, and Ronnie introduced band members before they hit into “Die Young,” which was another highlight for many people. Indeed, song lyrics don’t fit too anymore. Ronnie singing is his late 60’s “Die Young,” but who really cares about things like that? Vinnie did his extended drum solo next. Well. Some people seem to like it, but it caused a small-scale invasion towards the bar, to be honest. There was nothing wrong with solo. He played some cool fills there, and it was pretty much the same solo that he used to do with Dio in the past. Maybe he’s not the fastest of whatever drummer in the world, but he’s a perfect one and perfectly fits this band. Not so surprisingly, set-closer, “Heaven & Hell” was played next. Ronnie did his usual “evil singing” part with a red spotlight, and it looked cool, although he has done the same thing with Dio for years. The fact that this concert was something different compared to regular Dio or Ozzy era Sabbath gig. It’s hard to explain, but there was more “magic” in the air there? “Heaven and Hell” lasted something like 15 minutes, and after a small break band returned on stage and did the first and the only encore, “Neon Knights.”
The show was over, and it’s time to make a little summary of it. It was clear that this gig was about nostalgia, but it didn’t feel like that in most parts. Guys on stage were playing their hearts out, they were hungry, and they seem to enjoy what they were doing. That’s something that you usually see on these re-union gigs nowadays. The band was playing tightly, the stage looked great, and engineering was working well. There aren’t too many negative things here to say, but I’m still mentioning one here; the show was relatively short. The band did only 11 songs there, five songs less than what they did at the beginning of this tour in the U.S. Despite that, the whole experience was delightful, and I hope that band will change their minds and continue working together after this tour is over, whenever it will be over, and making some new music together as well?
SPECIAL THANKS TO TOMI LINDBLOM FROM EASTWAY PRODUCTIONS FOR THE PHOTO PASS!
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MORE PICTURES FROM HELSINKI SHOW