Dio – Holy Diver Live (Album Review)

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Let all reminisce upon a colossal legacy.

Fully quantifying the legacy of any artist is a daunting task, let alone one that was a party to almost every evolutionary step that rock ‘n’ roll took since the doo-wop craze of the late 1950s, but that hasn’t dissuaded those in the critical film from making the attempt. Yet despite metal icon that is Ronnie James Dio first entering the musical realm well before the concept existed, when the likes of Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry were laying the groundwork for its conception in the years to follow, the Dio brand would not reach its full prominence until more than halfway through its mastermind’s life. There was a certain beauty, nay a poetry to the circumstances by which Ronnie would part ways with such iconic outfits as Rainbow and Black Sabbath, paving the way for him to unleash the work that arguably defined his entire career at the age of 40, a feat largely unheard of in the present day music scene’s hopeless obsession with the latest adolescent pop star or fresh out of high school rock band upstarts.

Though many peaks and valleys would round out Dio’s tenure prior to the turn of the millennium, but the time the 2000s were in full swing the band had found themselves in the aftermath of an impressive 3 album streak and a renewed interest in traditional heavy metal that saw them filling larger venues west of the Atlantic for the first time since the early 90s. Though hopes were high for an eventual fourth studio offering before the close of the decade, the mid-2000s would be defined by nostalgia, and the circumstances were all but perfect for a stroll down memory lane beyond the usual set list of obligatory classics. Long held as Dio’s crowning achievement following his two album stint with Black Sabbath in the early 1980s, “Holy Diver” would see its first full performance in the live setting, recalling a time when the fire of youth was still bubbling up from Ronnie’s vocal chords and the line that divided the old heavy metal guard from their newly birthed speed and thrash metal brethren were not so clearly drawn.

In some respects, the ensuing performance that was first captured during the fall of 2005 in London’s Astoria Theater was a tribute of sorts, given that only Ronnie himself rounded out the membership that originally recorded the heralded classic that is this concert’s namesake. The exodus of Jimmy Bain from the fold following the “Killing The Dragon” tour in 2003 obviously left a gaping hole in the band’s continuity, which was further exacerbated by long time guitarist and 80s fellow traveler Craig Goldie sustaining an injury that prevented him from participating in the concert and its corresponding tour. The latter turn of events would see Doug Aldrich reprising his role as Dio’s 6-string slayer, which would prove to bolster the nostalgia factor with older fans of the band given his signature sound bearing a much stronger resemblance to original guitarist Vivian Campbell. On the other hand, former Quiet Riot and Ozzy Osbourne bassist Rudy Sarzo would be tapped to fill in for Bain, and his participation would result in a modified sound that is notably darker and more agitated, owing in no small part to Sarzo being a bit more of a technician and sporting a thicker tone.

Consisting of two clearly defined sets, “Holy Diver Live” was undoubtedly a massive undertaking that saw a focus on Ronnie James’ more distant past being visited exclusively, yet brilliantly tempered with a song selection that was atypical even by the standards of the live albums he’d unleashed between 1977 and 1984. The first of these two parts consists of a start to finish rendition of the entire “Holy Diver” album, including even such noted deep tracks as the pounding hard rocker “Gypsy”, the haunting balladry turned raw grooving heaviness of “Invisible” and the melodic sing-along romp “Caught In The Middle” that had not seen inclusion on any prior Dio live release. Despite standing on the ripe old age of 63, Ronnie’s vocals are notably raw and vital, full recapturing the unfettered intensity of the original studio renditions of these songs and even upping the ante at times when considering the episodic shrieks and growls that filter out of his renditions of “Stand Up And Shout” and “Gypsy”. Drummer Simon Wright and Doug Aldrich would naturally feature similarly styled solos to the ones that were trotted out on the “Evil Or Divine” performance recorded back in 2002, but this was basically Ronnie’s moment to shine and he did with every single enunciated word.

“Holy Diver Live” Album Artwork

While most eyes and ears would likely have been affixed upon the aforementioned rendition of the full “Holy Diver” LP, the second act that would follow would prove no slouch, if not equally as intricate of an affair as its predecessor. Rarely heard anthems from the days of Rainbow such as “Tarot Woman” and “Gates Of Babylon” (both seeing keyboardist Scott Warren really stepping up to the plate) shared the stage with more obligatory offerings, though even the performances of such live staples as “Man On The Silver Mountain” and “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” had a notably conservative presentation, with the former being performed in a more chilled out rocking manner in line with its original studio version from the mid-70s, though naturally Doug Aldrich’s shred-happy solo work would prove far closer to a Vivian Campbell interpretation rather than an orthodox retread of Ritchie Blackmore’s laid back bluesy swagger. Likewise, the inclusion of “Last In Line” deep cut “One Night In The City” and the haunting slow-paced trudge of Sabbath’s “Sign Of The Southern Cross” would prove a pleasant surprise that would solidify this concert’s distinctiveness among a highly impressive back catalog of live offerings.

More than 15 years to the day that this landmark event took place and a sizable re-mastering job to further refine its original luster; Dio’s mid-2000s foray into his distant past still proves an advantageous listen for any self-respecting fan of the heavy metal art form. Some may choose to view it as yet another reminder of what was lost to the world a little over a decade ago, but I personally choose to see it yet another monumental achievement by one of the style’s earliest progenitors that continues to inspire new bands to pick up the torch in his memory. While it is a celebration of the past, it is also an updated version of it, with each member of the fold other than Dio himself providing his unique interpretation of a game of notes that was originally committed to the recorded medium by another. In many respects this performance could be seen as the birthplace of the Dio Disciples project that continues on in his memory to this day given who is involved, but then again, every one of us who followed Dio’s career, be they the rank and file listener or those of us who have picked up an instrument thanks to his influence, are his disciples, and this final live offering under the Dio name will remain among his most brilliant sermons.

Released by: Niji Entertainment
Released Date: February 12th, 2021
Genre: Heavy Metal

Musicians:

  • Ronnie James Dio / Vocals
  • Doug Aldrich / Guitar
  • Rudy Sarzo / Bass
  • Simon Wright / Drums
  • Scott Warren / Keyboards

“Holy Diver Live” track-listing

  1. Intro
  2. Stand Up And Shout
  3. Holy Diver
  4. Gypsy
  5. Drum Solo – Simon Wright
  6. Caught In The Middle
  7. Don’t Talk To Strangers
  8. Straight Through The Heart
  9. Invisible
  10. Rainbow In The Dark
  11. Shame On The Night
  12. Guitar Solo – Doug Aldrich
  13. Holy Diver (Reprise)
  14. Tarot Woman
  15. Sign Of The Southern Cross
  16. One Night In The City
  17. Gates Of Babylon
  18. Heaven And Hell
  19. Man On The Silver Mountain
  20. Catch The Rainbow
  21. Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll
  22. Call For Encore
  23. We Rock

9.4 Excellent

23 years to the day of its birth and in the midst of a blossoming old school metal revival, the legacy of Holy Diver has once more been brought to fruition with the future disciples of Dio’s name in tow.

  • Performance 9.5
  • Setlist 10
  • Audio 9
  • Production 9
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