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Friday, November 26, 2010

DVD Review: Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights: Live in Europe

Heaven & Hell - Neon Nights: Live in Europe
2010 Eagle Rock Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



One of the sad facts of life if you're on the planet long enough is you're bound to see loved ones, friends and beloved public figures vanish from sight. It's inescapable, but it doesn't change the fact that some deaths sting more than others. Even in a desensitized society as we live in where people depart as quickly as they enter this world and not much of it is newsworthy on a grand scale, there are some passings which affect us more than others.

Celebrities have a way of touching us in life and death in ways the average mortal don't necessarily have. The emotive power behind the deaths of entertainers is something of an enigma. We often take the loss of far-distanced actors, singers, athletes or writers--figureheads we've likely never met--with more strife than a 90-year-old woman drifting silently into the ether from an anonymous nursing home room.

I remember watching how the deaths of Elvis Presley and John Lennon affected my parents while growing up in the seventies. It all seemed so foreign a concept to grasp, why my folks were sullen and angry, swatting tears from their eyes. Those deaths hit so many people on a global level you had be into your teens at the minimum to comprehend why the loss was so tremendous.

The older you grow, the more obituaries you read or at least find plastered upon the headlines. I think the first musician death I personally took hard was Cliff Burton and while many artists and non have passed since, I was next shaken to my core when Joey Ramone died, then Dee Dee and even Johnny, though I was silently mad at the latter for new truths learned I wished I hadn't.

Ronnie James Dio is, for the metal world, the Sinatra of his position, the Elvis, the Teddy Pendergrass. Perhaps he's rubbing elbows with these guys in the next life because there's likely no delineation or subdivision over yonder. By now Ronnie's had a chance to peek back from his new sanctum and realize how many people his death has affected. Heavy metal carries on because there are so many practitioners these days, but there's a gaping hole left without Ronnie's presence. Without Iron Maiden, Priest and Slayer to boot, the genre would feel naked and almost invalid.

The metal world rejoiced when Dio and his drumming pal Vinny Appice were called back into action with Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi, unofficially as Black Sabbath 2.0, officially as Heaven & Hell. While there are many people who will only go as far as Paranoid if not Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in Black Sabbath's catalog, history has proven the Dio era of the band helped changed the course of the genre. Even if Black Sabbath never considered themselves a heavy metal band during the Ozzy regime, they were inescapably metal by the time Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules were laid down. "Heaven and Hell," "Neon Knights," "Die Young," "Turn Up the Night," "The Sign of the Southern Cross," "Country Girl" and "Mob Rules" are metal forevermore.

As Heaven & Hell, the foursome pounded out numerous shows and gave their fans a curtain call album, The Devil You Know, even if the intention amongst its constituents was to record yet another record beyond that one. Ronnie's death of course prevented that, yet if any good has arised from it, it's a larger public awareness of how powerful Black Sabbath under his titanic pipes is. If Ozzy had any persnikkety denouncements of his successor (which he did back in the day), it was because Ronnie James Dio far outclassed him on the mike. Ozzy inherited the staple classics of Black Sabbath, but Dio inherited a scepter of regality which carried past Rainbow and even deeper into his solo work. Not to battle the two singers against one another, but there's a reason "Lonely is the Word" has more soul amongst its doom groove with Dio than, dare we say, Ozzy's agitated swoon on "Black Sabbath."

As broken up as we all should be by Ronnie's death since nobody cared for his fans more than this man, we can take comfort in Heaven & Hell's Neon Nights: Live in Europe, the last recorded live performance of Dio at the 2009 Wacken Open Air Festival.

Part of it sheer heartbreak to watch, because Ronnie is frail in appearance while battling his final skirmish against the cancer which took his life, but there's such valiance watching Dio rip through this set with little indication he's in pain. Only the wear and age upon his voice tells the tale, and yet "Children of the Sea," the formation song bringing Ronnie into the Sabbath camp remains as epic as ever. As does "Mob Rules." As does "Die Young." As does "Falling Off the Edge of the World." And of course, "Heaven and Hell."

With a blazing torch cast upon the Wacken stage like the Olympic event it is, Heaven & Hell are magnificent in this set. Captured with a splendor literally turning on the night of their evening performance, the crowd may have been expecting to hear "Voodoo" and "Lady Evil," but there's very little to grouse about. With a set list compiled of vintage Dio-era Sabbath songs (and "Time Machine" from the 1992 reunion album Dehumanizer) plus selections from The Devil You Know, this is one heavy experience that sells itself.

The bonus features on Neon Nights: Live in Europe are as compelling as the concert as Eddie Trunk and Malcolm Dome corner Dio, Butler, Appice and Iommi for a retelling of their red times. While there may be more lost interview and live concert footage yet to come down the pike, Trunk's sitdown with Dio is emotional from the standpoint we hear a few old rumors debunked--largely the myth of multi-party tinkering with Live Evil, perhaps the most controversial live record of all-time. We're also given insight as to why Dio refused to play the Sabbath gig which was designed as Ozzy Osbourne's "farewell" performance--a gig which fell upon the shoulders of Rob Halford. Dio's loyalty to his comrades (however messed-up things may have grown between them at times) is the reason he balked at the Ozzy show, and it only increases the man's legend.

Personally, I laughed until my ribs hurt listening to Ronnie talk about how Black Sabbath tried out their new material in strip clubs to see which were winners. To imagine "Heaven and Hell" booming from a catwalk is nutty, but it's a fact, per Ronnie. It says much of his standing in Black Sabbath. In-and-out that may have been, they nevertheless had a unique bond that people are just now beginning to realize how special it was. The bond is further sketched in the brief memorials offered by Iommi, Butler and Appice, which come after much hope and speculation of further work with Ronnie.

While we would've loved to see the massive "Sign of the Southern Cross" belted out in Neon Nights: Live in Europe as one of Ronnie's farewell odes to us, there's no itching about needed. "E5150" opens this legacy performance and "Mob Rules" (one of metal's most overlooked gems) will lift you high before you have a chance to weep in mourning. If you ever cared about Ronnie James Dio, this is a compulsory pick-up.

Rating: ****1/2

1 comment:

Joe Rumford said...

Check out this new Black Sabbath the birth of Heavy Metal video - looks insanely good http://www.vice.com/en_uk/on-the-road/on-the-road-black-sabbath-and-the-birth-of-heavy-metal