Friday Full-Length: Dio, At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987

Posted in Bootleg Theater on June 16th, 2023 by JJ Koczan

Just doing myself favors here, really. I was struggling to come up with something to close out the week, and, well, I was at Freak Valley last week and “Holy Diver” was aired between the songs at some point, and that’s about all it takes — and it takes less, actually — to put me in a Dio mindframe. This collection of two aired-on-BBC-I-think full sets from Monsters of Rock in Donington, UK, recorded, as the title suggests, in 1983 after the release of Holy Diver (discussed here) and in 1987 following the fourth album, Dream Evil, and the lineup change that brought Craig Goldy to guitar in place of Vivian Campbell.

The Dio/Campbell schism, happening between the sets on discs 1 and 2 and after the guitarist and vocalist made three landmark records together in Holy Diver, 1984’s The Last in Line (discussed here) or 1985’s Sacred Heart, is essential heavy metal history, as Campbell went on to greater pop success with Def Leppard, and Ronnie James Dio, bassist Jimmy Bain, drummer Vinny Appice and keyboardist Claude Schnell moved somewhat unsteadily into the 1990s, in which the glories of 1983-1986 would prove elusive for records like 1990’s Lock Up the Wolves, the abidingly bleak Strange Highways, which was released in 1994 following Dio‘s reunion with Black Sabbath for the 1992 Dehumanizer (discussed here) LP and tour, and 1996’s Angry Machines.

Those albums have their appeal in the darker atmospheres and harder crunch of their production style, and certainly Dio found new footing as a band later in their studio work, with 2000’s Magica embracing fantasy storytelling in a way that could only be called a fit for Ronnie James Dio‘s style of lyrics, and the final two albums, 2002’s Killing the Dragon and 2004’s Master of the Moon (discussed here), acting as an entryway to a reinvigorated classic metal sound for a new generation of listeners that, I don’t mind saying, included myself. I was not quite yet two years old when the 1983 set was record (and, extrapolating, not quite six four years later), so yeah, I missed it first time through. It’s true: I wasn’t cool enough to listen to Dio in diapers. Behold my great shame.

Alas, if you want to drown any such sorrows or perhaps obliterate them like so much dust blown off by the air moving through gargantuan stacks of public address speakers, At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987 will almost certainly get the job done. Its two sets are heavy metal revelry of the finest order, a fervent charge of triumphant emotion and fist-in-the-air songcraft. Performance-wise, this era of Dio is a significant portion of why he’s considered to have been one of the greatest and most distinct voices in metal of any stripe or microniche, and the band behind him in 1983 delivered with the intensity of purpose that every act working together only gets one shot at: the first impression. Imagine seeing Dio in 1983 and waiting patiently through “Straight Through the Heart” to get to “Children of the Sea.” Play the old stuff! Dude’s touring for his first album. Ha. What a career.

And I guess I’m assuming that career doesn’t need to be recounted here, Ronnie James Dio having moved from fronting teen groups to Elf to Rainbow to Black Sabbath to Dio between about 1967 and 1983, a perioddio at donington uk live 1983 & 1987 of just 16 years that resulted in some of heavy metal and rock’s pinnacle moments, but listening to the 1983 set, the Dio band sound hungry. They play Rainbow‘s “Stargazer” and it’s fast. Tearing into it. “Heaven and Hell” gets the same stretched-out treatment — “…And a big black shape looked down at me…” — that it got when the Dio-fronted incarnation of Black Sabbath played it live (also the band Heaven and Hell a couple decades later) and they even work a minute or so of “Starstruck” into the big finish with “Man on the Silver Mountain.” Dio‘s own material is somewhat frontloaded into the set, with “Stand Up and Shout” and “Straight Through the Heart” opening — the former was the staple opener — and an especially killer “Rainbow in the Dark” and “Holy Diver” on the other side of “Children of the Sea.” After “Holy Diver” it’s all Sabbath and Rainbow, plus drum and guitar solos. That’s the majority of the show.

Dio as an act trying to establish itself.

In 1987, they clearly had done so. The excesses and dragon-slaying of Dio‘s live shows supporting Sacred Heart are well documented, and there are certainly videos and bootlegs out there of the Dream Evil era as well, but the 1987 Donington set tells the story. “Children of the Sea,” “Heaven and Hell” and “Man on the Silver Mountain” still feature as they always would, and “Neon Knights” and “Long Live Rock and Roll” join them, the latter a suitable complement to “Rock and Roll Children” just before it, but the sense of ‘the Dio show’ comes through particularly in relation to just a couple years earlier, when the set was shorter, probably the spot on the bill lower, and the Dio band had less of their own material. In 1987, “All the Fools Sailed Away,” a reprise of “The Last in Line” and “Rainbow in the Dark,” which was a mega-hit, close, and you don’t think twice about it. In 1983, they didn’t even finish with Dio songs.

Both sets are representative, and set alongside each other, they show the progression of Dio as a live act. The 1983 band is rawer, more blunt-force, while in 1987 songs like “Rock and Roll Children” and “Dream Evil,” which leads off, and “All the Fools Sailed Away” offset the tempo thrust of “Neon Knights” and “The Last in Line” taps into a grandeur that sits gorgeously next to a flourish-added “Children of the Sea” and “Holy Diver” and “Heaven and Hell” — a kind of epic quadrilogy tucked into the middle of the set; I have to think that if only those four songs were played as they are here and that was all that was on the disc, no one would’ve been able to complain — and it’s not exactly like “Man on the Silver Mountain,” “All the Fools Sailed Away” or “Rainbow in the Dark” are wanting for scope. Hell, even “Naked in the Rain” gets its due treatment, Goldy shredding a solo right in the middle before they return to the brooding, mid-paced, then-radio-friendly chorus.

What do we learn from At Donington UK: Live 1983 & 1987? Mostly stuff already known. This was a great band led by a generational talent at what’s widely acknowledged as the peak of their power. That it’s good shouldn’t be a surprise; if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been released. Underneath that, consider the growth in presence, in attention to detail — the little flourishes of keyboard and between-song banter; the professionalism of the show; Dio‘s sheer command of his voice on stage and the no-more-hurried-than-they-want-to-be band behind him — the absolute demand for whatever maximum volume you can give it, and just enjoy for what it is. The first of these shows took place 40 summers ago. You and I and everyone we know are part of stories longer than ourselves, these and many others.

Think of that as you break out of this week and into your weekend with horns raised, head banging and feet stomping. Thanks for reading.

Today is The Pecan’s final day of preschool. Pre-K graduation, as it were. She wanted to wear The Patient Mrs.’ graduation cap — “Mommy’s square hat” — but I told her that it’s at Mommy’s work, which I think has the added advantage of being true as well as convenient. She also this afternoon will receive her yellow belt in tae kwon do after a roiling shitshow of a belt test on Tuesday. You’d say it couldn’t have been that bad if she passed, and that’s true, but doesn’t account necessarily for the generosity of apirit on the part of the kind folks at Cho’s Legacy in Morristown. At one point watching I had to get up and leave. Regular class has been a similar wreck. She’s trying, but can’t hold still or really pay attention beyond a certain threshold, and the longer she’s at a thing, the smaller that threshold becomes.

But yes, change is in the air, which itself is nothing new. The Patient Mrs. and I had a meeting yesterday with ‘the team’ at the school where The Pecan will start kindergarten in the Fall, to talk about behavior stuff as well as the issue of gender around which — according to what we hear from the pre-K team at the current school — most behavioral issues are based. I was the only male in the room, and if you’ve never been a guy in that situation, it’s a good experience to not be talked to but to be present. Mom is the automatic key-in for those conversations. It’s not something I take personally at this point, but one does work to make their voice heard, and I did do that, arguing in behalf of taking my child seriously when she asserts she’s a girl because, well, she’s fucking serious about it.

And we’re getting used to the pronoun swap he for she. I cringe when my mother and others get it wrong. It’s amazing how generational the acceptance seems to be. The behaviorist in her 20s didn’t even blink. The school counselor in her 50s tentatively wondered if it was for real and permanent given the mercurial nature of children in general. I said that 99 times out of 100 I might agree but that this is the 100th kid. And even if at some point The Pecan embraces the gender with which she was saddled at birth, which honestly would be unexpected at this point, I would every time err on the side of supporting my kid and hope that the professionals engaged to do likewise actually do. That these things need to be said out loud is emblematic of the primitivism of the times in which we live, but I’ll readily acknowledge it’s a transition for all of us, not just the kid. We’re getting there. We’re doing our best.

Next week is kind of in the air. I had saved spots for Maryland Doom Fest coverage but we’re also having our kitchen floor done and I think next weekend might be my wife’s grandmother’s memorial service, at which I’m delivering the eulogy/readings — my understanding is I’m kind of the MC, so yes I’ll break out the Flava Flav clockchain I keep for these occasions — so yeah, things are open a bit on what’s to come coverage-wise for reviews and whatnot. If I get writeups done for Mammatus and Khanate, well, that would be a win as much in 2023 as in 2007. Funny how time works.

But I’ll figure that shit out, and have two really three bios to work on in the interim. I think much of next week will be spent in Connecticut, but I don’t know when we’ll go or how long we’ll actually stay with The Patient Mrs.’ mother at her beach place, which is always nice, never stress-free, and always nice, in that order. We’re having brunch tomorrow and I think playing Zelda in a group setting, with Slevin, who is a generally wonderful human being. On a personal note, I also haven’t seen yesterday’s season premiere for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and I hope to rectify that as soon as possible.

Whatever you’re up to, I wish you a great and safe weekend. Have fun, hydrate, watch your head, try to enjoy some good music if you can. Remember to breathe, remember to stretch. And thanks for reading.


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Friday Full-Length: Dio, Holy Diver

Posted in Bootleg Theater on April 8th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

It is a pinnacle achievement in heavy metal. One of the greater classics of the form. A genuine landmark for the artists involved and the genre they helped define. The course that brought vocalist Ronnie James Dio to front his own band on this debut album in 1983 was certainly bumpy enough — early teen idol fare leading Ronnie Padavona to Elf, to Rainbow, into and out of Black Sabbath again (and ultimately back into, out of, and into again as well) — but Holy Diver is one of those records that seems to stop time.

Its nine songs are brazenly dynamic, starting at a rush and pulling back immediately toward a new kind of metallic grandiosity in “Stand Up and Shout” and “Holy Diver” itself. Clearly written with an audience in mind, informed by the NWOBHM and fully cognizant of itself as a ‘heavy metal’ album at a time when that meaning could still be nebulous, Holy Diver is a monument to craft and performance. In either its own era or now some 39 years after its first release, it is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment — even in a life such as Ronnie James Dio‘s, which had a few of them — and it shines in a way few albums of any style could ever hope to do. There is very little hyperbole that is hyperbole enough to accurately describe either its quality or the influence and effect Holy Diver has had on metal and other heavy musics in general. It is a given. It is dogma. Holy.

One of three Dio albums to feature the lineup of Dio, guitarist Vivian Campbell (who had been in Sweet Savage prior), bassist Jimmy Bain — who also played keyboards here before the band added Claude Schnell to fill the role — and drummer Vinny Appice. The latter was imported from Black Sabbath where he had replaced Bill Ward for 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), which was also the second LP on which Dio fronted in place of Ozzy Osbourne, who began his own solo career in a band bearing his name in 1980. You could — and hey, it might be fun, too — argue which of the three is the Dio band’s greatest achievement, between Holy Diver, 1984’s The Last in Line (discussed here) or 1985’s Sacred Heart, but the simple truth is there is no wrong answer. With a quick jump into the album cycle of recording, releasing, and touring, and ace management, Dio was able to hold onto momentum from his time in Black Sabbath and make it his own, much as these songs were a sonic turn from even the most progressive riff-based work of Tony Iommi, blessings and peace upon him.

Consider “Invisible” on side B, or “Caught in the Middle,” or “Rainbow in the Dark.” These songs are young, vital, fresh. Despite Dio‘s presence in the music industry for decades by the time he fronted this group, he’s speaking in part to aDio Holy Diver younger audience, not patronizing but identifying with feelings and considerations that a weird heavy metal kid circa 1983 might be dealing with. Following its layered melodic opening, “Invisible” is seething, triumphant. “I can go away/I can leave here/I can be invisible.” This is a message of empowerment for someone feeling cast out. “We’re all 18 and we’re in between.” Different songs serve different purposes, of course, but from the encouragement to physically move that is “Stand Up and Shout” — pure for-stage songwriting if there ever was any, and an answer to Sabbath tracks like “Neon Knights” and “Turn Up the Night”; quintessential openers — to the storytelling in “Don’t Talk to Strangers” and “Holy Diver,” that perspective of needing to overcome a challenge is unflinching. “Don’t Talk to Strangers” is a model Dio would follow throughout his career, one of many lyrics framed around a kind of basic wary misogyny, but it pairs with the rolling cruise of the subsequent side B opener “Straight Through the Heart” as though finally embracing the inevitable.

“Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark” are achievements unto themselves, of course. Candlemass must have been paying attention, as well as countless other bands. Even the rise of thrash seems like a punker-born response to the over-the-top, all-in, zero-irony push one can hear in these songs and in Dio‘s metallic contemporaries, be it Judas Priest or Iron Maiden or Ozzy OsbourneHoly Diver takes itself deadly serious — a lesson that even the most extreme death and black metal took to heart, to be sure – and while it’s a fun record to listen to both in the bounce of “Holy Diver”‘s verses, in the scorching “Gypsy,” and in the swinging, bassy strut and open bluesy vibe of closer “Shame on the Night,” the latter something of a comedown following the keyboard hook of “Rainbow in the Dark” but still strong enough to earn its place at the finish, it also lives up to the seriousness of its approach in its performance. This band rips these songs to shreds like no one had done before and no one would again. Listen to “Rainbow in the Dark.” Just listen to it. Really.

I don’t know when the last time you put this album on was. Maybe it was yesterday. Maybe a decade ago. Maybe never. Whenever it was, Holy Diver (which was one of the first Friday Full-Lengths I ever did) has been waiting for you all along. Its songs are just as memorable as you’ve been hearing in your head this whole time, and though I’d usually wrap one of these pieces with some summary of what the artist involved went on to do after, this is enough. You know how it went, and I’m not even going to claim to have any insight on Holy Diver or Dio‘s career arc — there’s a Holy Diver graphic novel now? Okay. We’re coming up on 12 years removed from Ronnie James Dio‘s passing, and the legacy of his work and this record are strong enough that they don’t need to be recounted by the likes of me in my sweatpants on my couch. He was a generational talent. This is a generational album.

As always, I hope you enjoy. I feel pretty confident you will, and if not, I respectfully hope you’ll reconsider your position. Thanks for reading.

Not sure I have or really need an excuse behind the Holy Diver revisit. It is its own excuse for being, and if maybe I close out a week with it at random points once every decade or so for the rest of my life, I know at least I won’t complain. I’ll be the last blogger ever by then, practicing a lost artform while most people just upload their brains to the cloud or whatever. Fine.

What a week. I was up early every day including today to work on Quarterly Review stuff. We’ll wrap that on Monday and then it’s back to normal. The next few weeks are pretty locked down and there’s some cool stuff slated. I’m finally going to review the Naxatras that came out in February, not this week but the week after. Better late, and so forth. And I interviewed Esben Willems from Monolord the other day, so I’ll find some slot for that video as well. He’s a nice guy.

I was efficient enough in the Quarterly Review though that yesterday I finished today’s writeups with enough time to give myself 90 minutes off before The Pecan got home from school. I showered, I think, but then failed to take the rest of the time and instead worked on some draft revisions for a Tau and the Drones of Praise bio. Nothing major, but not exactly “time off” either. I could wrap this up now and get more time, but the same thing would happen. I’ve got a Gimme Metal playlist to turn in for next week (I’ll get an email about it today, most likely), and there’s still that last QR day. I think I’d rather go back to sleep, but yeah.

Actually, Truckfighters and Greenleaf just announced the rescheduled dates for their tour I was supposed to go with them on… oh, right about now… and I should get a post up for that. The Patient Mrs. tells me my flights are booked for it, so that’s interesting. Maybe it’ll happen, but you’ll pardon me if I’m a little gunshy about looking forward to it.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Have fun, hydrate, watch your head, whatnot. It’s Spring now, kind of, so that’s something. Maybe listen to some Amorphis. That’s what I do.


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Friday Full-Length: Dio, Master of the Moon

Posted in Bootleg Theater on February 22nd, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Dio, Master of the Moon (2004)

In 2004, legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio (Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, also Elf) was already 21 years removed from his band’s legendary debut, Holy Diver (discussed here), released in ’83 after a stint fronting Black Sabbath that resulted in two landmark LPs in 1980’s Heaven and Hell (discussed here) and its 1981 follow-up, Mob Rules (discussed here). And what a 21 years it had been. Aside from another brief stint with Black Sabbath for 1992’s Dehumanizer (discussed here), the entirety of that time was devoted to the development and sustaining of the Dio band, which thrived across a holy trinity that Holy Diver began and 1984’s The Last in Line (discussed here) and 1985’s Sacred Heart completed, and survived both the rising of a generation fueled by the adrenaline of thrash and the grunge and nü-metal movements. They might not have been playing arenas across the US and selling millions of albums by the time 2004 came around and the band presented their final studio album, Master of the Moon, but there was no question they — and he — remained in righteous form and had enjoyed a sprawling influence that continues to spread even 15 years later.

Dio released three albums in the 2000s. The millennium was greeted by Magica, a narrative concept piece that reportedly had two more chapters in progress at the time of the singer’s death in 2010, 2002’s Killing the Dragon, and Master of the Moon. In hindsight, the 2002 offering was a landmark. It represented a shift in mindset that saw Dio understanding his place — and I say “his” instead of “their” because it was very much him guiding the direction of the band — in the sphere of heavy metal as a classic act. One might think that automatically obviates relevance, but to listen to Killing the Dragon, the singer and the band around him both sound liberated by it. After struggling in the ’90s to find his identity amid a shifting generational landscape and producing some great material in Lock up the Wolves (1990), Strange Highways (1993) and Angry Machines (1996), but not finding nearly the same audience response attained for his efforts in the mid-’80s, and getting Magica out of his system, Dio was able to be the heavy metal statesman his voice had always been so suited to being. Master of the Moon, a crisp 10-song/46-minute all-pro offering with Craig Goldy on guitar, Scott Warren on keys — mixed low in trad-metal fashion but filling out the sound nonetheless — Jeff Pilson on bass and Simon Wright on drums, may have been the last new studio record the Dio band put out, but it was also emblematic of the new era of the band that Killing the Dragon began. It built on that album and featured memorable songs crafted in a style that didn’t need to play anymore to ideas of modernity and found the singer and the band around him able to do what they did best. And they did exactly that.

dio master of the moonOpener “One More for the Road” is a barn-burner in the “Neon Knights” or “Stand up and Shout” tradition, and the signal it sends is both a dogwhistle to the converted that they should know the formula being put to use and a display of the enduring vitality of that approach. The subsequent title-track deals in feelings of isolation via the kind of epic imagery that was Dio‘s stock and trade. I was fortunate enough to interview him at the time and I asked him about the lyrics to “Master of the Moon” itself, thinking it was an allegory for a kind of post-9/11 political sphere, the booming (literally) War on Terror and all that, but no, he told me he liked that idea but he wrote it for a friend’s teenage son feeling alone and misunderstood. This ability to translate the mundane into grand imagery was an essential facet of what made Dio the larger-than-life persona he was, on record as well as on stage and in the history of heavy metal more generally. As a backdrop for his powerful vocal delivery, songs like “The Man Who Would be King” and “The End of the World” indeed touched on the prevailing mood of the time, but in a vague and roundabout way, so that the stories being told were allegories, personal and otherwise. The swagger in the verses “Shivers” set up a standout hook backed by a theatrically creepy keyboard line, while “The Eyes” tapped into the kind of chugging stomp that made Dehumanizer sound so mechanized, and all the while, images and settings and characters populated the songs to give listeners paying attention something to dig into more than just another hooky melody or another cool riff. That is to say, there may have been a formula at work, but the paint on that canvas was fresh.

Perhaps the most personal-seeming of inclusions on Master of the Moon was “Living the Lie,” in which the identifier “I” was only used once. The lyrics dealt with the cloying desperation surrounding fame, and seemed to be as much about those seeking to hold onto the past as those outside trying to get in. The first verse ended, “She was never in the circle, or the round would be a square/And the more she seemed to want it, oh the less they seemed to care,” and the culture of fame was taken into direct observation later on:

If you’re looking at tomorrow
To forget about today
Then the past will be your future
And it’s there you’ll always stay
What about the pictures that smile from magazines
The ultimate temptation, all our kings and our queens

This led to the conclusion: “Such heat and too much pressure, not worth the try/No more for them, now it’s I/And no more living the lie.” There are of course multiple ways to read it, but particularly as “Living the Lie” was backed by the declarative “I Am,” it seemed to be Dio finding strength in self-actualization and having the sing-along chorus to prove it. Its long fadeout probably should’ve been the end of the record, but the trademark woman-as-evil-temptress “Death by Love” and the more doomly closer “In Dreams” follow, the latter tapping some of the keyboard feel of The Last in Line, but not quite living up to the apex set by “I Am.”

I don’t think anyone is going to pitch Master of the Moon as being Dio‘s most essential work. Were he alive, I don’t think Dio himself would make that claim. But the course that Master of the Moon continued coming off of Killing the Dragon showed a way for Dio to move forward and be who they were as a band without cowing to the trend of the day. Of course, after the touring cycle for Master of the MoonRonnie James DioTony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice would have a by-any-other-name Black Sabbath reunion as Heaven and Hell, and Dio‘s final studio performance would be on their 2009 album, The Devil You Know (review here), and his final tours would be to support that release before he ultimately succumbed to stomach cancer, his legacy long since cemented and unmatched among heavy metal frontmen.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

I expect today to be tense. The Patient Mrs. has a phone interview for a professor job in New Jersey at one of her several alma maters, and that kind of thing always defines a day. Of course she’ll nail it — because that’s what she does and the school in question, like any fucking place that has any sense at all, would be lucky to have her, what with the utter brilliance and unparalleled dedication that I so much admire in her — but still, I think she’s nervous. There is no doubt in my mind of her greatness, and she shines in that kind of situation, talking to people about her work, because she’s driven as much by passion as by professionalism. She gets excited and that gets others excited. It’s fun to watch.

However, I won’t be there to watch it. I’ll take The Pecan and roll down to the mall like the old man I am and buy the new record from The Claypool Lennon Delirium at Newbury Comics, because I live in Massachusetts and that’s the place to buy records. Plus there are a lot of colorful things to show the baby and he likes that. I might treat myself to the new Candlemass as well. We’ll see.

Next week will end with shows in Boston and New York as I follow Kings Destroy down the I-95 corridor and maybe sit in with Clamfight for a guest vocal spot, but even before that, it’s a busy time. Here are the notes as they are today:

MON 02/25 Codeia video premiere; Snowy Dunes video premiere.
TUE 02/26 Mountain Tamer single premiere; Volcano review.
WED 02/27 Orbiter track premiere.
THU 02/28 Almost Honest track premiere.
FRI 03/01 Possible song premiere or Hexvessel review.

Some of that will change, obviously, but it’s a start. This week was absolutely slammed. I don’t know if you noticed and I won’t fool myself into thinking you did, but there wasn’t one day this week with anything less than six posts. I think it was Wednesday had eight! It was completely overwhelming and I was out of my mind for much of it, but we got here and it’s done now, so whatever. My inflated self-importance will get a couple hours to recover before I start in again on Monday’s stuff and maybe make a playlist for the next The Obelisk Show, which will air next weekend.

Always something to do. 10 years later.

As ever, I wish you a great and safe weekend. Forum, Radio, merch at Dropout:

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Friday Full-Length: Rainbow, Rising

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 3rd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Rainbow, Rising (1976)

Listening to the searing precision in Ritchie Blackmore‘s guitar, Ronnie James Dio‘s soaring voice, the powerful rhythmic thrust of Jimmy Bain on bass and Cozy Powell on drums and the grandiose flourish of Tony Carey‘s keys, Rainbow Rising sure sounds like the moment when heavy rock became heavy metal. Narratives are never so cut and dry, but this was an important transitional moment. Gone was psychedelia unless you were Hawkwind, and even heavy rock was fading out in favor of the nascent punk movement. Rainbow made their debut in 1975 with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (discussed here), and even between that album and this follow-up that arrived a year later on Polydor Records with the revamped lineup around Blackmore and Dio, one can hear that transition taking place. To boil it down to a track? Think of “Starstruck” on Rising and “Man on the Silver Mountain” from the preceding record. The two share a lot in common — big hook, big groove, etc. — but “Starstruck” is leaner, tighter, and true to the hard-clenched fist on the iconic Ken Kelly cover art, more aggressive. Both LPs were produced at least in part by Martin Birch, who would also work on 1978’s Long Live Rock and Roll, and it really does seem to have been a shift in vision (or at least a move closer to an initial vision) on the part of Blackmore driving the evolution of the band in this direction.

As to where Rising ultimately fits in the pantheon of heavy rock/metal, I don’t think there’s any question it’s one of the greatest albums ever released. From the opening charge of “Tarot Woman” with Carey‘s clarion keyboard intro to the swaggering crotch-thrust of “Run with the Wolf” down to the two side B epics, “Stargazer” — a blueprint that Dio would follow for the rest of his career as heavy metal’s greatest frontman in Black Sabbath and especially his own Dio band — and closer “Light in the Black,” it is a close-to-perfect execution of early metal. Yes, Sabbath, Zeppelin and Blue Cheer, Cream and Hendrix before them laid out the foundation — not to mention Blackmore‘s own work in Mk. II Deep Purple — but even in the three-minute bass-led stomp of “Do You Close Your Eyes” one can hear Rainbow splintering away from the bluesy vibe on which heavy rock was founded and toward a graceful execution that over the next couple years would continue to take shape as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.

Again, narratives are never so cut and dry, and lest we forget that Judas Priest also issued Sad Wings of Destiny in 1976, that Sabbath were still roaming the countryside and that soon enough the willfully-ungraceful Motörhead would kick dirt in everybody‘s face with the raw power of their execution and volume, but Rising is nonetheless a pivotal document without which the NWOBHM and the formative work of bands like Iron MaidenAngel Witch and Saxon simply wouldn’t have existed in the shape it did. Of course, by the time those acts came around, Rainbow would be onto exercising different influences toward a more commercialized sound — they never put out two records with the same lineup — but that doesn’t change how essential a moment Rising continues to represent. Hell, listen to the guitar, bass and drum gallop at the start of “Light in the Black.” It’s the roots of thrash spreading out. Rainbow may have been deeply (and purply!) informed by the heavy rock of the earlier portion of the ’70s, but Rising was when they took that and remade it in their image, and 41 years after the fact, its ongoing relevance is inarguable.

Powell and Carey would stick around for Long Live Rock and Roll, but Bain was out — a mistake on Blackmore‘s part not keeping this band together — and replaced by Bob Daisley, and that 1978 final installment in their initial trilogy would also mark the final collaboration between Blackmore and Dio, whose styles were complementary in a manner few guitarists and vocalists have ever been. Dio, who had come from boogie rockers Elf at just the right moment to catch hold of Blackmore‘s attention when he was disaffected by where Deep Purple were headed, went on to proffer further metal majesties in Black Sabbath and, from 1983 until his passing in May 2010, he’d work with the Dio band to inscribe a singular legacy — his periodic returns to Sabbath and later Heaven and Hell didn’t hurt either. Rainbow continued on with Down to Earth in 1979, Blackmore bringing in frontman Graham Bonnet and following a tumultuous course of change through the middle of the ’80s before being put to rest for the next decade. Blackmore, having reunited and split again with Deep Purple, did another run with Rainbow before founding the Renaissance-themed Blackmore’s Night, and in 2015 resurrected the band again for limited shows, swearing off the possibility of new material as he had once sworn off playing rock and roll entirely. They have live dates booked for June in the UK.

Whatever may or may not come of that, Rainbow‘s Rising stands among the most classic of classics. One could and probably should and probably somewhere in the world — looking at you, Britain — does teach a two-semester college course on everything this incarnation of the group had to offer, and it’s my sincere hope you’ve enjoyed the chance to revisit their work.

Thanks for reading.

Working late today. Speaking of mistakes. I had to miss some time earlier this week picking up The Patient Mrs. at the airport as she was returning from a conference in Texas, so decided it was best if I stick around the office for a few extra hours to make up the time. It was, of course, the wrong decision, but it’s quiet here after everyone leaves and if you actually have work to do, easy enough to get it done. The question is “if,” but I always manage to find a way to keep myself busy.

Hope you had a good week. As I think I noted last Friday or maybe the Friday before, I’ve been dealing with some uptick in my general level of anxiety lately. Part of it is the precariousness of my work situation — I’m on a year-long contract that expires in June that may or may not be picked up for permanent hire. Part of it is probably related to my food intake — I don’t eat much these days that isn’t either salad or protein powder/bar-based. And part of it is “other,” but “other” of some substance. I’m healthy, at least physically.

Probably healthier than I’ve ever been, if one wants to go by the totally fucked way in which those things are generally measured. But yes, very anxious. I’ve made a mantra of “It’s okay it’s okay it’s okay” that I repeat to myself on the regular, to varying effectiveness. I’d like to go to a doctor and get some of those chill-the-fuck-out pills I keep hearing such good things about, to help carry me over for a little bit as other medication has in the past for depressive issues. Never a permanent solution, but something to get you over a hump when you need it. I feel like I might need it, and I think The Patient Mrs. would agree, going by her nigh-on-frantic search to find me a new primary care physician, which I haven’t really had since we moved north from New Jersey three years ago. Every doctor I’ve been to up north, on one level or another, has pretty much been an asshole. The guy who took care of my foot at least got the job as “done” as it was going to get, but he did so while hitting on my wife, so yeah, still counts as asshole.

At least baseball’s back on.

Next week is frickin’ packed. Embarrassingly so. Still some stuff to shake out, but here’s what’s in the notes as of now:

Mon.: Review of the new Solace tape, video from Black Mirrors, news on Freak Valley, My Dying Bride and more.
Tue.: Maybe a Mothership review/track premiere, otherwise a Death Alley review, plus new Shadow Witch video, news, etc.
Wed.: Review/track premiere for the new Wounded Giant, video from Six Organs of Admittance.
Thu.: Review/track premiere from Green Meteor, video from Dandy Brown, announcement from No Man’s Valley.
Fri.: Review/premiere for the new The Devil and the Almighty Blues, plus whatever else comes down the wire between now and then.

As I said, packed.

I’ve also slated the Quarterly Review for the end of this month. It’ll run the week of March 27 through March 31. I might add a sixth day again, depending on what comes together, but I’ve already had it in the planning stage since the start of February, so yeah, it’s well in motion. Lot of good stuff in there, and I’ll have another batch of Radio Adds before then as well.

Speaking of the Radio: it’s been on the backup drive all week, as you may or (more likely) may not have noticed. The Raspberry Pi that hosts the main server shit the bed and with work I just haven’t had time to reinstall the operating system as I need to do. It’s on my weekend agenda, but so is traveling to Connecticut for The Patient Mrs.‘ mom’s birthday dinner on Saturday, so it’ll very likely be Sunday before I get there. And then at least three more days to deal with how terribly I will have invariably fucked it up. Ah, the gently correcting tones of Slevin. I can hear them now as he directs to insert the SD card facing the right way, no doubt for a second, then a third time.

Thanks for reading. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. From the lonely, empty office in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, I’m signing off. See you back here Monday for more good times, and in the interim, please check out the forum and (backup) radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Dio, The Last in Line

Posted in Bootleg Theater on December 19th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

Dio, The Last in Line (1984)

What’s the most amazing part of The Last in Line? I don’t know. How about the fact that it hit just a year after Dio debuted with Holy Diver in 1983? How about the fact that side A has the title-track and side B closes with “Egypt (The Chains are On)” — two blueprints for what we think of today as epic metal? How about the whole goddamn thing? It’s all pretty amazing.

You have to figure Ronnie James Dio knew he had something special in the band behind him at this point. After releasing and touring on Holy Diver, to go back into the studio with guitarist Vivian Campbell (the two would later have a vicious falling out), bassist Jimmy Bain (who as I understand it had a vicious drug problem), drummer Vinny Appice (who, perhaps viciously, was never Bill Ward) and keyboardist Claude Schnell (who had a vicious mustache) and come out with these results, it boggles the mind. Aside from being not at all how the industry works today — they’d tour Holy Diver for at least 18 months if not two full years to pay label debt, and it wouldn’t be on Warner Bros. — just to have those two albums back-to-back as your debut and sophomore outings. Granted, by then Dio had already been in ElfRainbow and Black Sabbath, and he came to the band bearing his name with a bit of clout behind him, but still, wow. The power of this material, the rawness of “I Speed at Night,” the unabashed commercial play of “Mystery” and the irony-free grandeur of the aforementioned epics. It’s not a moment that could ever come again, and while there are many carrying on the legacy of this approach, I’ll gladly put The Last in Line up against anything that came after it in the last 30 years, including by Dio.

To that end, we all know how it worked out. This version of the Dio band had one more record in it — 1985’s Sacred Heart — and by the time they got around to 1987’s Dream Evil, it was Craig Goldy on guitar, Vivian Campbell to join Def Leppard several years later. Sacred Heart was a worthy third in the trilogy, but metal was changing by ’87, the ascent of MTV and glam well underway, and after 1990’s Lock up the WolvesDio would be back in Black Sabbath for 1992’s Dehumanizer before releasing Strange Highways in 1993 and arguably hitting his nadir with the Dio band in 1996’s Angry Machines. I’d argue that 2000’s Magica and the subsequent and final two Dio studio albums, 2002’s Killing the Dragon and 2004’s Master of the Moon, represented a strong return to form — particularly the last two after the concept record — but no question that part of the appeal was the “return” aspect, Dio and company playing both to his strengths as a singer and the expectations of an audience looking for the classic style. Still, it worked.

Not to bring down the room, but Dio‘s death in 2010 cut short both his reunion with Black Sabbath in Heaven and Hell and the chance for any further Dio studio output. There have been a couple live records, collections, and this year a tribute CD was released with I don’t even know who and does it even really matter on it, but as the legacy continues to be mined — and no doubt it will for a long while to come — the earliest Dio albums remain untouchable and unflinching in the face of passing years, carved in marble as much as they are cast in steel.

Yeah, I know I closed out with Rainbow like three weeks ago. What, it’s too much Dio? No such thing.

On Monday, I’ll have my top 30 of 2014 posted. Unless I run into some gotta-post-it-this-second news, which happened twice this week, it will likely be my only post of the day. After that, Tuesday maybe, depending on time, a countdown of the 10 best debuts of the year, and somewhere before 2015 hits, a list of the best EPs and singles. Time to get all this stuff out there. The music industry essentially takes off for the next two weeks, but I’m sure there will be fest updates and things of that sort to post on as well. Still, I want to use the time to wrap up the year and give this stuff the attention it deserves, because 2014 had a few genuine landmarks.

Also on Tuesday, look out for the year-end podcast. I know it’ll be at least three hours long. I might go four if I’m feeling inspired and have the time between travel and all that, but either way, it’ll include a lot of stuff on my best of list and probably more than that, but it will all kick ass, so stay tuned. I’ve got a terrible-in-terms-of-how-much-time-it’s-going-to-take-but-probably-the-way-to-go idea for what to do New Years Week as well, but more on that later.

Oh, and somewhere in there, I’m gonna try to review Slomatics too. Ha.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend as we move to and through the darkest days of the year. Please check out the radio stream and feel free to share all about your seasonal affective disorder with the forum. We’re all here for each other.

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Ronnie James Dio — Three Years Ago Today

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 16th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

I just wanted to take a minute to mark out three full years since the passing of Ronnie James Dio. Short of thinking of every scumbag motherfucker still roaming the earth while he’s not and making myself angry, I’d rather not get lost in memorializing — everything’s been said and by people with better sentence structures than mine — but if heavy metal has a hall of immortals it’s only because Ronnie James Dio built it from the ground up. He remains, and will remain, much missed.

This clip of Dehumanizer-era Sabbath doing “Children of the Sea” is one of literally thousands out there, and if you find yourself lost among them and exploring one into the next into the next, I’m sure there are worse ways you could spend that time. Ronnie James Dio, 1942-2010.

Black Sabbath,”Children of the Sea” Live in Rio de Janeiro, 1992

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Friday Long-Player: Dio, Holy Diver (1983)

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 2nd, 2012 by JJ Koczan

What a fascinating and confusing clusterfuck this week has been. Well, when you want to make sense of the universe around you desperately enough to drink cheap, shitty wine out of a La Quinta styrofoam cup, there’s only one place to turn: Dio‘s Holy Diver. Putting this record on is like putting on a pair of old pajamas: A little worn in, but just right on so many levels.

I was all set to catch Elder and Infernal Overdrive tonight in New Bedford, MA, but then The Patient Mrs. and I spent the better part of the afternoon hunting down sterno for her also-out-of-power grandmother, and by the time we left Connecticut, it presented a primo opportunity to sample Boston’s Revolutionary War-era civil engineering and city planning schematic. We sat in traffic for longer than I care to remember — such that, by the time we landed here at the hotel in Somerville, I not only would’ve been too late to the show to catch InfOv (that’s right, that’s what I call them), but the thought of getting back out in my car and getting to he No Problemo taqueria for the show sent a shudder down my mid-Atlantic spine.

I’m sorry, but no one in this fucking state knows how to merge. I know a lot of good people from here — Tim Catz, John Arzgarth, and on and on — but seriously, it’s called manual feed. One from this side, one from the other, and you should probably already know that.

So The Patient Mrs. and my sorry self grabbed dinner and a couple big cans of Sapporo — crisp and delicious — and I’ll just look forward to the Small Stone showcase tomorrow night at Radio here in scenic Somerville, and a week next week largely devoted to making up for all the ground I’ve lost in the wake of Hurricane Sandy over the last several days. Expect track streams from Pharaoh Overlord and Mala Suerte/Uzala, reviews of said Small Stone showcase and At Devil Dirt, among others, an interview with Curse the Son, news about Toner Low and much, much more. I’m so far behind, I feel like all I can do is drink and hope the power comes back on.

Oh, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here. And while I’m thinking about it, let me underscore the point of how lucky I fucking am to be alive and to have suffered nothing more than what in the context of the rest of my beloved Garden State is a minor inconvenience at best.

I can drink and be bummed about all the shit I didn’t get done this week, but at least I’m not drinking and being bummed about the tree that fell on the house, I guess is my point.

Though I still worry about the roving gangs of marauders breaking into the house and stealing my Queens of the Stone Age promos and Sabbath bootlegs. Please — they’re all I’ve got. Take the tvs and the formerly-frozen pesto instead. Leave the CD rack alone.

“And here it comes again/Straight through the heart.” Fucking a.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you’re in the area and headed to the Small Stone show tomorrow — as I am; have I mentioned that yet? — please, no matter what I tell you, I’d love a Palm. Cheers.

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Sometimes You Just Gotta Go to the Record Show

Posted in Buried Treasure on October 15th, 2012 by JJ Koczan

It had been a while since I’d been to the Second Saturday Record Show in flood-prone Wayne, NJ. In fact, relatively speaking, my load of CD acquisitions has been light of late, a combination of pricing myself out of the market, saving cash to move, being annoyed at digital promos, etc. But Saturday was the record show and I happened to be in the state, so I wasn’t going to miss it.

The Wayne Firehouse, which is where the show has been held since before time began, was as packed as I’ve ever seen it, and with more vinyl. Believe the hype, I guess. People were pushing through the aisles at crowded tables, and even though I was working under my self-imposed limit to CDs and tapes, I wavered when I happened upon an original LP of the first Goatsnake record. I didn’t buy it, because it was $75, but I came close.

Treasures persisted though. Here’s a quick rundown.

Among the CDs, the self-titled Electric Wizard was the highlight, no doubt about. Original jewel case issue on Rise Above. I’d only had the reissue before that paired it with Come My Fanatics and the digipak that came out even later, so to get the first version was a treat. Of course the album rules, but I already knew that going into it.

Tapes were three for two bucks at one seller’s table, so I grabbed the Dio, Sacred Heart, and Black Sabbath, Mob Rules and Born Again tapes from him, as well as the three-tape set of Carl Reiner and Mel BrooksThe 2,000 Year Old Man, which is a classic. The Ozzy tape came from his as well, which threw off the three-for-two thing, but it was worth the extra 50 cents anyway. I think actually I only wound up paying $2.50 anyhow. Fucking awesome.

The Hendrix tape in the top right corner I bought off a different dude for a buck. It’s a dub of “Top Gear”/BBC stuff (click here to pop up the full tracklist), and yeah, it’s probably all been officially released at this point, but it fucking rules anyway, front to back. 1967. Gorgeous.

The 1996 debut by Canada’s Sheavy was in the same bin as the Electric Wizard (and some Death SS, which I picked up as well), but might have been an even bigger surprise, if only because it was so random. I’ve never been really hooked by the band — though they do take Sabbath worship to a different level entirely and there’s something inherently admirable in that — but the record’s cool and it’s got a handmade-looking foldout included detailing the bonus tracks and even a little pyramid-shaped piece of paper that seems to be a kind of mail-order catalog:

And here’s the foldout, when folded out:

Pretty cool that that stuff would be with the album after all these years, and in impeccable shape at that. The CD was obviously well loved, kept out of sunlight, and so on. Hard not to appreciate stumbling on something like that, no matter how attached to Sheavy‘s work I may or may not be.

One of my main reasons for going in the first place, however, was the hope of picking up a turntable on the cheap. I’ve invested about as much time and effort into trying to repair the one at my office as I care to, and it’s time to move on. They didn’t have any at the record show, which was a bummer, but en route to other errands, The Patient Mrs. found a $40 Best Buy gift card that’s apparently been in my wallet since 2009. Could only be providence, right?

We shot over to the local big-box — a desert of outdated technologies (which actually gave it a certain charm in my eyes) — and grabbed the floor model of one of those “put your LPs on your iPod” turntables for what turned out to be $24 after the gift card was applied. Brought it to the office this morning, and of course it didn’t work. Now I’m 0-2 and I’ve got two busted record players one on top of the other on top of my office shelf unit, which I think makes me some kind of warped reality redneck.

Some you win, some you lose. I’ll try to return it and see if I can give it another go, and I’ve got plenty to keep me busy in the meantime. If nothing else, the growling and howling in “Hound Dog” on that Hendrix tape has the little dog Dio eyeballing the speaker curiously, and that’s bound to be hours of entertainment. Rock and roll.

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