Various Artists – Ronnie James Dio: This is Your Life Review

I don’t have to tell you how great Ronnie James Dio was, or at least I shouldn’t. His shocking and tragic passing in 2010 was a huge blow to the metal world. It had lost one of its greatest voices, and the world at large had lost one of its greatest men.

As the verbal tributes poured in from all corners, you knew that the musical tributes would soon follow. Now, although I love cover songs, I only like tribute albums. They tend to be more Nativity In Black II than Nativity In Black; more Encomium than Twisted Forever.

The Manowar-helmed Magic: A Tribute to Ronnie James Dio was the first to land, a rush-job if there ever was one. Comprised strictly of Magic Circle artists, the poor performances – or maybe just the third and fourth-rate performers – led to it being forgotten almost as quickly. Then there was Jorn’s Dio, which was reportedly already in the can prior to Dio’s passing and included an incredibly moving original that became even more poignant.

So nearly four years later, we have what could be considered the first proper tribute since Dio’s passing (2001’s excellent Holy Dio was the only prior one of note). With Wendy Dio herself at the helm, the mind ran wild with who would be enlisted, who would be chosen to pay tribute. If anyone could make sure that Ronnie was properly honored, it would be his widow, right?

Well, in many ways, This Is Your Life is more like a memorial for than a tribute to Ronnie James Dio. You’ve got former bandmates all over the place, friends who may not have been quite up to the task, some prominent names brought in for the sake of having prominent names, recycled material, and the guest of honor himself taking part. In spite of all that, this collection is not without its merits and stand-out performances.

Join me know as we walk through the entire track listing in my own little version of “This Is Your Life.”

 • • • • •

Anthrax – “Neon Knights”

Anthrax plays it safe with this selection (one might have expected “Heaven & Hell” after they performed it during The Big 4), and they come off better for it. Joey Belladonna can’t hit the higher notes like he used to, but the man clearly knows how to work within his own boundaries and does a solid job maintaining the integrity of the song. Musically, this is hard to identify as Anthrax, with their sonic nuances hidden beneath surprisingly generic tones and playing in a style rather unlike their signature. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking now. It’s a new recording by a relevant band that rocks as hard as the original–all key points to a successful tribute.

Tenacious D – “The Last In Line”

OK, I get that Jack Black struck up a friendship with Ronnie that included the former appearing in the “Push” video and the latter appearing in The Pick of Destiny, but…really? If you’re gonna include a fake band at least go for Spinal Tap or Steel Dragon. Even playing it shockingly straight-faced, they’re way out of their league here. Black sounds gravelly and constipated, and the guitar solo is replaced with a flute – not a bad touch, actually, adding a bit of mystical/medieval flair. This is clearly a case of playing favorites while adding a bit of commercial appeal to sell a few more copies. I also was never a fan of Tenacious D to begin with, which doesn’t help their cause.

Adrenaline Mob – “The Mob Rules”

Originally released on their Coverta EP, which is a big no-no in my book (especially since it’s less than a year old). Russell Allen is one of the few vocalists with the ability to match Ronnie’s power. He pulls it off here with authority, from the opening scream to the burning sense of urgency throughout. It does somewhat beg the question, though, of why this track was chosen rather than “Stand Up and Shout,” which is also included on Coverta (as is “Kill The King”, but the reason for that will be apparent shortly, though it didn’t stop Century Media from doing the same in 2001).

Corey Taylor – “Rainbow In The Dark”

Neither Slipknot nor Stone Sour come to mind when thinking about bands that Ronnie may have influenced, yet here we are with Corey Taylor tackling one of his most iconic tracks. He’s backed by a “who?” of musicians that includes guitarist Satchel (Steel Panther), drummer Roy Mayorga (Stone Sour, Soulfly, Amebix) and members of Black President, which makes you wonder what the hell the rest of Stone Sour’s problem is; he should have recruited a keyboard player, too. Really, this song is so uniquely Dio that nobody should cover it, but Taylor does so as well as (or better than, if you loathe the guy) could be expected. He doesn’t have the range, but he has the passion, and that counts for something.

Halestorm – “Straight Through The Heart”

I do not get what so many people see in this band and their vocalist Lzzy Hale (who incidentally stands in front of ROB FUCKING HALFORD on the cover art). The band is up to the task of tackling this deeper Holy Diver cut, but she sounds like she’s struggling to match the power of the music and never quite makes it. The “This is for you, Ronnie” at the end I’m sure was meant with the best intentions but it rings hollow and a bit gratuitous. Of course it’s for Ronnie – it’s his damn tribute album. I could go on with the negatives, but I’ll leave it by saying that their presence is a black mark on the entire album.

Motorhead w/ Biff Byford – “Starstruck”

With all the majesty, people sometimes forget that Rainbow was a rock n’ roll band at heart. Leave it to Lemmy and crew to remind people of that with an impressive rendition of “Starstruck” with Saxon vocalist Biff Byford. The decision to use a guest vocalist may seem a little surprising given the relationship between Dio and Lemmy, but it works here. Byford has a bit more dynamic range to handle lead duties, and Lemmy’s backing vocals on the chorus are a sweet complement. Of course, Phil Campbell and Mikkey Dee capture all the raunchy swagger of the original, and even add a bit of their own.

Scorpions – “The Temple of the King”

When your predecessors are paying homage to you, then you know you’ve done something right. Scorpions take full ownership of this Rainbow classic, to the point where it almost sounds like an original composition. Not much is changed musically or stylistically, and on one hand, that makes it fairly unspectacular; on the other, it makes it utterly beautiful in its honesty, simplicity, and faithfulness.

Doro – “Egypt (The Chains Are On)”

Remember what I said about previously released tracks? This one has the added no-no of having been previously released on another Dio tribute (the aforementioned Holy Dio). This is a good rendition, though, with Doro adding some symphonic elements for increased majesty. Smart move. Doro is a great vocalist in her own right but different enough from Dio that had she kept it stripped down, she likely would have been swallowed by the music. This way, she has a bit more support, and we’re all better for it.

Killswitch Engage – “Holy Diver”

Another previously released contribution. At least this was only released as a bonus track on the deluxe reissue of As Daylight Dies. But, in the digital age, that means it can easily be purchased a la carte. I’m not even going to bother detailing this one because you’ve already heard it (or refused to on general principle).  Personally, I like it, but its inclusion is questionable.

Glenn Hughes – “Catch The Rainbow”

Legendary vocalist Glenn Hughes is backed by former Dio band members (and current Dio Disciples) bassist Rudy Sarzo, keyboardist Scott Warren, drummer Simon Wright, guitarist Craig Goldy. I’ve never been a big Glenn Hughes fan (blasphemy…?), and hearing him perform one of Rainbow’s most mellow tracks isn’t doing much to change that. As you may have noticed above, I don’t really like these one-off, unnamed collaborations on tribute albums. Here I kind of understand having the former bandmates appear, and at least they’re doing a song they themselves didn’t originally play on; but given that 3/5 of them likely perform this one regularly with the Dio Disciples tribute outfit, it leans a bit too much towards nepotism.

Oni Logan – “I”

Current Dio Disciples vocalist Oni Logan is backed by fellow Disciple Rowan Robertson (guitar), bassist Jimmy Bain (of ‘rival’ Dio tribute act Last In Line), and drummer Brian Tichy (amazingly, no prior connection). See above criticism of collaborations. Aside from that, I like the choice of this Dehumanizer cut which didn’t get much attention originally but has taken on new life since Dio’s passing. Logan shows that he is more than worthy of carrying on Dio’s legacy with a strong performance of this hard-hitting declaration.

Rob Halford – “Man On The Silver Mountain”

One Metal God pays homage to another here, backed by another collection of former Dio band members in bassist Jeff Pilson, drummer Vinny Appice, guitarist Doug Aldrich, and Warren. The results? Less than stellar. It just feels like Halford is taking things too casually, at least on the lead vocal track. If he’s doing his own backing vocals, those are a bit more emphatic. Of note on the musical side, a few liberties are taken that neither add nor detract from the song, and Aldrich absolutely nails that solo.

Metallica – “Ronnie Rising” (medley: “A Light In The Black,” “Tarot Woman,” “Stargazer,” “Kill The King”)

Metallica love them some cover songs, though they rarely appear on tribute albums. This could only turn out one of two ways: pure rubbish or pure gold. Thankfully, it was the latter, because at this point, the album (and frankly, Metallica themselves) sorely needed a huge win. These selections translate surprisingly smoothly to the Metallica template, and their performance crackles with an energy that they haven’t shown in years. Another example, like Anthrax, of a veteran band/vocalist adapting and playing to their strengths rather than trying to do a full-on emulation. By the time the final notes of an amped-up “Kill The King” echo from the speakers, you’ll be exhausted and in complete awe of the past 9 minutes.

Dio – “This Is Your Life”

Taken from the Angry Machines album, this very melancholy piece is just Ronnie on vocals backed by Warren on piano. Here, it acts as sort of a final message of inspiration to his family, friends, and fans: “This is your here / this is your now / let it be magical.” Well intentioned I’m sure, but having it follow the raucous medley makes for an awkward drop-off and ends the album on a down note.

 • • • • •

Now, I’ve said a lot of negative things about the tracks – and even a few about the personnel – on This Is Your Life. The natural assumption is to think that this is terrible to the point of unlistenable.

That isn’t entirely true. At the heart of this thing is the songs of Ronnie James Dio, words given life by the man that many call “The Voice of Heavy Metal.” And these are all good songs. So even if some of the vocalists can barely carry their tune, or you’ve heard them ad nauseum already, or even if they just don’t have that certain Dio-ness that the originals had, you’re still likely to find yourself singing along with horns held high.

Maybe that was the whole point, to have all these musicians lead us, the listeners, in sing-alongs to some of the greatest songs ever sung. It’s hard to dislike something that invokes and enables that sort of emotional response and experience.

Posted by Dave Pirtle

Coffee. Black.

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