Wednesday, September 26, 2007

CD and DVD Review - Heaven and Hell at Radio City

Anyone who read my posting of the Heaven and Hell show earlier this year knows what I think of the Dio-led version of Sabbath. For those who need a reminder, I think it's one of the best hard rock lineups to ever grace the earth. Forget the Ozzy led Sabbath. Just forget it. That version is a whole other thing, great in its own way, and yes, OK they co-founded heavy metal. But the Dio era Sabbath built on those roots and just sledge hammered it out of the park.

The Mob Rules. Heaven and Hell. Children of the Sea. Falling Off the Edge of the World. The Sign of the Southern Cross. Die Young. Neon Knights. Need I go on? Forget about it!

In terms of the show I saw earlier this year, these guys were in fine form, clearly pleased as a cup of Jesus Juice to be playing these classic heavy duty tunes. Not to rest on their laurels, they also played three songs from their 1992 overlooked reunion album Dehumanizer and two of the three brand new songs recorded for the Dio Years compilation CD. Much to my amazement these non-classic numbers fit in with the classics like a hand in a well broken-in studded leather glove.

Now the band's performance at Radio City Music Hall from this tour is out on CD and DVD and needless to say I bought both and whole heartedly recommend that anyone with even a cursory interest in Sabbath or hard rock go out and buy them right now.

I started with the CD. It's excellent. The same set list I saw, plus Lonely Is the Word. Nothing really to say about the CD except it is an accurate sonic snapshot of the kick ass tour. Dio's voice is soaring and powerful, he hits all the notes and just delivers. Iommi and Butler are playing better then ever. It's all there.

These guys sound like they have something to prove and are out to convert the masses, when really they could have just trotted out and farted through it all. They didn't. Oh, and Dio's scream at the start of The Mob Rules made the hair stand up on my arms. I'm not kidding. I actually laughed at how killer some of this stuff was. Iommi plays a LOT of guitar on this tour and the CD performances are blistering. And I am still amazed at how good Geezer is on this stuff.

The DVD is a must have as well. Same audio, obviously, but the company that filmed the thing really understands how to do it right. From a musician's standpoint, you can't beat it. There are loads and loads of close ups of Geezer, Iommi and Appice actually playing. For example, I am thinking, "Here comes that killer Geezer Butler bass fill at the end of the verse in Die Young," and bang, the camera is on his fretboard and you see him do it. Very nice.

I am so sick of DVDs that don't show the band PLAYING. Paul McCartney is the worst offender. His live DVDs are shot after shot of the audience singing along. Kill me now, man.

No, we get to see the prosthetic tips of Iommi's fingers blaze through the riff in Falling Off The Edge of The World. We get to see how fast poor Geezer has to play for all 5 minutes of Neon Knights. We get to see Appice trot out his fills in the new songs. Lots and lots of close ups.

Now if you don't care about this crap, there are loads of shots of the stage from all angles, and plenty of Dio devil horns. That's the one thing - he didn't hold back on his use of the 'horns' and at some points he is a little bit campy. Heavy metal, but campy. Heavy metal campy!

It's the one area where I have a critique of the band. Dio is a little bit on the edge of Spinal Tap with some of his antics and his overall look. My buddy Dave said it best when he said "The whole wispy hair elfin thing just isn't really doing it for me." But, hell, it's Dio. What are ya gonna do? He's always been true to himself, so good for him. I'll accept it.

Side note: You know how Johnny Depp based his character in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies on Keith Richards? I think they based Gollum in the Lord of the Rings on Dio. I'm just saying...

Back to the DVD. The audio is great. Geezer is mainly in the left speaker and Iommi is to the right. If you unplug one of your speakers you can hear the other guy shine. I suggest you unplug Iommi's side and bask in the insane talent that is Geezer Butler.

But you will also note when you take Iommi's side out of the mix that there are a lot of keyboards and even some guitar in the background that is being supplied by someone offstage to help fill in the sound. We actually meet this guy in the bonus material. His name is Scott Warren and he's been playing with Dio for years.

The bonus material is pretty good. You get the story of how they got back together and how much they love this music. Iommi says about five times that he was sick of playing the same 10 songs with Ozzy for eight years, and even notes that when the Ozzy reunion started, the shows were two hours but slowly whittled down to an hour or less. He clearly savors this version of Sabbath.

Which makes me wonder what is next? They could easily crank out another album. Or maybe they will let it go for a few more years. For sure there is no bad blood between these four. One can hope they'll do another tour at some point. I'll be there. In the meantime, we have the DVD!


Dr. John said...

Sounds like a good purchase. So, if you could only buy one CD, which would you buy, "Live Evil" or "Heaven and Hell at RCMH"? I can remember "Live Evil" being a pretty incredible album, and one that I need to readd to my collection (I only had it on tape).

Isorski said...

I would get H&H, because:

1) I think they are playing better now than they were then (with one exception - Children of the Sea is better on LiveEvil by far), and

2) LiveEvil has Dio singing a bunch of Ozzy era songs and I don't think they are very good. Some are OK but for the most part not so much.

You can troll through iTunes and check out the 30 second clips to see if you agree with me or not...

VoxMoose said...

I probably should do some homework on this, but why are the words "Black Sabbath" and "reunion" not used in the official billing of this band? I saw some of this on VH1 (it was fantastic), but everyone is careful to always refer to them as Heaven and Hell or in vaguer terms. Doesn't Iommi own the name Black Sabbath and could use it if he wanted?

Is this intentional or did I miss something? Any thoughts or insight here?

Isorski said...

Hi VoxMoose - it was an intentional decision by Iommi (who does own the name I think)to make a clear distinction between the Ozzy era and the Dio era. I think is was smart, and it obviously didn't hurt them, as the tour was really popular...

VoxMoose said...

After your review, I ran out and got Heaven and Hell on DVD and CD. Great stuff. Dio is Dio. He is sort of the Jon Anderson of old-school heavy dark metal: always keeping a positive attitude and message. On this Heaven and Hell set, his singing sounds striking like Bruce Dickenson at times. And, to further comment on your friend's comment about Dio: yes, he also happens to remind me of my D&D character when I was 13. Nevertheless, great singing voice.

Geezer Butler is right on, man. That guy can play bass like a maniac. In particular, during Neon Knights he is just amazing.

The newer tunes will take some getting used to, but i basically enjoyed them. I liked the riff in The Shadow of the Wind, even if the title seemed a bit overly dramatic.

Anyway, thanks for the great review.