Judge Victor Valdivia also sings songs about demons, swords, and sorcery—not for money, but because he's a little touched.
Thirty years of Heaven & Hell.
When Ronnie James Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne as the lead singer of Black Sabbath in 1980, he didn't just take over someone else's role; he redefined the band's sound so thoroughly that he practically invented a new style of music. With Osbourne, Sabbath was a sludgy, crude, almost defiantly unglamorous pack of drugged-out monsters. With Dio, they became sleek, intricate, even polished. The band played a more refined style of heavy metal that laid the groundwork for the '80s pop-metal boom, and if some old-school Sabbath fans view that as sacrilege, it's worth pointing out that the band's older '70s sound simply wouldn't have worked in the new decade. The band needed to grow and change and Dio—a far more technically accomplished singer and lyricist than Osbourne—was exactly the man for the job. With Dio, Sabbath would record two hugely successful and influential albums: Heaven & Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981). Both contained a harder, faster, and more concise sound that fit in comfortably with the more complex and less bluesy sound of '80s metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. It rejuvenated Sabbath, leading the band to even more commercial success in the early '80s than they'd had during their last days with Osbourne.
As prosperous as this period was for Sabbath, however, it was also short-lived. Ego clashes between Dio and Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi would lead to Dio's acrimonious departure in 1982, just as Sabbath was preparing to release a live album with Dio, Live Evil. The split was momentous. While Dio would lead his own self-named metal band and thrived for most of the '80s, Sabbath floundered both commercially and artistically after his departure. Dio did reunite with Sabbath once briefly in 1992 for the so-so Dehumanizer album, though once again, conflicts between Iommi and Dio scuttled that reunion just as it began. In 2006, they came together again to commemorate the release of an anthology of Dio's Sabbath work, The Dio Years. This time billed as Heaven & Hell for legal reasons, the band embarked on a tour and recorded a full-length album titled The Devil You Know (2009). Tragically, just as Heaven & Hell seemed like it could finally work as a full-time proposition, Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He passed away May 16, 2010, leaving behind a sizable and significant body of work, at the heart of which would be his time with Sabbath. If some of his Dungeons & Dragons-esque lyrics could sometimes come off as silly or dated, his vocal abilities, enthusiasm for his audience, and charisma as a frontman were undeniable.
You can get an appreciation for his work with this DVD. Heaven & Hell: Neon Nights: Live in Europe was filmed July 30, 2009, at the Wacken Festival in Germany. Dio and Iommi are joined by bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Vinny Appice, and keyboardist Scott Warren. Here is the set list:
Heaven & Hell had already released a previous concert DVD, Live at Radio City Music Hall (2007), but this show is particular poignant, since it's the last recorded concert that Dio would ever give. As such, it's easy to forgive some of the show's flaws and just appreciate Dio's irrefutable talents for one last time. Dio was nearly sixty by the time of this concert, so while his voice isn't as nimble as it was when he originally recorded many of the songs here, it's still surprisingly strong and clear. There are a few missed notes here and there but for most of the concert he proves why he's one of the most revered singers in metal. What's more, his unflagging energy, all the way until the end, is truly astounding. Since none of the other band members are especially lively stage performers, it's up to Dio to play to the crowd and while some of his stage patter is slightly corny, he nonetheless provides much of the show's excitement. As for Iommi and Butler, it's always a pleasure to see the two of them play together. For most of the '80s and '90s, Iommi led various versions of Black Sabbath in which he was surrounded entirely by hired hands, so seeing him reunite with Butler, who was his closest creative collaborator during the band's glory days, is a real treat for Sabbath fans. The set list is well-chosen, with a healthy sampling from all of the albums the band made together and picking most of the best songs. Even the newer songs from The Devil You Know, especially the brutal "Follow the Tears," are well-performed. Far from seeming bored or sloppy, the band gives their all on even the lesser songs, so while this may not capture Sabbath during their peak years, it's still a good concert for fans to see.
Technically, the show is first-rate. Shot on video, the anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer is stellar, showing off the concert perfectly. The two 5.1 mixes, both DTS and Dolby, are nicely balanced, giving plenty of kick to the guitars and drums but also letting Dio's vocals shine front and center. The extras are also excellent. The DVD comes with one hour's worth of interviews with the band members (except Warren). They discuss the complete history of Dio's time in Sabbath, how the band's albums were written and recorded, and all of the reunions and breakups in candid detail. For Sabbath fans, these interviews are almost worth the price of the DVD alone. Also included are brief one-minute tributes to Dio by Iommi, Butler, and Appice.
These interviews are welcome, but they're really just the icing. The real treat is getting to see Dio deliver the goods onstage one final time. For Sabbath and Dio fans, Neon Nights is a must-have. Though newcomers might want to start with Sabbath's The Dio Years anthology first to get this band's best songs in definitive performances, those who are impressed with that collection should have no problem graduating to this DVD. It serves as a fitting tribute to Dio's talents and the legacy of great music he left behind.
Not guilty. Rest in peace, Ronnie.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Review content copyright © 2010 Victor Valdivia; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.