This latest offering from the master of metal wastes no time getting right to the action. As the intro riffs to the Rainbow Rising classic "Tarot Woman" rattle your speakers, a thumbnail-sized shot of the stage slowly expands outward to eventually cover the entire frame. Flashing strobe lights signal the start of the show and offer the first glimpse of the ominous Holy Diver album cover artwork that served as the backdrop to the brilliantly lit stage.
Hearing the menacing Minimoog intro to that often overlooked Rainbow gem, to open the show, was cool enough, but to immediately follow it up with the Mob Rules epic "Sign Of The Southern Cross", easily one of the best songs from Dio's Black Sabbath days, had me grinning from ear to ear. This was shaping up to be one hell of a concert. Dio pays tribute to his killer second album, The Last In Line, next, with the slow-burning, metal anthem "One Night In The City", before getting on with the main event.
Holy Diver Live was filmed on October 22, 2005 at London's Astoria Theater, and, as the title suggests, this particular show was dedicated to an entire performance of Dio's landmark debut album of 1983, Holy Diver. This concept has been done before, and can be especially effective when performing a full-blown concept album, such as Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime, Pink Floyd's The Wall, or Dream Theater's Metropolis Part II: Scenes From A Memory. Although Holy Diver is not exactly a concept album, Dio's albums have all pretty much stuck to the same topics of heaven and hell, sorcerers and dragons, and other medieval themes.
The Holy Diver set begins four songs into the show with a short video introduction that spoofs the Star Wars opening scene with the scrolling text, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…" Dio's scrolling text is much funnier, beginning with "Planet Earth 1983…The evil disco empire is about to be attacked…" Attacked and destroyed, thank god. The skull crushing album opener "Stand Up And Shout" kicks things off, and then the entire album follows in order. "Gypsy" was extended by a mammoth drum solo from Simon Wright, which was only to be outdone by Doug Aldrich's guitar solo later on during "Shame On The Night". Aside from the two classics, "Holy Diver" and "Rainbow In The Dark", which are always going to kick ass, the real highlight of the Holy Diver set was most certainly the epic "Don't Talk to Strangers". This one features that classic buildup from beautiful ballad to explosive metal anthem, and Dio performs it masterfully.
Guitarist Doug Aldrich was a last minute replacement on the tour for the injured Craig Goldie, but this was not a problem, since he has toured with Dio extensively in the recent past – he played on Dio's 2003 concert video Evil Or Divine. Aldrich is an excellent guitarist who is well versed in the schools of rock, blues, and metal, and he always gives one hell of a live performance, whether it be strutting his blues-rock prowess for the much rejuvenated Whitesnake, or laying down some ferocious metal riffs these last few tours with Dio. His guitar solo during "Shame On The Night" is an old-school, arena rock showcase that shows off all of his influences, including some riffs that were obviously inspired by the likes of Blackmore, Iommi, Moore, and Rhoads. The Holy Diver set was all wrapped up nicely with a short reprise of the title track.
One of the main things that originally got me into Dio was the guitar wizardry of Vivian Campbell. His guitar solos on those first few Dio albums were songs within themselves. Aldrich does a great job with most of Campbell's best solos, especially "Rainbow In The Dark" and "Don't Talk To Strangers", but he didn't sound overly inspired on the great "Holy Diver". I guess he deserves a little slack considering the circumstances. They follow up the Holy Diver-in-its-entirety triumph with another killer Rainbow track, "Gates Of Babylon", which Dio dedicated to "the great Cozy Powell," the legendary drummer who he played with in Rainbow, and who died in 1998. It was nice to see Dio open up the vaults and dust off an epic like "Gates of Babylon", instead of just relying on the same two or three Rainbow hits he always plays.
Sandwiched between all of the Rainbow material was a ferocious performance of "Heaven And Hell", the song that helped rejuvenate a dying Black Sabbath on their 1980 album of the same name. This was the highlight of the show for me, and left the crowd begging for more when it ended the first set. After already playing for more than 90 minutes, Dio returned to the stage again, to perform two of his most famous Rainbow songs, "Man On The Silver Mountain" and "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll". "Man On the Silver Mountain" has never sounded better, and just when you thought they were about to bring it to an end, Dio leads you through a few beautiful verses of "Catch The Rainbow", before tearing directly into the anthemic "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll".
Ronnie James Dio is the consummate heavy metal frontman, who always performs as if it is the first and last time you will ever see him play. From doing such small things as personally returning the devil horns salute to some ecstatic fan in the crowd, to reading his message boards to find out what songs his fans want to hear in the set, he seems to really appreciate his fans as much as they worship him. He preceded the incredible second and final encore of "We Rock" with the following words: "As you can see we are being filmed tonight, so we are all gonna be on a DVD at some point in our lives – forever bonded together. They can't take that one away from us can they?"
Dio's voice was not in top form this night. It was a little hoarse and sounded as if he had a cold – which seemed to be confirmed when listening to him talk during the interviews. This was especially noticeable during the first couple of songs, but the more he got warmed up, the better he eventually sounded. Hell, a sixty-something year old Ronnie James Dio, with a cold, still kicks the ass of about 99 percent of all the other metal singers out there.
I would rate the performances on this DVD about equal to Dio's previous Evil or Divine video, but the production quality is far superior on this one. Three audio choices are provided; Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround, along with a powerful DTS surround mix. For some reason the center channel was not used with either of the surround mixes, but the overall quality did not seem to suffer. The crowd noise was a little low in the mix, which diminished some of the live ambiance, but the band's energy more than made up for it. The concert was filmed superbly, with the only drawback being the typical fast camera angle changes that we all know and love. The anamorphic widescreen presentation was clear and sharp, and brought out every detail of Dio's colorful stage show.
The only extra feature was an 11-minute band interview, and it was a pretty good one. Dio talks about the origins of his famous devil horns salute, which he says he remembers his Italian grandmother doing to ward off evil, when he was a little boy. There is also some cool behind the scenes footage, including Tony Iommi stopping backstage at the Astoria, and being kind enough to scratch his name into the back of Doug Aldrich's guitar. Did that scene ever put some thoughts into my head – like a Dio-led Black Sabbath reunion tour! Hey, you gotta do it before all of these old timers start kicking the bucket.
01. Tarot Woman
02. Sign Of The Southern Cross
03. One Night In The City
04. Stand Up And Shout
05. Holy Diver
07. Caught In The Middle
08. Don't Talk To Strangers
09. Straight Through The Heart
11. Rainbow In The Dark
12. Shame On The Night
13. Gates Of Babylon
14. Heaven & Hell
15. Man On The Silver Mountain
16. Long Live Rock 'N' Roll
17. We Rock