In the months preceding the arrival of Ronnie James Dio, it looked as if Black Sabbath were over. They had spent the past decade as the world’s most infamous band, and their notoriety was taking its toll. Ozzy Osbourne had been kicked out because of his drug problems, and the remaining members were not doing much better. The addition of Dio to the core of Tony Iommi (guitar), Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums) produced one of the most incredible second acts in rock history.
Their first album together, Heaven And Hell (1980) was immediately recognized as a classic by fans and critics alike. The Mob Rules (1982) was a worthy follow-up, and saw Vinnie Appice replace Bill Ward on the drums. Unfortunately, it was the last studio album this line-up would record for ten years.
Due to typical rock star ego clashes, they did not go into the studio together again until 1992, for Dehumanizer. It was a great album, but remains overlooked, and the four parted ways again. In 2007, Warner Bros. were putting together The Dio Years compilation, featuring tracks from all three records, plus three new ones. Things went so well that the guys decided to record a full disc, under the name Heaven And Hell. It was as if they had never left, their trademark sound intact after nearly 30 years. Sadly, The Devil You Know (2009) turned out to be Dio’s last album.
The concert recorded for the new Neon Nights DVD was recorded during the subsequent tour, at the massive Wacken Festival in Germany. The night was July 30, 2009. At the time, nobody knew it would be Dio’s final filmed live appearance.
He is certainly in top form throughout the ninety-minute set. After the introductory “E5150,” the band tear into “The Mob Rules.” Dio’s voice is as strong as ever while he prowls the huge stage and flashes the devil-horn hand signal he was so well known for.
From there, the band reach back to Heaven And Hell, and the first song they as a band wrote together, “Children Of The Sea.” Making sure to highlight all four of their albums, next comes “I” from Dehumanizer, then “Bible Black” from The Devil You Know.
Vinnie Appice gives the guys a smoke break during “Time Machine,” with a powerful four-minute solo. The guy must be surrounded by a hundred drums in his kit, and he manages to hit just about every one of them. Next up in the solo spotlight is Tony Iommi during the opening of “Die Young.” His two-minute introduction covers a lot of ground in such a short time, and shows what a vastly underrated guitar player he has always been.
The last song of the show proper is “Heaven And Hell.” At 17 minutes in length, their anthem is given the deluxe treatment it deserves. Iommi’s guitar playing really shines during his solos, and includes an extended blues workout. I found myself paying a lot of attention to Geezer Butler’s bass work during this one. He reminds me of John Entwistle in some ways. While he is never showy on-stage, he comes up with some of the most amazing bass runs, yet never wavers in holding down the bottom end.
“Heaven And Hell” predictably brings the 150,000 fans to their feet, singing along with the always engaging Ronnie James Dio. They encore with a snippet from “Country Girl,” then wind up with a searing version of “Neon Knights.” The crowd loves it, and Dio’s last words as the group head off-stage are, “We love you guys, you bloody rock!”
The DVD bonus features are two interview segments. In the first, the four members discuss the 30 year history of the Dio – Sabbath group. That Metal Show host Eddie Trunk interviews Dio, Appice, and Butler for this segment. British journalist Malcolm Dome wrote the DVD liner notes, and he interviews Iommi for his contribution. It seems that Dio’s health was not yet an issue when these interviews were done, because he looks fine, and nobody brings anything up about it.
Finally there are personal tributes from Iommi, Butler, and Appice to their friend. He was an incredible talent, and the impression I get is that he was a great guy off-stage as well.
R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio – you are missed.
“The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes then steal your dreams, its Heaven and Hell oh well its Heaven And Hell” … From “Heaven And Hell” Lyrics by Ronnie James Dio