A good friend of mine and I have had long-standing difference of opinion about Black Sabbath. He has no interest in anything post-Ozzy. I continued to buy Sabbath albums though all the band’s different incarnations, and while some releases did, I confess, require a greater degree of loyalty than others, the Ronnie James Dio studio albums (Heaven & Hell, Mob Rules, Dehumanizer) have always been favorites of mine. So the events of the last few years were something of a roller coaster ride for fans of my ilk, the joy of a new album (The Devil You Know, with this configuration of the band rechristened Heaven & Hell), followed by the shock and sadness following Dio’s untimely death. This release, a record of a 2007 concert, is a fitting valediction to a great band.
The fifteen songs are a fine selection. Doubtless, each of us will miss one favorite or another. I’m sorry that “Turn Up the Night” and “Buried Alive” were left off the playlist. But I can’t complain about any of the songs that are included. All three albums are well represented, and the absolutely necessary pieces – “Mob Rules,” “Children of the Sea,” “Die Young,” “Heaven and Hell,” “Neon Knights” – are all present and correct. Also performed are two songs – “The Devil Cried,” “Shadow of the Wind” – that were (along with “Ear in the Wall”) included on the Dio Years collection and heralded the band’s return to active songwriting.
The set is appropriately Gothic, with sinister stained glass gazing down on the musicians. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are low-key performers, leaving the dramatics to Dio and (to a lesser degree) Vinnie Appice. Dio’s voice is in fine form, and though he avoids the falsetto moments that are highlights of the studio incarnations of “Children of the Sea” and “Die Young,” his delivery is as volcanic as it has ever been. Musically, enough new is brought to the songs to spice up the live performance, with Iommi, for example, stretching out the intro to “Die Young” into an exquisitely virtuoso instrumental. All in all, this is a superb record of the performance, one to be grateful for, even if it is tragic that this will be no others.
As dark as the set is – it is often positively Stygian – the picture is never muddy, the musicians stepping into perfect clarity no matter how moody the lighting is. There is some grain visible, which could hardly be avoided in a live performance such as this, but the image is very sharp and clear, the colours strong and natural. The AVC codec maintains a very impressive Mbps, averaging about 30, but often going higher than that. There are a few odd visual effects, caused, I suspect, by the use of a telephoto lens. Thus, while Dio is not a big man, there are moments when he is standing with Appice on the drums behind him, and suddenly it’s as if a hobbit is being backed up by giant. But this is a minor quibble, and one that has nothing to do with the (excellent) transfer itself. The aspect ratio is 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is HD, but 1080i, stopping just shy of 1080p.
When discussing the sound, one can’t help but flash on the legendary battles over the audio mix of the Live Evil album, battles which were either a symptom or a cause of the imminent split with Dio at the time. Whatever the case then, the mix is pretty impressive this time around. While I might have liked a bit more bass, a slightly more thunderous sound to the guitar, the metal blast is still pretty damn satisfying, and Dio’s vocals are a ferocious, operatic roar, recorded with near perfect clarity. The surround effects are retrained, and kept from being distracting. The immersive effect of the crowd during the opening, however, is terrific. The illusion of actually being in Radio City Music Hall in those crucial opening seconds is well nigh perfect, and I defy any fan not to feel chills as the first ominous notes resound.
Road Movie: (19:14) This is the main documentary here, consisting of interviews with the band explaining how the reunion came about, and then chronicling the mounting of the shows themselves. Some of the footage here recurs in the other pieces, which are themselves clearly put together from material shot for this piece.
Hail the Gods of Metal: (5:24) A real bit of patchwork this, mixing fan reactions and band interviews, certainly touching on the band’s legacy, but generally lacking any real shape.
Radio City: (4:07) A tour through the venue. Interesting, I supposed, but a bit tangential.
The Wisdom of Dio: (11:06) The new material for this reissue. It is made of of interview footage with Dio shot for the other pieces, but here presented in longer form.
I’m still kicking myself for having missed what turned out to be my last chance to see this band live. This is a good consolation, though. Raise those devil horns, everyone!