DIO / Holy Diver Live is a magical memory of a unique night

7 February 2021

I was there. But then again, I was at the Astoria every time Dio played there. This time, though, it was a bit special, to mark the twenty-first (ish) anniversary of the release of their first album, ‘Holy Diver’. Dio played the whole album live.

Dio: Holy Diver Live

Recorded at the London Astoria, 22 October 2005.

Release Date: 12 February 2021

Words: Mark Rotherham

And around this time, there was a lot of that going on. I remember Saxon doing the same thing with ‘Denim and Leather’ and jolly good it was too. So while Dio were not the first band to do this, they did it phenomenally well.

For those who are not up on their history, ‘Holy Diver’ was the debut album for Dio, the band that Ronnie James Dio put together after a somewhat less than friendly departure from Black Sabbath, although fortunately for us music fans, they did make up. The album was a real vindication of Ronnie James Dio’s style of music and singing.

As well as being an absolute classic.

This live album was initially released in 2006, but has now been remastered and repackaged, and I have to say I love the new cover. The Astoria never looked as cool as it does on the new artwork, but give me artistic licence over reality any day of the week.

This is a double CD, and for the purposes of packaging, the first CD is ‘Holy Diver’ in its entirety and the second one is the other songs that were played. On the night itself, the ‘Holy Diver’ section was mid-concert, but that is just trivia.

Photo of Ronnie James Dio

Before the first song kicks in, there is a mystical narrative by Ronnie James Dio that mentions all the songs in the album in a kind of story-telling way and then we are into ‘Stand up and Shout’, the first song on this album, and typically the first song at most Dio concerts.

And what a great way to start. It is fast, it is aggressive, it has got the message, it is everything that good Heavy Metal should be. Doug Aldrich really owns the solos that were first made famous by other guitarists and he does an amazing job.

‘Holy Diver’ thunders in next, minus the usual keyboard intro, it is meat potatoes Metal all the way, underscored by Doug Aldrich’s staccato riffing.

So far, nothing really out of the ordinary. Both songs are live staples, but then the whole idea of a complete album being played live really comes home to roost with ‘Gypsy’, and its thunderous intro. This was always one of my favourite songs on the album and I could never understand why it did not get any live play, but I guess all good things eventually come to those who wait.

And guess what, Ronnie James Dio actually screams at the beginning on the song. Nothing that would bother Rob Halford, but yeah, if you think that Ronnie James Dio’s magic voice is nothing but deep and resonant, check out the start of this song.

I have said it before, so I guess I have got to say it again, you get all the traditional trimmings with a Dio concert, so at the end of ‘Gypsy’, Simon Wright does his thing with the drum solo. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, it is a standard fixture, as is the way he gets the crowd involved.

But who knew the drum solo would end with an orchestral overplay, although this happened a lot around that time as well, something to do with a certain rugby world cup, if memory serves.

Photo of the DIO Holy Diver live package

‘Caught in the Middle’ is a really under-appreciated little gem, with it’s almost punky intro. The thing is, all of these songs work live, whether they were part of the usual playlist or not. But I suppose Dio were always one of those bands with just too many songs to choose from.

And speaking of which, we then go from one rarely played song to one always played song, and how. ‘Don’t Talk to Strangers’ is an absolute full-carat classic, with the slow, melodic intro, then a razor-blade riff and a Ronnie James Dio roar that really kicks you in the guts every time you hear it.

Lyrics and guitar rarely work together with as much power and aggression as they do on this song and Doug Aldrich played the solo note for note as though it was Viv Campbell onstage.

For those who remember the vinyl version, ‘Straight Through the Heart’ was the first song on side two and the pace continues as Ronnie sings out the warning to us all, “never tell a secret with your eyes, it’s the eyes that let you down.” Doug Aldrich adds a few of his own licks into the solo with no complaints at all from anyone.

Another slow burn intro leads into ‘Invisible’, but it is not long before the mayhem starts, with more seamless and classic Metal from the man who was the undisputed master. “Well I grew up quick, and I felt the kick of life upon the stage.” We would all like to know what that feels like, but Ronnie really knew.

So okay, ‘Holy Diver’ is a recognised classic, but do any of the songs soar even higher?

You betcha, and ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ is just that song. It is recognisable, some would say it tells Ronnie’s story, some said it was about Blackmore, but the fact is, it is immaterial who it is about. It is just an amazing song and although Ronnie James Dio is the only band member still there from the original recording, the band on that night played it right.

Until you listen to this album right the way through, I guess you do not actually realise how many slow-burn starts there are, and ‘Shame on the Night’ is another one of those, a testament perhaps to Ronnie James Dio’s absolute confidence in his own style that he did not need to play warp speed Metal to make his point.

Sandwiched in between the song is Doug Aldrich’s guitar solo, which as solos go, is quite varied.

Some usual shredding, but also some slow hand-clap stuff that sounded kind of like the start of ‘Temple of the King’/’Catch the Rainbow’. Surely a coincidence.

And while billed as a guitar solo, Scott Warren gets in on the act towards the end, adding some classy layers to what are by now bluesy licks from Doug Aldrich, before the rest of the band join in and the Metal gets turned back on with ‘Shame on the Night’, and then a condensed re-run of ‘Holy Diver’.

It was a unique night, and as events have now overtaken us, the last time we will hear its like again.

But that was just half of the show, there was plenty more to come.

This was never going to be a regular Dio concert and the rest of the night showed it, with plenty of songs played that had not been heard for a long time, but certainly should have. And kicking things off on the second of the double CD package is ‘Tarot Woman’, taking us right back to the 70’s and another Ronnie James Dio classic album.

Doug Aldrich really ripped up the licks and riffs on this version, taking the original and giving it a ton of steroids, with insistent tack-hammer playing that took everyone there to a new level of heaven.

Then it is a whistle-stop tour through Ronnie James Dio’s other bands, via songs you had not heard in a long time, like ‘Sign of the Southern Cross’ from the Black Sabbath days, which probably had not been dusted off live since, well, Live Evil. And does it compare to that acknowledged live opus? Hell yeah!

But that was the point of this night, of this album, of the whole tour. To give the fans a real taste of songs that had not been played for an audience in a long, long time. Which brings us to ‘One Night in the City’, a thundering anthem from Dio album number two. And if they were not going to play ‘The Last in Line’, this is an oh so acceptable replacement. Full of menace and foreboding, the song oozes malevolence and at the end you hear the very familiar crowd chant, “Dio! Dio! Dio!”

The endless procession of live rarities continues, with ‘The Gates of Babylon’ taking us right back to Rainbow. This one has been changed the most noticeably, slower than the recorded version and Doug Aldrich really cuts loose, interpreting most, if not all of the guitar work in his own way.

Photo of Doug Aldrich, from The Dead Daisies
Doug Aldrich. Photo: Robert Sutton.

You might think it would be difficult to bring together music from three very different bands and all of the musicians involved over the years, but there is a seamless join to the whole setlist, and if you were new to the band(s) and their history, you would never know. Ronnie James Dio’s voice soars over the chorus and final line, and we are all reminded of spirits having flown.

And then, while some live regulars are reverently put to one side, some are absolutely not. “This is Heaven and Hell,” announces Ronnie.

Cue the cheers and one of the ultimate and easily recognisable riffs roars over the crowd.

The recorded version of this song is brilliant, but if you are a fan, then you will know the sheer magic of the live version, the extended solo, the added vocal lines. And it is different every time. Some things remain though, the crowd singing “Heaven and Hell” and the teasing bass line.

This time it is haunting, it is diabolical, there is a real edge to it. It is not overplayed in a way that perhaps the earlier versions were.

If like me you are a fan of a certain age you will know what I mean. This song just one hundred per cent Rocks you. Very, very nicely done.

By now we are into encore territory, and ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ scythes across the speakers, with a more abrasive guitar than you have heard played before. Slower than you would be used to as well, but still so amazingly good. Doug Aldrich is like a man possessed playing the solo. It is unbelievable just how much better he makes the classics sound, an absolute tribute to his massively under-rated talent.

Dio are not known for ballads, or even any kind of slow song, but that did not stop the odd slowie making its way onto older albums with other bands, and ‘Catch the Rainbow’ makes a small appearance, before normality returns with ‘Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll’ and we are back on familiar territory. Doug Aldrich once again tears up the rule book with his solo.

“You know how to do this one,” chirps Ronnie and the crowd oblige by roaring back the chorus. There is the familiar band introductions, before Ronnie roars out, “We are…Dio!”

But a Dio concert never ends without the ever-same crowd pleaser and this set was no different. You knew it was coming, you wanted it, and you loved it. It’s ‘We Rock’, one of the most corrosive Metal songs ever written, and it is played with no less energy after all these years.

It is another crowd-sing-the chorus song, and a massive, high-octane end to what proved to be one of the most memorable concerts that certainly I have ever been to.

There are only some albums that can be played live in their entirety and it is fair to say, only some bands that could carry it off.

But ‘Holy Diver’ was definitely one of those albums and Dio were utterly, certainly, unbelievably, soooo one of those bands that could.

The new Holy Diver Live package is released 12 February 2021. For details of the Evil Or Divine release, see www.metaltalk.net/dio-evil-or-divine-a-very-special-a-thing-of-magic.php

Line Up:

Vocals: Ronnie James Dio
Guitar: Doug Aldrich
Bass: Rudy Sarzo
Drums: Simon Wright
Keyboards: Scott Warren

Tracklist:

1. Stand Up And Shout
2. Holy Diver
3. Gypsy, Drum Solo – Simon Wright
4. Caught In The Middle
5. Don’t Talk To Strangers
6. Straight Through The Heart
7. Invisible
8. Rainbow In The Dark
9. Shame On The Night, Guitar Solo – Doug Aldrich, Holy Diver (Reprise)
10. Tarot Woman
11. Sign Of The Southern Cross
12. One Night In The City
13. Gates Of Babylon
14. Heaven And Hell
15. Man On The Silver Mountain
16. Catch The Rainbow, Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll
17. We Rock

Photo of the DIO Holy Diver live package

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