Metal god Ronnie James Dio dead from cancer

Renowned vocalist Ronnie James Dio passed away on 16 May from stomach cancer. He was 67.

Dio was a much-loved metal singer, diminutive in size but expansive in vocal range. From Elf, to Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and fronting his own band, Dio never buckled to passing trends and made pretty much the same type of fantasy based metal that hit its prime in the late 1970s and 1980s. Although his type of metal was eclipsed by grunge music in the 1990s, Dio nevertheless continued to produce the same sort of mystical metal till his death.

Ronnie James Dio came to prominence with Rainbow. While Rainbow’s nominal frontman was Richie Blackmore, Dio’s distinctive vocals immediately become a huge selling point; Rainbow’s first 2 albums are rightly considered masterpieces in the classic rock / hard rock genre. When Ozzy Osbourne quit Black Sabbath, Dio became his replacement. While Dio was never going to be able to replace Ozzy as the iconic Sabbath vocalist, he did manage several solid albums with a deteriorating Sabbath. A few years ago, a nice compilation of Dio’s Sabbath years was released.

In 1983, Dio formed his own band and released the classic 1980s metal album Holy Diver. Holy Diver is one of the best metal albums from the 1980s and features an extremely solid band with lead guitarist Vivian Campbell (previously Thin Lizzy, would then join Whitesnake and eventually Def Leppard) at the pinnacle of his guitar shredding days.

Here is a clip of the band performing their hit Rainbow In The Dark off their debut album Holy Diver. The performance was recorded off a late night television show shortly after the release of the album, and features Ronnie James Dio at the peak of his career. More clips of Dio.

Last year, Dio reunited with his Black Sabbath band mates. Heaven and Hell was essentially Black Sabbath Mk II and their 2009 album The Devil You Know was a welcome return to form.

New York Times ArtsBeat article

Ronnie James Dio Wikipedia entry

Is Metallica’s Death Magnetic any good?

Once the most respected metal band on the planet, Metallica went mainstream in 1991 with their blockbuster black album. Since that breakthrough, they have struggled to come up with a decent follow-up – partly, this was because grunge took over the music landscape in the early-mid 1990s, and Metallica had to evolve to survive. But what were they going to evolve into? Since 1991, they have tried to remain relevant (Load is sort of like alt-metal) but ended alienating themselves from fans (suing Napster), and ended up producing St. Anger (generally regarded as one of the crappiest albums ever made) in 2003.

Metallica’s latest album was marketed as a return to their roots. Essentially, this means Metallica failed to evolve into something more modern, more relevant and decided to return to their classic sound. Now, there is nothing wrong with this – sometimes we just want more of the same. But does Death Magnetic measure up to the high standards of Metallica’s first 4 albums?

In my opinion, not really. Sure, Kirk Hammett gets to play many guitar solos as if in compensation for the lack of solos on St. Anger. The tracks on Death Magnetic all hark back to the suite like epics of their glory days – tunes shift midway, tempos change, Hammett’s solos cut in, more aggressive riffing from James Hetfield . . . but for me, the riffs aren’t striking, aggressive or have enough attitude to them. Same for the solos, they seem to go on and on, but they fail to keep me interested.

Death Magnetic isn’t bad – it just isn’t exceptional either.

Black Rain adds nothing to Ozzy legend

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Based on a few decent reviews, I bought Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album Black Rain. Ozzy has become a household name with his reality show, but despite this the reviews I read claim that his new CD delivers decent if not groundbreaking music. Obviously, Ozzy has lost the energy he put forth in his prime solo albums and while the riffs by Zakk Wylde are OK, nothing here is too striking.

I gave the disc a full spin today and my initial impression was that Black Rain the album sounds very much like a pop-metal offering from the late 1980s / early 1990s. Nothing here is horrid but neither are the songs impressive.

Verdict : inconsequential metal music

4 excellent metal albums released in early 2007

I seem lucky lately to have landed four new decent metal purchases.

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Dimmu Borgir – In Sorte Diaboli
In Sorte Diaboli highlights what Dimmu Borgir has become over the last few years. Arguably one of the most popular and widely-known symphonic black metal bands from Europe, Dimmu Borgir has refined their sound to preserve their sound signature as well as ensure a fair amount of commercial success. One could say that the album offers more of the same style the band has delivered since Death Cult Armageddon – and that’s not exactly a bad thing. The first track to receive airplay, The Serpintine Offering kicks off the album with awesome atmosphere and a nice melody. My only complaint is that as the album proceeds, my interest seems to wane.
Recommended. Nice album art too.

Therion – Gothic Kabbalah
The most melodic and ambitious of the North European metal bands, Therion doesn’t really sound very black or death – it is, however, very symphonic. I felt Gothic Kabbalah was more accessible than In Sorte Diaboli and Ordo Ad Chao. The guitars riff along nicely, production sounds cogent and mainstream, and even the vocals are audible and clean. On the downside, the album feels abit pretentious with all the mythological references and cryptic titles. It would also be nice if they could trim it down to a single album. Unlike Lemuria / Sirius B, Gothic Kabbalah is not offered as two separate purchases.
Recommended, but go check out Theli first if you’re new to Therion.

Black Sabbath – The Dio Years
Black Sabbath hired diminutive Ronnie James Dio as the lead singer for a few memorable albums after Ozzy’s departure in the late 1970s. At that point, Dio had already been with Elf and Rainbow and was an established metal singer with a following. This compilation collects the stronger tracks from Dio’s Black Sabbath albums (taken from 1980’s Heaven and Hell, 1981’s Mob Rules, 1982’s Live Evil and 1992’s Dehumanizer) with three new songs attached for extra value. While nothing here comes off as seminal as the band’s first two albums Black Sabbath and Paranoid, they are nevertheless a very strong selection of metal tunes that don’t really song dated at all (I would argue that Dio’s solo album Holy Diver, while excellent, sounds much more a product of the mid-1980s). With Dio, Black Sabbath sounds more aggressive and tighter. I found the three new songs decent but unexceptional as it lacks the vibrancy of the songs from their first stint.
Highly recommended though not essential unless you are a Dio fan (which I am).

Mayhem – Ordo Ad Chao
Perhaps one of the most notorious bands to come out of the Norwegian black metal scene (see Wikipedia entry for band’s fascinatingly black history), Mayhem has endured an ever-changing line-up of band members. When Mayhem reformed back in 2004 after a four year hiatus, they received a mixed response. After another three years, they have finally delivered a follow-up album in Ordo Ad Chao (translated into English it means “order In chaos”). This time, the band includes founding bass player Necrobutcher, prolific and much lauded drummer Hellhammer, vocalist Attila (who sang on Mayhem’s masterpiece De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas) and guitarist Blasphemer (who was been part of Mayhem since 1995). The first thing that struck me when I started playing this disc was the sound quality : some will call it raw, others will say it feels severely under-produced or awful. Hellhammer is quoted as saying “the production sounds necro as fuck, but that’s the way we wanted it-this time. It represents Mayhem today.” So audiophiles be warned. Musically, the songs represent the more avant-garde leaning of black metal that bands like Emperor have also been exploring. It makes for an interesting listen, but the songs are not as immediately striking as the sinister and more direct tunes of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. I think it requires a few more sessions to really get a hang of the album.
Recommended.

An introduction to Viking Metal

As a metal sub-genre, Viking Metal originated in Scandinavia and exalts the pagan roots of the people there. A strong anti-Christian sentiment can often be found in the music. Viking Metal features non-stop riffage and a surprising lack of guitar solos. Atmosphere takes precedence over technical individual instrumental virtuosity (in terms of flashy solos), though guitar textures and time signatures can be complex, especially as the sub-genre began evolving in the late 1990s. The consensus is Bathory created the seminal albums that defined the genre, though in recent years Amon Amarth have become one of the sub-genre’s better known proponents.

Bathory – Hammerheart

I’ve read about Bathory for years but their albums are rare and hard to find. I finally managed to get my hands on one of their finer albums last week. Hammerheart is one of Bathory’s seminal viking metal albums and the music on this CD is every bit as great as rumoured, marred only but a really crappy recording. The songs boast of a fantastically grand atmosphere and possess an epic quality that was to become the trademark of “viking metal”. Highly recommended.


Amon Amarth – Versus The World
Obviously not half as influential as the seminal viking metal of Bathory, Amon Amarth’s best album is nonetheless a very satisfying listen – it offers pounding riffs, loads of viking imagery and even the sound quality is acceptable!! Sometimes considered a “melodic death metal” band, their music is perhaps easier to like than Bathory’s more caustic sound. The version I own contains a second disc of extras, including an excellent versions of The Arrival of Fimbul Winter. Highly recommended.

Cradle Of Filth’s Dusk And Her Embrace is a justified classic

My impression of Cradle Of Filth’s Dusk And Her Embrace wasn’t entirely positive when I first acquired the CD two months ago. But having given the music more time, I now consider it a very fine gothic metal album and rightly a dark metal classic.

About two months ago, I began to look into dark metal and was recommended this CD as an essential purchase. I found the music very moody – haunting keyboards, loud guitar riffs and pounding drums. The vocals were hard to tolerate at first. I found the screeching vocals cheesy and not the least bit scary or dark. It is highly probably that I have just become more accustomed to the vocals hence they now seem less annoying.

I haven’t really delved into the lyrics as yet – they are most indecipherable without reading the booklet. I will post my opinions on them in the future.

Verdict : an essential dark metal album. A must buy.