Neon Nights:
Live In Europe

Heaven & Hell

Ozzy Osbourne may be the voice of Black Sabbath, but the riffs and overall musical structure are clearly the property of Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. Take away Ozzy and add Ronnie James Dio, and the songs become a different animal — a more refined slice of metal that resonates far more with the name of Heaven & Hell than Black Sabbath. Under any name, the Iommi, Butler, Dio and Vinny Appice factor was always in a state of resolution — never quite fulfilling its potential in the early 80s, the early 90s or the mid to late 00s. The group was poised to keep the dream alive when Dio fell ill and lost his battle with cancer on May 16, 2010. For one of his last shows with Heaven & Hell in July 2009 at the Wacken festival in Germany, Dio showed no signs of wear, delivering a fisting-pumping performance captured by the cameras and now available on CD and DVD as Neon Nights: Live In Europe.

There may be tons of Dio tributes on the market, but nothing quite matches anything he did with this set of players, a group that consistently challenged the singer’s musicality. It starts from the get-go as the grind of “Mob Rules” opens the show on a strong note. Dio, as usual, is the gracious host, thanking everyone and introducing the next number — “Children of The Sea” — as the first song the group wrote together. After a dramatic run-through, they get downright dirty for “I,” a catchy riff from 1992’s Dehumanizer that beautifully encapsulates Iommi’s technique. Even at this point in time, you can’t mess with Iommi — dressed in black, a personalized guitar strap draped over his shoulder, the well manicured pencil-thin mustache and the ever-present cross around his neck. He remains the godfather of the heavy metal riff.

“Bible Black,” from The Devil You Know, the one and only Heaven & Hell studio album, plods along at a reasonable pace, but is quickly overtaken by “Time Machine,” another refugee from Dehumanizer. Butler’s rhythmical sense as a bassist comes to a boil before a rather pointless drum solo from Appice moves in for the kill. Fortunately, “Fear,” another new one, reels back the lost momentum. “Falling Off The Edge Of The World” and “Follow The Tears” leave indelible stamps of their own, but once Iommi steps out and revs the engines for “Die Young,” all bets are off. Only “Heaven & Hell” (not their theme song, by the way, but a vehicle for Dio’s most demonic performance) and the always brisk “Neon Knights” are able to break the spell, ending the set with a roundhouse kick to the membrane.

As if the DVD needed more credibility in providing a perfect and timely display of Dio’s talents, a series of interviews before and after the man’s passing underscore a shared and sacred respect amongst the group members that never seemed to diminish over the course of their bumpy, 30-year history together. Dio’s time with Rainbow and as a solo artist have back stories of their own, but his work with Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice will forever be cast in a classic metal mold that can never be replicated. What a shame it couldn’t have gone on.

~ Shawn Perry

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