When former Black Sabbath and Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio exploded out of the gate with a formidable new band and a simply awesome new album, he was an artist reborn. The year was 1983 and the band – simply christened Dio – were on fire, as the album – the immaculate, immortal Holy Diver – so ably attested. Rather than become jaded by acrimonious splits with both his former bands, Dio turned his trials into triumphs and when Dio the band arrived on UK shores for the first time, the setting simply couldn’t have been more magnificent.
Until its sad demise in 1996, the annual Monsters of Rock festival held at Donington Park in Leicestershire was the domain of the cream of the international hard rock and heavy metal crop. The 80s were the festival’s glory years and in 1983 Dio had their first taste of success. With just one ‘solo’ album to call upon, Dio delved into his illustrious past to assemble a set as replete with metal standards as it was with future classics. Today, Dio tunes such as Stand Up and Shout, Rainbow in the Dark and Holy Diver can hold their own alongside Sabbath’s epic Heaven and Hell or Rainbow’s jaw-dropping set piece Stargazer; in 83 Dio were really throwing down the gauntlet by daring to perform new, untested material back-to-back with songs that’d sold millions. As a result, the band’s Donington 83 set is simply electric.
Even if it hadn’t been a decidedly damp and miserable afternoon, their return to the Donington stage in 1987 was never likely to eclipse the sheer energy of their debut appearance. New numbers such as Dream Evil and Naked in the Rain show Dio holding steady rather than racing ahead. That said, the band – complete with new guitarist Craig Goldy on his maiden show – are as razor-sharp and rampant as four years previously, riding high on the huge successes of the intervening period.
That belief that the late Ronnie Dio possessed the greatest heavy metal voice of all time is bolstered by the fact that on stage his singing was every bit as mind-blowing as in the studio. This double-disc trip down memory lane bears this out in spades. There’s a fair bit of track duplication between both recordings but, with current Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell strutting his stuff in 83 and the aforementioned Goldy taking over in 87, there’s also plenty of contrast. A great souvenir of Dio’s halcyon days and a fitting tribute to a true legend.
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