“That was the most Metal thing I’ve seen in my entire life!”
Those were the sentiments of most of the packed crowd at the Coliseum as drummer Vinnie Appice, bassist Geezer Butler, singer Ronnie James Dio and the heavy metal architect Tony Iommi bowed and walked off the stage after playing their first concert together in fifteen years. For those who haven’t heard the explanation, Heaven and Hell is the Dio-era lineup of Black Sabbath (the first lineup of many after their split with Ozzy in 1978) who chose to tour under the name of their first album together (Heaven and Hell) in order to avoid confusion with the original Black Sabbath.
The show started off with an explosion of noise from the opening band Down. If this were a packed, sweaty club downtown, they would have been the headliners, since they are, after all, a southern metal supergroup featuring ex-members of Pantera, singer Phil Anselmo and bassist Rex Brown, guitarist Pepper Keenan of Corrosion of Conformity and Crowbar guitarist Kirk Weinstein and drummer Jimmy Bower. The band pummeled the crowd with relentless riffing while Anselmo, one of the most respected metal vocalists in the last twenty years, grunted to the brash tunes like a possessed man. In their all-too-brief stint on stage these “young upstarts” nearly stole the show from the metal legends that were to follow.
Megadeth took the stage soon after, appearing in front of an ecstatic crowd who may have mistook them for the headliners of the evening. Dave Mustaine may have made the same mistake as he lead his crack session band through a number of classic and brand-new Megadeth tunes that set the Coliseum on fire. The two spotlights shining down on the band rested almost exclusively on Mustaine for the entire set, leaving the other members to play in the dark. To any Megadeth fan this should come as no surprise, since the band has always been Dave Mustaine’s beast. The band is a revolving door of the most talented musicians in metaldom. This time around the band featured bassist James Lomenzo, replacing long-time member David Ellefson, as well as Canadian brothers Glen and Shawn Drover on guitar and drums, respectively.
The night seemed to have reached a high point after Megadeth. Hell, they even played an encore: not bad for the openers. Indeed, many people seemed to be leaving before Heaven and Hell even came on stage. These people missed out on a wild ride. The stage was shrouded in darkness when a spotlight shone down upon Tony Iommi standing stoically in a long, black leather trench coat, a cross around his neck and his jet black Gibson SG in hand. He began to play the slow, doomy opening riff of “After All (The Dead)” when the house lights came on and all 5”4’ of the 57-year-old Ronnie James Dio pounced off the drum riser like some sort of tiny demon spawn. The audience responded accordingly and proceeded to go insane.
The band played a riveting set, with all of the legendary members playing the marvelously heavy music they are renowned for. The throbbing bass of Geezer Butler perfectly complimented and anchored the powerful power chord riffing and piercing solos of Iommi. These two original members work so well together and their second-to-none guitar teamwork fueled the powerful rockers like “Voodoo,” “Lady Evil,” “The Mob Rules” and the heaviest of them all, the encore “Neon Knights.” Dio’s voice may have been the most powerful instrument of the entire night, as it sounded better now than Ozzy’s voice did twenty years ago. Singing with intensity and passion, his voice soared over the band’s dark music. Vinnie Appice was the only weak link of the performance with his by-the-numbers drumming. Appice drummed solidly, but nothing he did compared to Bill Ward’s exciting freewheeling, jazz-tinged style.
Of course, a true night of heavy metal magic would not be complete without some ridiculous lyrics, and Heaven and Hell did not disappoint in this regard. All metal bands have some cringe-inducing lyrics (just ask Mustaine about what’s inside “Hangar 18” to understand) but Dio really has no competition here. The chorus to almost every song is the title repeated ad nauseum or yelled once with a lot of emphasis. The verses often fare less well, as Dio has a tendency to sing about dungeons, dragons and children of the sea. One of the lines Dio seems most proud of (it’s on the backs of the concert T-shirts) is “They say that life’s a carousel/Spinning fast, you’ve got to ride it well/The world is full of Kings and Queens/Who blind your eyes and steal your dreams” from the song “Heaven and Hell.” The thing is that Dio is such an extraordinary singer and such an exciting, albeit short, frontman that he makes even the most absurd lyrics sound like a revelation.
Before returning for an encore, Heaven and Hell finished off the show with their namesake song, the only song in their
repertoire that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with anything in the Classic Sabbath catalogue. Beginning with a slow, moody riff, the song hearkens back to older Sabbath but never sounds like a retread. With Geezer’s simple but powerful bass and Iommi’s never-ending collection of great riffs and licks that build to a speed metal freak-out at the end, it is in many regards the perfect Black Sabbath song. However, I can’t imagine Ozzy singing it, because “Heaven and Hell” belongs to Dio as much as the devil horns do.