By Adrien Begrand
You can see the sadness and frustration in the eyes of the surviving members of Heaven and Hell as they talk about their wonderful four year run on their new DVD. After so many conflicts among Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice (the Live Evil battle of egos, the post-Dehumanizer shenanigans), all the nonsense of the past was set aside at long last in 2006 when Black Sabbath Mk. III reconvened after 14 years apart, and from that first Cross-Canada tour on, we could see the joy in the faces of the four members. Whether it was because of the perspective you gain in old age or the maturity to finally check your ego at the door, these guys were having so much fun onstage, and it was reflected in the music. Iommi was clearly thrilled to play more obscure material rather than crank out “Iron Man” for the bazillionth time, and Dio, well, he was Dio, the defining voice of heavy metal, sounding positively ageless, his voice conveying awe-inspiring power from the front row to the rafters.
Just when they had some serious momentum going, with a best-selling new album under their belts, poof, it was all gone, as the beloved Dio passed away quietly this past spring. It’s tragic how such a welcome comeback could be snuffed out so cruelly, but what a way for Heaven and Hell to go out: sales and attendance exceptional, everyone finally getting along, not to mention proud of everything they’d accomplished in such a short time span. And with Neon Nights: 30 Years of Heaven & Hell, we have a perfect way to cap off that magical run.
Little did anyone know at the time, but Heaven and Hell’s set at 2009’s Wacken Open Air festival in Germany would be the last filmed performance by Ronnie James Dio, but we can be thankful it was documented, for it’s yet another rousing live DVD/CD by the band. It’s a good companion piece to the Live at Radio City Music Hall DVD as well, not to mention significantly different. In contrast to the pristine, intimate indoor setting in New York, Wacken saw the foursome in front of a whopping 70,000 people on a massive stage, playing in a steady drizzle. Of course, that could hardly faze Dio and his mates, as they put on as tight and professional a show as we’ve come to expect. With a new album to support, the set list was tweaked, which was a very nice change from the “greatest hits” set of the initial tour. Three songs from The Devil You Know are carted out, the best of which being the stupendous “Bible Black”, Dio’s last masterpiece. Additionally, Dehumanizer song “Time Machine” is performed, and sounds terrific amongst the more well-known songs, as well as a tantalizing snippet of underrated Mob Rules track “Country Girl”.
Of course, we do get the usual fan favourites, such as “Neon Knights”, “Die Young”, a fiery “Mob Rules”, and the requisite epic performance of the band’s eponymous song. Captured on high definition video by the Wacken cameras, this DVD isn’t quite as high class as the Radio City DVD, as the lighting isn’t perfect and raindrops are often visible on lenses, but it’s an otherwise excellent live set, everyone, especially Dio, looking as if they could carry on, performing as magnificently as ever, for years to come. The extra features, on the other hand, are outstanding, as we’re treated to lengthy interviews with all four members, as well as brief but very touching tributes to Dio by Iommi, Butler, and Appice. The pain in the eyes of the trio is palpable, but also great happiness, that they were able to put together a run as special as this one, this late into their careers.
(Armoury / Eagle Rock)