Pick Your Rock and Metal

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lonely Is The Word

TONIGHT I was planning to post a few blogs about all sorts of random rock and metal stuff: a reply from Tristan on my post about Metallica, links to the Metallica dates, ruminations on Cathedral, kicking off the 'Lizzy or not' debate, and launching a competition for Ratt tickets.

Alas, the news that filtered through this evening that Ronnie James Dio has passed away has put all that on the shelf for a while. His wife Wendy made the announcement that he had succombed to stomach cancer.

That Dio was one of the most important metal singer of all time is undisputed. But his journey to metal icon was one that began with the hard rock/hippie crossover that was Elf, a name somewhat ironic given the stature of the man.

The Rainbow years saw the man's voice toughen up, a counterpoint to the occassional meanderings of Blackore. The evolution from a great singer a true icon came when Ronnie joined Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward to record Heaven and Hell: an album that together with the NWOBHM began the journey to of metal to be both revered (from within) and reviled (from without).

In many ways Heaven and Hell showcased the dexterity of songwriting and musical and lurical ingenuity that heavy metal could achieve. And, though many sneered at Ronnie James lyrical myths it is worth the investment of time and energy to listen again to the allegories buried within...Remember that Stargazer was written at a time when the USA's space programme was being brought into question; Mob Rules written at the time when the first serious disturbances in the UK during Thatcher's rule were taken place. I could quote more, but take th time to draw you're own conclusions.

The days with Sabbath were numbered: after Mob Rules and the abortive sessions for Live Evil, Ronnie parted ways with Sabs and stormed the metal world once again with Holy Diver. My personal journey of listening to Dio began with Rainbow and Sabbath around the same time (82-83) but when Dio played the Antrim Forum in September 1984 Baal, Rab and about 2,000 others experienced first hand the power and commanding presence of the man.

It would be many years - and indeed many albums later before I would see Dio play live again. On the 26th October 2005 a packed Spring & Airbrake literally worshipped the man. With songs full of equal parts menace and humour his stage presence was magnificent; growling and prowling, using pillars and props in equal measure, making eye contact and throwing the horns. Truly, it was a night when the wee man belied his years (the first single with Dio on it was released in 1958!) with a performance that was engaging to all.

Though there were many albums to come (topped with last year's The Devil You Know) it was Dio's engagement with fans that made him an icon. Most of his songs from Rainbow through the Sabbath and solo years were about choices. The choice between good and evil was most prevalent. For all the seriousness and the mock histrionics Dio remained the sort of man you would have both liked to enjoy a pint with and have a serious conversation with too.

But, he was also a man who did not take himself too seriously, as his various collaborations with Tenacious D proved.

Above all, Ronnie James Dio possessed a voice honed and refined, but always easily identified. It was, too often overlooked as being a voice with real emotion. Listen to 'Lonely is the Word' the closing track from Black Sabbath's Heaven and Hell to understand this.

Already there have been a plethora of sites paying condolences - not least the official Facebook Dio page. They are the online equivalent of a wake for the man, but together with this there is the intriguing proposition of a campaign to get Holy Diver to #1 in the charts to raise money for charity. Charity was also something Dio took seriously. He was the driving force behing Hear 'n' Aid at the time of Live Aid, and his wife Wendy was chairman of the American charity Children of the Night, which helped rescue child prostitutes.

So, it would be fitting if the last chart entry Dio achieved was a number one that raised money for charity. Whether it will happen or not remains to be seen, If it does, it would need to be soon, but I would rather that Dio was #1 across the globe in and around July 10th, the day of his birth.

Why the death of people, like Dio, can touch so many is sometimes queried by sociologists and anal assholes who have never, ever been touched by music. The music produced by Dio is more than a 'Demon Dance' it stirs all of us who have a heart which needs - nay craves- the facile world the one-minute wonder and the choreographed mimes of the boy bands.

This is not an obituary - this is a thank you to the man and for his musical legacy.

Long Live Rock 'n' Roll!
Ronnie James Dio - July 10th 1942 to May 16th 2010
You Rocked and We Rocked with you!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Soundtrack to nightmares, soaring to the ecstasy

WHERE to start with Metallica? Where to start with 'Tallica's Belfast 'reunion' gig at the Odyssey?

Metallica have been the backdrop to many, many, many years of my life. From Hetfield's tortued lyrical meanderings and the structued musical pumelling there is a quality about Metallica's output that even maintaned true fans through years when they experimented.

The first time I witnessed Metallica was in '86 in the Ulster Hall with support from Anthrax. It was a gig with some great friends in attendance, at least two of whom are no longer with us. Baal, Rab, Alan Sid, Stevie, Kyle, Michael, amongst many others.

That day there was many a pint sunk (the lest said about the Alhambra the better!). To this day the Anthrax set is a little hazy, but Metallica at times took the breath away from me, despite Hetfield's arm being in plaster and guitar tech (John Marshall I think) filling in the rhythm parts.

I've seen them subsequently, sometimes good, sometimes great, but nothing really compared to that day.

That is until Tuesday night.

Let's be straight about this for a start. Metallica is a business. The music and the show may be at the core of the business, but the Metallica machine sustains the equivalent of a medium sized Northern Ireland company; from staff members beyond the band through to outsourced suppliers and graphic designers, let alone the business suited wankers that occupy the upper echelons of certain record labels.

But, for all the massive logistical challenges that puts the Metallica machine on the road, it would be nought without the willingness of the band members of turn out and play for two hours with an obvious delight to dw what is essentially their day job.

Even with the obligations placed on them by contracts Metallica could do what so many bands do, hit the festival circuit, turn in an hour and a half and jet off to wherever bands go when they care very little about their fans.

Instead Metallica lay on a stage set, which very, very, very few acts would dare take on the road. Although the record company might be paying some of the cost, the vast majority of the cash for eight massive coffin lighting rigs, an 'in-the-round' set with all the complications of where to put monitors etc, and the manpower required to design and erect such a set came from James, Lars, Kirk and Rob as the principals of Metallica plc.

But to consider all this in some way diminishes the experience. Stepping into the arena on Tuesday night, there was a sense of awe at the sheer scale of the set, the intimacy of the in-the-round set-up and the sheer devotion of those gathered.

Yes, there were in advance a few naysayers. Some who have become disillusioned through the Load to St Anger years. They I can forgive.I cannot forgive some of the little people who were not born when The Black Album was released, yet still seem to have more opinions about 'the good old days' than their ill-formed brains justify. But that is jut bitching, and makes me sound like a grumpy old metaller.

Setting aside those 'get over it, old man' comments (shut up my children! I am entitled to be grumpy at my age!) it is hard for me to be impartial about Metallica (also Maiden, BLS, Marillion and all incarnations of Sabbath).

So, how to comment on Metallica's appearance at the Odyssey Arena. There's no point me trying to be impartial. I like many who have commented on various online fora and social networking sites were blown away by the Metallica experience in its totality.

It would be easy to rhapsodise about the song selection - and easy to bemoan the songs that weren't aired (yes Sid I too would have loved to hear Disposable Heroes given an airing!). But what was gratifying and immensely pleasurable that the set lists on both nights spanned from the very earliest to the latest Metallica...including 'fans only' material like Breadfan.

I hesitate to rehearse the songs and the associated stage show elements (descending coffins, pyro storms etc) as each person has a unique association with a Metallica song. For me All Nightmare Long sounded a good as Seek and Destroy and One...and Nothing Else Matters...and Master...and...well you get the picture!

Metallica were, as much as possible in the contrived setting of a big budget prodution, a force of nature. Brutal and measured at the same time. Yes, there are heavier out there. Yes, there are more precise out there. Yes, there are better Metal drummers than Lars. Yes, there are better metal singers than Hetfield. Yes, there are better soloists than Kirk, and dare I say it there are a few (very few) better bassists than Rob. But but them all together and almost miraculously emerges a power that defies greatness to reach another level, that soars with an elemental pulse and reaches a height that only an exalted few acts can reach.

Metallica's dystopian musical and lyrical lndscape can paint a nightmarish vision of struggles with mental health (Fade, Sanatarium to name but two) but can also unify with a 'us against them' spit in the face to the mainstream.

I may be biased, I may view Metallica through rose-tinted shades, but fuck it! Metallica were awesome in Belfast; at times magesterial, at times furious, at times poignant, but all times fucking metal.

"Awesomer than an awesomer thing has ever been," one young fan said in the chilly post-gig air. His father beat me to the punch line..."yer not wrong there son!"

Hurry back James, Lars and co - more people need Metallica in their lives!

Pix courtesy of Simon Graham - as with all pix on the website from Simon or Carrie (both amogst the best of lens peeps out there!) contact me if you want to order a print!

Damn you Metallica! Damn you laptop!

First things first - damn you laptop god! Your vagaries and hard drives with suicidal tendencies have kept me away from the usual over-stuffed, beer-fuelled waffling late-night sessions that see me churning out copy by the yard.

May Loki smite you laptop god, lest you ever think to scramble and mangle precious files again...

While I honestly missed updating, I did not appreciate being buttonholed by more than one person asking about the blog: I do not get paid for doing it and my name is not 'Belfastmetalheads'. Not until I have that wee appointment :) I, like so many who take the time and effort to post into the wilds of cyber-space on hard rock and metal do it for the love of metal!

Now on to why I damned the mighty Metallica in the headline above. I have been struggling where to start in reviewing the gig (and in my next post there will be comments about the gig and some pix courtesy of Simon).

Simply put, while I try as far as possible to give fair - sometimes too fair - reviews there is no way that I could approach the review dispassionately, without coming across as a 40-something fanboy.

I am biased with regards to Metallica, Maiden, BLS and Black Sabbath; not that all these acts have not been occassionally below par - rather that I can forgive them when they err as they defined not only the music that I and many others adore. They have been the soundtrack for all of my adult years.

So damn you Metallica I cannot even come close to writing a 'proper' review. I've been struggling to find the right way to write about the awesome, righteosusly massive, superb masters of metal; the one, the only mighty fucking METALLICA!

Fanboy moment over I'll now take a long sip of me Guinness and prepare to put fingers to keyboard and give an opinion rather than a review.

In other news...Ratt ticket competition coming your way, and a post to hear your views on the Thin Lizzy line-up being touted about under the band name.

Guinness and ciggy break now follows.