Album Review: Posthumous release showcases the best of classic metal

Not counting the numerous bootleg live recordings roaming among collectors, traders and superfans, fans of Ronnie James Dio have had numerous live albums to enjoy for years, but none from the man’s prime as a performer.

With the release of Live at Donington, fans get to experience two sets from Dio at the United Kingdom’s Monsters of Rock festival, one from 1983 at the genesis of Ronnie’s solo career as frontman of Dio, and one from 1987 right before the release of Dream Evil.

Throw on the first disc and, appropriately, you will not be able to resist the impulse to “Stand Up and Shout!” There are few tracks that open a metal concert with a better atmosphere than this ferocious number provides.

The first set is only 46 minutes long – Dio the band had just been formed and commercially hadn’t earned a bigger spot on the bill yet – but the brevity of the set is outweighed by the enormously powerful performance it packs. Thanks to countless days spent on YouTube, I can say that 1983 was probably the best year of Ronnie’s career vocally, and it shows here. The signature soaring power of his voice is in full display on disc one.

The 1983 set features performances from the Holy Diver album including the epic title track, the blistering opener “Stand Up and Shout,” “Straight Through the Heart” and the commercial hit “Rainbow in the Dark,” as well as Rainbow and Black Sabbath classics like a majestic rendition of “Children of the Sea” – even if Vivian Campbell just can’t play that solo like Tony Iommi – “Man on the Silver Mountain” and Ronnie’s signature song, Sabbath’s monumental “Heaven and Hell.” Not included on the disc is the final encore from that day, “Evil Eyes,” which wouldn’t be released until 1984’s Last in Line.

The second set from 1987 clocks in at 51 minutes, even though at least 20 minutes of the performance are not included on the disc. Highlights from the ’87 set include the Sabbath track “Neon Knights,” a rare and powerful performance of “Naked in the Rain” and the entire flawless medley of “The Last in Line,” “Temple of the King,” “Children of the Sea,” “Holy Diver” and “Heaven and Hell.” The intense energy is still here, but instead of being a self-validating shout to carve space in the genre for a new band, this performance is a burst of momentous energy.

Both discs capture the headbanging and horns throwing, the deafening roar and the surge of empowerment experienced at a heavy metal concert like few other albums have been able to do. And how appropriate that the essence of a heavy metal concert experience is captured in the audio recording of a performance from the genre’s golden voice, the ambassador of metal, Ronnie James Dio. May his body rest in peace, may his music rock on forever! Horns up!