It's never easy to evaluate material comprising a benefit project, but this is Ronnie James Dio we're talking about, so evaluate we must. Organized by his widow Wendy Dio and fortified by many of his solo band associates, "Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life" is a fourteen-song tribute to the late lord of the metal realm that's more hit than miss, considering very few of the artists lending their wares jump off the tracks. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this album are going toward Dio's Stand Up and Shout Cancer Fund. Think long and hard upon that, Westboro Baptists.
Fitting a philanthropic record comes on behalf of a man whose many contributions included leading the heavy metal charity ensemble, HEAR 'N AID. It would've been a crowning denouement for "Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life" to have united the ensemble of metalheads gathered here for a gang cover of "Stars". Appropriately, however, the finale belongs to the honoree himself with "This is Your Life" from DIO's "Angry Machines" album.
Rounding up some of Ronnie Dio's best-known work with RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH and his solo career (nothing from ELF, alas), "Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life" kicks off with a solid handling of SABBATH's "Neon Knights" by ANTHRAX. Joey Belladonna comes to play with a well-accurate Dio impersonation before letting his own voice carry the rest of the course. Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano riff the hell out of "Neon Knights" and pull off a killer solo section that doesn't need to wholly match Tony Iommi to be badass.
As one might expect with TENACIOUS D taking on "The Last in Line", there's going to be a bit of playfulness, given Jack Black and Kyle Gass owe Ronnie James Dio much of their shtick. The acoustic intro to TENACIOUS D's "The Last in Line" and subsequent recorder solo by Gass are about as far to the limit as they push. In some ways, their "The Last in Line" could've been done by BLACKMORE'S NIGHT, which would've been curious kismet, to say the least.
SLIPKNOT/STONE SOUR's Corey Taylor along with Jason Christopher, Christian Martucci, Russ "Satchel" Parrish and Roy Mayorga take on "Rainbow in the Dark". They stick to the script, albeit playing in a lower key, just as Doro Pesch and her posse do with "Egypt (The Chains Are On)". Taylor nails the nuance of "Rainbow" without flashing or growling, unlike KILLSWITCH ENGAGE's Howard Jones, who needlessly tomahawks "Holy Diver" a couple times with hard yelps. Taylor, who has proven himself a better crooner than screamer with STONE SOUR, delivers a nice, steady performance with a sharp pitch that should please just about anybody.
HALESTORM proves they can toughen up a bit when it counts with a meaty rendition of "Straight Through the Heart" while ADRENALINE MOB's rip through "The Mob Rules" might be one of the bigger surprises on this album.
Unquestionably the most metal performance on Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life" belongs to MOTÖRHEAD and Biff Byford laying down the law on "Starstruck". They smack it down with an extra gauntlet of British steel to propel seismic waves out of your speakers. The most authentic-feeling track belongs to the power pack of Glenn Hughes, Craig Goldy, Rudy Sarzo, Scott Warren and Simon Wright and their exquisite take on "Catch the Rainbow". Hughes and company nail "Catch the Rainbow" with haunting yet elegant exactitude, straight down to Hughes' gorgeous interpretive vocal glides. It is the most poignant salute on the entire album. Then Oni Logan, Jimmy Bain, Rowan Robertson and Brian Tichy faithfully stomp down "I" with nearly the same ounce of conviction as when the man himself delivered it.
The SCORPIONS sound like they were born to cover "The Temple of the King", delivering it with fluid regard while bringing along a tasteful touch of their own crossover pop metal verve from the late eighties. METALLICA, always in the hot seat whenever they release anything with their names upon it, belts out the four-section "Ronnie Rising Medley", running through "A Light in the Black", "Tarot Woman", "Stargazer" and "Kill the King". Bookending their homage with the main riff of "A Light in the Black", METALLICA does an admirable job, hitting a hell of a stride on "Kill the King" and letting things rip at that point. James Hetfield can't help himself with his trademark vocal drags and "whoa-ohs", but he and METALLICA remain otherwise deferential to Dio and they earn every seven-plus minutes of their time here. The guitar duke between Hetfield and Kirk Hammett on "Kill the King" alone is worth hanging through the entire blast.
The last superpower alliance comprising Rob Halford, Jeff Pilson, Doug Aldrich, Vinny Appice and Scott Warren don't always have things under control on "Man On the Silver Mountain", but Aldrich's solo is a scorcher and Halford's rising altos during the finish is terrific, befitting of his stature and Dio's, by attrition.
Given "Ronnie James Dio: This Is Your Life" is a non-profit venture for cancer research, buy it for that reason alone. Just about everything inside is a bonus.