Ronnie James Dio Was a Heavy Metal Giant Who Inspired Teenage Misfits Everywhere

Krist Novoselic's column on music and politics runs every Tuesday on Reverb. Check back on Friday when he writes about the music he's been listening to.
As a teenager in Aberdeen in 1980, I was consuming as much heavy rock music as possible. The heaviest band was Black Sabbath. And I was introduced to their music through the compilation record, We Sold Our Soul for Rock 'N' Roll at the Salvation Army thrift store, of all places. For 50 cents, I got a piece of vinyl that blew my mind. Soon after, I went to the record store proper and bought the "new" Sabbath album, Heaven and Hell. This record rocked my world, but it was different because the vocalist was not Ozzy Osbourne, but Ronnie James Dio, a heavy-metal pioneer who died of stomach cancer on Sunday, May 16.

I didn't know he was ill and was sad to hear the news. Dio is a giant in the world of heavy metal. I bought Heaven and Hell and couldn't "play the hell out of it"--mystery and magic are a big part of the Dio legend--no, I'll say I played it constantly. I even gave it a spin on Sunday night in honor of Dio. The tune "Neon Knights" never sounded better.

Sabbath were the lords of darkness, even more so with working with Dio. He sang about "a lady who feeds the darkness, it eats right from her hand." There were all kinds of mystical/witchy images, but I was hardly a devil-worshiper as a result. As far as influences go, the album cover (with angels smoking cigarettes) of Heaven and Hell might have contributed to my delinquency. I bought it at the same time I started smoking with the other teenage misfits hanging out on the corner. This music was our soundtrack.

Then came 1981's Mob Rules, another solid rocker. The influence was about the music itself. Listening to the title track I love the interplay between the bass and the guitar. Their dynamic comes together in a monster sound. And I can't imagine "Mob Rules" being sung by anyone else than Dio.

Those two Black Sabbath albums stand on their own as great rock. I consider them the "Dio" Sabbath records. I got into the Sabbath catalog at the same time. I probably heard Mob Rules before 1975's Sabotage. It all came together because it all rocked.

Dio left the band to go solo. I heard the song "Rainbow in the Dark" and bought 1983's album Holy Diver. Of course, the cover had a demonic theme--a devil casting a Catholic priest into rough seas. At the same time, I was discovering American hardcore music. Now 18, I started to drift away from heavy metal.

But what a coincidence that my path took me to the recording studio in Van Nuys, Calif., where in 1991 Nirvana recorded Nevermind. There was a Holy Diver gold record on the wall commemorating the fact that Dio made that recording in the same place. Wow, a Lord of Rock had consecrated this ground! I don't know if it was really mystical, but there is no doubt Dio's music was heavy.

Ronnie James Dio, may you rest in peace. Thanks for all the great rock. I need to get up now and flip over the Heaven and Hell vinyl.

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