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Ritchie Blackmore's approach to being in a band could tentatively be described as 'mercurial'. It could also be described as downright psychotic, but talented people are rarely mundane and 'normal'. By the time Rainbow's third album, and the last to feature dynamic vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Blackmore had shifted personnel around several times; that's after having already stormed out on Deep Purple, of course.
Their previous LP 'Rainbow Rising' had been a self-described piece of 'thermonuclear rock and roll'. It certainly took heavy metal to a whole new degree, injecting a histrionic power into the towering epics cooked up by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. And Dio and Blackmore's obsessions with all thing swordy and sorcerous was massively influential in the genre of metal as a whole. 'Long Live Rock and Roll' pretty much carries on where 'Rising' left off, and is replete with big sounding epics and blazing rock numbers that will have you reaching for your +5 broadsword or the off-switch, depending on how you take your musical tea.
The title track is surely an attempt to create a national anthem for rock music, but it falls way short of the mark there, merely by being eclipsed by other Rainbow compositions - most probably the subsequent recordings that dropped all the dungeons and dragons stuff and were all the more sterile for it. It gallops along at a frenetic pace, and Dio sounds like he means every word of it. Easy to believe as well, considering he dedicated his whole life to working in the industry until his life was cut short by a battle with cancer several years ago. 'Lady of the Lake' and 'Kill the King' are both overtly faux-medievalist in their themes, as can be detected by the titles. The latter is a screaming piece of silly metal, as Dio hits a near super-sonic performance as he regales us with a tale of treason at the hands of a nefarious queen, and 'Lady of the Lake' sounds remarkably like Led Zeppelin's 'Wanton Song', all dumb, sledge-hammer heavy riffing. It's pretty ejnoyable, especially if you've just watched 'Conan the Barbarian'.
'Gates of Babylon' is a multi-tiered epic from the same mould as 'Stargazer', and is very similar in feel as it weaves an atmosphere from Eastern modes, which is only fitting given its inspiration. It's also the start of the prevalence of cod-Satanism in some of Dio's work, as he reveals himself to be narrating in the guise of the devil. It's all a load of ridiculous panto of course, but the conservatives and critics hated it, leaping on it with the same fervour they did with Black Sabbath (only in the latter case they totally missed the point that it was written from a Catholic perspective, and oh, whatever) but I digress. It features David Stone on keyboards, who replaced Tony Carey half way through the sessions, and he makes his mark on the record with its eery intro and spooky lines.
The James Hetfield school of annunciation clearly took 'Sensitive to Light' as course 101, preceding his trademark lingering last syllable by the best part of a decade as Dio gruffly confesses that the girl of his desires is causing him no end of bother, as "She's a bright and shining star/But I just must be sensitive to liiight-ah!". Metallica probably owe at least 30% of their success to this song alone. 'The Shed' is a chance for Blackmore to show off, but it slumps into a mediocre bit of cock-rock fodder pretty quickly. Rainbow aren't a band to be taken too seriously, but that doesn't mean they can't thrill and bludgeon and also bore when they want to.
It's not all roaring dragon's fire and silly sonic wizardry though. Closing track 'Rainbow Eyes' is, well, a ballad. And while I don't mind ballads at all, this one has always felt just too damn twee and overly long to justify its inclusion. Remember the recorder bit at the beginning of 'Stairway to Heaven'? Mix that up with bits of 60s baroque pop and stretch it out to 7 minutes and you're pretty near the mark. It could have been a fairly innocuous Renaissance interlude, if it had been scythed down and jammed in the middle of side one, but it's a really saccharine piece of music. It's a shame really, cos Dio's vocals are as ever stratospheric, but it noodles around its own tabard and tights for too long.
For me, this is the end of Rainbow, as after this Dio left for an invigorating stint in Black Sabbath. From here on in Rainbow created albums that lacked the atmosphere and epic sound that gave them their musical identity to begin with. More than anything, it demonstrates that they were really Dio's band than Blackmore's. It also sounds like they struggle on some of these songs, with the compositions veering from the unforgettable to the throwaway. Still, nobody else ever really sounded like this, and for better or worse they opened up a whole new avenue of macho, armour-plated heavy metal to act as the soundtrack to a decade of guys pumping iron and/or playing D&D. I doubt both avenues were explore by the same people.
This is the last real Rainbow album. Check it out if you like Deep Purple, Iron Maiden or, err, Manowar. Though I've just realised this last sentence is completely redundant, as if you like those bands then you will already own this, and I doubt it will be of interest to anyone else.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Long Live Rock N Roll
2 Lady Of The Lake
3 L.A. Connection
4 Gates Of Babylon
5 Kill The King
6 The Shed
7 Sensitive To Light
8 Rainbow Eyes