At the start of this month, Paul Gilbert surprised just about every guitar fan with the announcement of his latest project, The Dio Album – a fully fledged tribute album to the late heavy metal legend, Ronnie James Dio.
The concept of the album itself seemed fairly left-field even for Gilbert, whose own melting pot of virtuosic styles seemed to contrast with the heavy metal that defined Dio’s own musical career. However, any concerns individuals had about the project quickly vanished upon hearing The Dio Album’s first single, a cover of Holy Diver.
Now, Gilbert has followed up the strong start with a cover of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell – the title track from the band’s 1980 record, which also happened to be their first with Dio since the departure of Ozzy Osbourne the year before.
As was the case with the Holy Diver cover, Gilbert’s take on Heaven and Hell shows just how seriously he’s taking this project. Paying tribute to Dio’s unique musicality via the fretboard of an electric guitar is a mammoth undertaking, but one that Gilbert is tackling admirably.
The instrumental aspect of the track is pretty dead-on, right down to the sizzling tones of the opening riff and pulsating bass, but Heaven and Hell is all about Gilbert’s six-string treatment of Dio’s vocals, which are translated into surgically precise bends and carefully controlled scale melodies.
When Gilbert first announced the project, he revealed the lengths he went to to ensure he stayed faithful to Dio’s original takes, and judging by Heaven and Hell, his hard work paid off.
According to the Mr. Big virtuoso, in order to tap into the nuances of Dio’s vocals, he had to unlearn some of the razor-sharp soloing precision that his playing is famed for and instead had to explore new ways of playing lead on the guitar.
The album itself was inspired by a minor yet impactful experience, which occurred after Gilbert saw a baseball cap with the word “Dio” emblazoned on the front. Having experienced a moment of “unadulterated joy”, Gilbert then decided to make a record that would capture that same “raw energy and excitement”.
It would be a labor-intensive project, though, with Gilbert picking apart some of Dio’s most famous tracks line for line, word for word, in an effort to deliver a worthy instrumental tribute to the vocalist.
Dio’s solo and Black Sabbath material will form part of a broader picture in The Dio Album, which will explore various points of the heavy metal icon’s career, including a handful of songs from Dio’s band Rainbow.
Of the album, Gilbert commented, “Playing all these metal riffs like Stand Up and Shout, Neon Knights and Kill the King gave me serious chills. The guitar parts of Ritchie [Blackmore], Tony [Iommi] and Vivian [Campbell] brought no small number of goosebumps.
“These amazing riffs are the steel girders of the songs, upon which everything else rests,” he continued. “It had been a while since I’d been this deep into metal rhythm guitar playing, and it felt like I was digging up gold nuggets of fire with a magic platinum shovel.”
- The Dio Album is available to preorder now ahead of its release on April 7.