Ozzy vs Dio!!
The Aquanaut takes a deep dive into two classic Metal albums. AKA 'Blizzard of Oz' fights 'The Last in Line' to the Death!
There are probably millions of articles written about Ozzy Osbourne. I’d imagine there are a lot less written about Ronnie James Dio, but then he didn’t court publicity in the same way the Osbournes did. He was however regarded as one of the best, if not the best Heavy Metal vocalist of all time. Ozzy is, to this day, the most famous Metal vocalist of all time and a great singer in his own right. Back in the 80s there was a beef between them. Black Sabbath had fired Ozzy and hired Dio. Black Sabbath then released ‘Heaven & Hell’ which is an amazing album. Things got petty. They sometimes refused to play the same stage at music festivals. There was name calling!
Black Sabbath purists will say that the Dio version of Sabbath wasn’t really Sabbath. In fact on later reunion tours, the Dio line up actually performed under the moniker Heaven & Hell.
Ozzy was not only one of the founding members of the first Metal band, he was instrumental in their early classic phase. The first 4 Sabbath albums (perhaps even the first 6), are the template for most of the metal that came later. But after Ozzy launched his solo career, his band helped define (along with US rockers Van Halen) the 1980s Rock and Metal sound. Eddie Van Halen, long regarded as the best ‘new’ rock guitar player, was seeing stiff competition from a young prodigy called Randy Rhoads in the Ozzy band.
Dio’s first two albums with Black Sabbath had become legendary in their own right. His own band DIO refined what became known as Power Metal. Featuring tales of Wizards, Vagabonds, Dark Heroines, and Dragons, all with the message that the battle between good and evil is eternal and you need to pick your side wisely.
So after that lengthy introduction the Aquanaut now forces a death-match between two albums from the original gods of Metal!
The Aquanaut has used strict criteria to decide which albums to face off here. My two favourite albums by these artists are probably ‘Holy Diver’ by Dio, and ‘Bark at the Moon’ by Ozzy. But these are purely emotional choices. Using the play count in my music library I can see that my true favourites (i.e. most played) are ‘Blizzard of Oz’, and ‘The Last in Line’. In a neat trick of accidental synchronicity, they both have nine tracks each. Nice!
We will be taking a few things into account here. The vocals, subject matter, guitar playing, bass, drums, immediate impact, and cultural legacy.
Oooh. So Ozzy off to a great start with this banger. His distinctive vocals are used to good effect here. Young guitar player Randy Rhoads provides a great riff and nifty solo. The bass and drums are clear, audible, and at times funky. There’s a nice cymbal bash at the 3/4 mark. +1 for Ozzy.
Dio’s riposte is powerful. Galloping drums, guitar, and bass, lead into Ronnie James powerful vocals. This is an anthem! “WE ROCK!” This is prime 80s metal. It’s hard to imagine any other vocalist sounding as compelling here, on what is a fairly simple tune. +1 for Dio. 1/1
Good Lord. What an opening! Ozzy screams “All aboard! Aye, Aye, Aye!” lots of echo on his vocals. And this riff by Randy Rhoads! Rhoads shows off his virtuoso skills with lots of flair and licks while keeping the same rocking riff through the tune. Possibly Ozzy’s best non-Black Sabbath tune. The drums and bass perform the necessary, and Rhoads guitar solo is unexpectedly shrill. Surely Dio can’t match this! +1 for the Ozster. 2/1
Yep. Dio seems to have misfired here. After the strong opening track this seems to be some kind of ballad. It’s nice and all but… wait. It’s not a ballad after all! Dio segues into Metal anthem mode again. The vocal change is thrilling in the line “We’re coming… HOOOOME!” Now we’re in head banging territory. Superb guitar solo by Belfast’s Vivian Campbell. Back of the net. +1. A bit of synthesiser here too to clever effect. 2/2
Ozzy goes for the ballad here. This tune is very Beatles-esque. Randy Rhoads guitar playing is soft and melodic. I could imagine swapping his riffing out for a piano. The bass and drums here are delectable, with great restraint shown. Another fine solo by Rhoads and Ozzy’s soft vocals really work. +1. Clever use of synth at the end too. 3/2
Another rocker here by Dio and co. Dio’s vocals carry this one for most of the track and it’s catchy as hell. There is a great guitar solo, the bass is funky, and plenty of flourishes by legendary drummer Vinny Appice. +1. Scores so far: 3/3
This is a 49 second interlude showcasing Randy Rhoads classical guitar playing. Purely acoustic, it’s dedicated to Randy’s mother Deloris and is in the key of D. It’s sweet, and I’m sure Ozzy was really glad he included it on the record considering what happened later. +1. 4/3
No interlude on the Dio album. Another straight up rocker. This tune has an early Iron Maiden vibe to it. Nothing too imaginative about the lyrics, but delivered with gusto by Ronnie James. Campbell’s guitar playing is blistering and clever. He adds a few flourishes to convey the sounds of a motorbike (possibly) careering down a highway. +1 ergo 4/4
This mid-tempo rocker is pretty good. There’s some nice guitar play from Rhoads again. The subject matter of the lyrics is basically about drinking and drugging yourself to death. However the track would become famous for reasons entirely unrelated to the great musicianship on display here. In 1985 a lawsuit was filed against Osbourne after a teenager committed suicide apparently after listening to this song. The lawsuit was dismissed but is an artefact of the infamous Satanic Panic of the 1980s. AC/DC and Judas Priest also had similar cases. 5/4
Another great rocker by Dio. Does he ever let up the pace? Vivian Campbell shows again on this track that he is a completely underrated Metal Guitar player. Great riff and solo. The drumming on this tune is a masterclass. What is the song about? A demon possessed teenager on the rampage? A dark cyberpunk inverted flip on Cinderella? Repeat listens to this tune are really rewarding. There’s so much going on here; plinky synthesiser notes in the background, the drum fills, the funky bass line. 5/5
A love letter from Ozzy to Aleister Crowley. He was a famous occultist, writer, founder of a religion, and perhaps the early twentieth century idol for the likes of Ozzy himself. Ozzy’s vocals are theatrically sorrowful, as is the music up until another magical Rhoads solo. 6/5
The DIO band are on fire here. Great initial guitar riff and a scorching solo where Campbell shows off his work on the fretboard. But this tune belongs to the drums and bass which thoroughly drive the tune. RJD showboats a little, and sure why not. Only he could keep in time with the beat here AND show off. 6/6
Bear with me here. In my opinion this is Ozzy’s attempt at a Soul song. The riff and general vibe of the tune is very similar to Al Green’s ‘Take Me To The River’, though somehow the Ozzy band wind up channeling the Talking Heads cover, instead of the original. An unexpected departure for the Prince of Darkness here, but a welcome one. 7/6
DIO with a bit of synthesiser at the intro. Nice. RJD’s lyrics are about life, love, and the unexpected. He turns a fairly introspective musing on the mutability of life, which his young audience would have been living through, into another singalong rock anthem. 7/7
Ozzy seemingly goes full Michael Jackson here. He channels his inner Earth Song, but amazingly he does it a full 15 years before the MJ song. Did MJ rip off Ozzy? Did Ozzy build a time machine and slip forward a decade and a half to check out what the King of Pop was doing? Am I, The Aquanaut, making a very tenuous connection between two barely related tunes thematically? You decide. However, Randy Rhoads is having none of it and goes full Metal with Black Sabbath style riffs, while the rest of the band play a discordant melody fit for a 70s Space Opera. 8/7
Campbell starts with a ‘Smoke On The Water’ style intro riff, the band kick in, Dio sings, it’s glorious. But what are they singing about? A hellrasier heroine burning the candle at both ends perhaps. One fan on YouTube reckons it’s a message to his wife Wendy, after they went through a rough patch. There’s definitely some bittersweet sexy vibes going on. 8/8
Ozzy & Co. finish with a rocker. There’s a Thin Lizzy vibe to this track, but instead of Lizzy’s twin guitar play we just have the genius riffing of young Mr Rhoads. It’s the last track on the album so Randy shows off. It’s awesome stuff again. A strong finish to the album. 9/8
DIO finish with an epic. There’s Middle Eastern style musings on the synthesiser before a suitably ominous opening riff by Campbell. Jimmy Bain’s bass playing is superb here and Vinny Appice is showing how it’s done with the drums. There’s an amazing bridge where Dio exhales “They were frightening in the darkness
They had rainbows in their eyes”. It’s magic. 9/9
So we have a tie right? Maybe not. Let’s use other criteria. The album art (which is at the top of this page).
‘Blizzard of Oz’ cover: actually not bad for an Ozzy album cover. He had some stinkers like this, and this. I’ll give it a point.
‘The Last in Line’ cover features one of the DIO mascots. A demonic figure by the name of Murray watches over a nightmarish hellscape. Is he an evil overlord, or a mighty saviour. Evil or Divine, as the lyric from the title track asks. Definitely a point.
Based on album sales ‘Blizzard of Oz’ seems to be the winner here. ‘The Last in Line’ sold a whopping 500,000 copies in it’s first year, and a million in total. ‘Blizzard’ has sold a humungous 5,000,000 copies worldwide. The Ozzy name sells records.
On March 19th, 1982 Randy Rhoads and other members of the Ozzy Osbourne road crew died in a plane crash. The entire incident was extremely tragic and avoidable. Randy left behind four studio albums, two recorded with his original band Quiet Riot and two with Ozzy Osbourne. His guitar playing on ‘Blizzard of Oz’ is nothing short of phenomenal. Overall the sound of the band on the album is one of finding their feet, but overall they gel. It’s a classic album by any standards.
The Last In Line sold around 1,000,000 copies, which by todays standards is absolutely enormous for a Metal album. The album has been praised by the likes of David Grohl and Jack Black (who covered the title track on a tribute album). It’s a relentless slab of Heavy Metal musicianship. Vivian Campbell’s guitar playing is metal as can be, and the bass and drums from Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice is at times, extraordinary.
So, let me know in the comments do we allow Ozzy to win this battle by sheer force of albums sales? If the Aquanaut were to allow himself a casting vote he’d give it to DIO, as I keep coming back to this album of theirs a lot. I like ‘Blizzard’ as well, but it doesn’t have enough witches and stuff for me. Let me know what you think!
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Next week: finally, after being sidetracked by Dio and Ozzy, we get around to some ballads… from Rammstein.