DVD Review: Rainbow – Black Masquerade

DVD Review: Rainbow – Black Masquerade
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: B+

Rainbow - Black Masquerade 2013
Ritchie Blackmore was done with Deep Purple. That old bugaboo “creative differences” had reared its ugly head again, as the legendary guitarist had it out once more with singer Ian Gillan, who was brought back for the band’s 25th anniversary. In 1993, Blackmore walked out, leaving abruptly during a show in Helsinki, Finland.

The parting was not such sweet sorrow for either side, and Blackmore spent little time mourning the divorce. In 1993, he revived Rainbow, a project that had been dormant since 1984. To bring Rainbow back to life, he turned to a rag-tag band of spunky young upstarts, including singer Doogie White, his new collaborator. Hardly a blip on the radar, they stuck around barely long enough to record 1995’s under-appreciated Stranger in All of Us LP – a dark, moody record of traditional melodic heavy metal with flourishes of classical music bombast – and do some touring before Blackmore threw himself into medieval and Renaissance music full-time and turned his back on hard rock.

Largely forgotten by history, this incarnation of Rainbow deserves a reassessment, and it starts with “Black Masquerade,” a rousing live effort unearthed by Eagle Rock Entertainment now available now as a two-CD set, DVD or in digital video and audio formats. Documenting a lively performance in Dusseldorf, Germany, for that country’s “Rockpalast” TV series, “Black Masquerade” is a colorfully shot and thunderously loud powder keg of impressive musicianship and youthful hunger.

Seeing Blackmore – more restrained physically as he shuns the wild histrionics of his gloriously unhinged past – reel off a dazzling array of ruthlessly efficient, full-throttle riffs, searing leads and fleet-fingered arpeggios that he expertly untangles with ease is one thing, but keyboardist Paul Morris is a revelation, combining the vivid coloring and propulsive thrust of Jon Lord with Keith Emerson’s classically influenced gymnastics. The long solo Morris takes during the show is an awakening, creatively playful and athletic but never veering off the intricate course he has set.

More than the sum of its disparate, if well-arranged, parts, the collective Rainbow rides roughshod through a combustible mix of tracks from Stranger in All of Us and classics from Blackmore’s Deep Purple days and earlier Rainbow treasures, charging into pulse-pounding versions of “Spotlight Kid,” “Man on a Silver Mountain,” “Since You’ve Been Gone,” “Burn” and a raucous “Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll/Black Night” medley with reckless abandon and fierce energy. It’s as if they know their time together is going to be brief, so they let it all hang out.

And while the material off Stranger in Us All has less character and meat on the bone than past Rainbow efforts, it does shine on “Black Masquerade,” as Rainbow speeds into the night of the song “Black Masquerade” without brakes and takes a magic carpet ride through the exotic Middle Eastern terrain of the sweeping epic known as “Ariel.” Even more mysterious and ominous, “Hunting Humans (Insatiable)” also comes off here as a cinematic affair, the flowing drama of it heightened by White’s powerful, evocative vocals as it segues into Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” – one of the many classical music ambushes found throughout “Black Masquerade.” White’s personality is infectious, and he is a fine master of ceremonies, displaying charm and a masculine stage presence that almost matches the testosterone levels of Chuck Burgi’s barn-burning drum solo. 

Where “Black Masquerade” the DVD falls short is in its extras – simply put, there are none, aside from the enthusiastic, if overly hyperbolic, tribute written by Jeff Katz. A little visual history lesson on the life and quick death of this particular unit in the form of interviews with key players or a narrated featurette would be a welcome addition. Otherwise, even though this Rainbow lived its own life apart from other more celebrated lineups featuring Ronnie James Dio, Graham Bonnet or Joe Lynn Turner that waged rock ‘n’ roll warfare under the same banner, they come off as something of a cover band – albeit it a great one with Blackmore on guitar. It’s as if they were an imitation that had its run and could not create its own identity. Therefore, it must never be spoken of again.

That’s a shame, because as this explosive, forceful and engaging outing illustrates so effectively, Blackmore might have been well-served to keep forging ahead with this group, even if it’s not the most beloved version of the band.
– Peter Lindblad

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