Metallica couldn’t pick just one Ronnie James Dio song to record for the tribute compilation This Is Your Life, so they picked four. Rolling Stone is premiering the thrash metal group’s contribution today: a nine-minute mélange of four riffy, fantastical tracks, titled “Ronnie Rising Medley,” that the group culled from the iconic metal singer’s mid-Seventies band Rainbow.
Their recording sits on the comp, which comes out April 1st, alongside ones by Motörhead, Tenacious D and Anthrax and one-off supergroups featuring members of Judas Priest, Slipknot and Dio’s band, who culled tracks from Rainbow, Black Sabbath and, of course, Dio. The comp is an effort not only to pay tribute to the singer, who died of stomach cancer in 2010, but also to raise money for cancer research; proceeds from the record benefit the Ronnie James Dio Stand Up and Shout cancer fund.
The songs Metallica chose cull from the period in Dio’s career that especially meant a lot to drummer Lars Ulrich, who saw the group multiple times while growing up in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Ronnie’s music, and what he was, was part of my life,” Ulrich tells Rolling Stone.
“[Dio’s] music is so much a part of what’s in Metallica’s DNA, the harder, edgier, blues-based hard rock from the Seventies,” he says. “It was fairly effortless to put this together, because it’s something that we were all reared on. I don’t recall sitting there in a band meeting or anything deciding what to play. Somebody starts playing ‘Stargazer’ – which is sort of just like something that’s in our arsenal to jam – and then that whole period there, ‘Tarot Woman,’ ‘Kill the King,’ ‘A Light in the Black ‘ – that’s just really effortless to jump into.”
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The process of putting together a medley like “Ronnie Rising” is second nature for the band, Ulrich says, because it’s so close to how Metallica operate with their own music, something they did recently with their new song “Lords of Summer.” “We love doing that kind of stuff – starts and stops, dynamics and all,” he says. “We figured a couple, three or four go around with that early Rainbow train would suit us particularly well.”
As with Metallica’s many cover recordings over the years, Ulrich says the group’s goal was not so much to copy Dio’s recordings as to show its respect. It’s a feeling that comes through even when Ulrich talks about the recording now. “You just try and do your own thing, respectfully, in the shadow of these legends,” the drummer says. “It becomes more of an homage and respect thing rather than trying to copy the song – it’s not even about outdoing them.”