Let Fallen Legends Rest in Peace: Thoughts on the Dio Hologram & Posthumous Exploitation in Metal

By Andrew Bansal

As the Ronnie James Dio hologram prepares to make its U.S. debut at the Pollstar Awards at the Novo in downtown Los Angeles tonight, I ponder the poignance of this moment. The Dio hologram first debuted at last year’s Wacken Open Air festival, where the Dio Disciples (the tribute band featuring members of the Dio band) played the music while the hologram appeared to replicate the great man’s signature stage moves and “sing” pre-recorded vocal tracks. Its introduction in the U.S. was rather inevitable, and long before tonight’s debut, there have been talks of the hologram-fronted band going on tour. In this article, I intend to express my thoughts on the extent and validity of posthumous exploitation in our beloved genre, and how it should be perceived from the fans’ perspective.

Whenever a prominent musician passes away, it is not uncommon to see a slew of new merchandise pertaining to that artist, whether it be deluxe box sets, previously unreleased live recordings, concert films, remastered and repackaged classic albums, or items like bobbleheads and action figures. In their lifetime, artists release albums and play concerts, and after they pass, there is certainly a need to maintain their estate, to regulate copyright and licensing procedures, and oversee the usage of the back catalog, among other things. Naturally, a group of employees need to be paid, and there are family members who were financially dependent on the musician. So, posthumous merchandise is valid and warranted to a large extent, and if done well, can give fans products actually worth buying. But when does it turn into exploitation, and what can you, as a fan, do to eradicate it? Let’s see.

For starters, neither I nor anyone contributing to Metal Assault has any agenda against anyone in the Ronnie James Dio estate, in fact we’ve unwaveringly supported Dio Disciples (with real singers).  We are also certainly not opposed in any way whatsoever to the hologram technology, or the company that created the Dio hologram, EyeIllusion. I’m simply using this an example because it fits the context of this article, and the opinions expressed here are applicable to all such cases.

The hologram technology is undoubtedly ground-breaking, but is best used in other disciplines and industries, not in heavy metal. What you see in the video above is literally a caricature of the real Ronnie James Dio, one that will never, ever replace the man himself. Their argument: “But what about new fans that never got to see Dio perform live?” The simple answer: invest in live albums and concert films instead, because if you never saw the musician live, a hologram does not even come close to equating to that experience. And if you, like me, were fortunate enough to see Dio live, wouldn’t you want to cherish that memory forever instead of ruining it with a fabricated version of him? Well-done tribute bands have their own importance and can give people a way to celebrate the fallen legends’ music, but instead of a Dio Disciples band fronted by pre-recorded vocals and a hologram, I would much rather take a Tim Ripper Owens or an Oni Logan fronting the same Dio Disciples and doing full justice to Dio’s songs, live and in the flesh.

Already mentioned earlier and worth repeating, we have nothing against the Dio estate, but the success or failure of the Dio hologram is in the hands of you, the fans, and its failure is absolutely crucial, because the worst possible thing to happen to this genre, which thrives on the human elements of passion, spontaneity, energy and skill, would be to see hologram tours occurring on a regular basis and bringing more musicians “back from the dead”. A morose Lemmy statue is bad enough, but can you even imagine a Lemmy hologram-fronted Motörhead tour?

It is in your hands to stop this notion from gaining any further ground in metal. Let’s keep the legacy of our heroes intact. When our heroes pass away, we can celebrate them by cranking their music, watching their concert films, playing in all-human tribute bands, or going to see such bands. But beyond that, we need to establish closure on the fact that these musicians will not be seen or heard in person ever again, and if we achieve that, we can discourage posthumous exploitation.

The video above brought tears to my eye because the failure of the hologram was another reminder that I will never see Ronnie James Dio again. In contrast, the video below turned the tears into smiles, as I realized that Dio is no longer with us but his music is, in fact, immortal.

Celebrate the music and cherish the memories, but let the fallen legends rest in peace.

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