Trying to recreate Stonehenge onstage didn’t work out all that well for Spinal Tap. Undeterred by such a brutally funny cautionary tale, Dio had something bigger and more impressive in mind for the spectacular staging of 1986’s “Sacred Heart” tour, and he got the math right.

Under the watchful gaze of a massive, animatronic dragon, Dio frolicked night after night among medieval ruins, a steady barrage of pyrotechnics and state-of-the-art laser displays, with drummer Vinny Appice perched dangerously atop a thick, 15-to 20-foot column of fake stone. A crystal ball with a hologram of Dio talking of magic, rainbow bridges and epic quests appears just before they start the dramatic journey through “Sacred Heart.” And when that portion of the show arrives where the dearly departed Ronnie James Dio, light sword in hand, does battle with the mechanical beast, opening its chest to reveal a heart made of lasers, even Nigel Tufnel, Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins would have to bow to the creator of this theatrical monstrosity.

Philadelphia was one of the stops on the tour’s second leg, the one where guitarist Craig Goldy replaced Vivian Campbell, who played such an integral role in the making of Holy Diver and The Last in Line. Having already formed a bond with Dio and his wife, Wendy, from his days in Rough Cutt, Goldy was the ideal fill-in. He knew the songs backwards and forwards and the juggernaut known as Dio, having lost none of its potency, invaded the Spectrum on June 17, 1986 looking to once again conquer a territory that had always loved him and become its king of rock ‘n’ roll – with the cameras rolling, of course.

The original film of his coronation has been faithfully restored, and considering its age, the visuals are remarkably vivid, warm and visceral, preserved in a package of treasures titled Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986. This riveting performance is out on DVD, Blu-ray, CD and as a double LP, and seeing a younger Dio energized and full of life is at once terrifically inspiring and emotionally crushing. Ever the showman, his clarion voice is melodic and passionate, cutting like a razor through smoke, walls of power chords, pounding drums and swinging rhythms. And he draws blood in this performance, as does the band.

Drawing from his days in Black Sabbath and Rainbow, as well as the first three Dio albums, the set list is a movable feast of classic metal. Dio, Appice, Goldy, bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboardist Claude Schnell breathe fire as they tear through medleys of “The Last in Line,” “Children of the Sea” and “Holy Diver,” as well as one consisting of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Children,” “Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll” and a particularly combustible, full-throttle drive through “Man on the Silver Mountain,” with venomous glee. Closing the night with a violent rendering of “We Rock,” Dio was just as relentless in attacking “King of Rock & Roll” and “Like the Beat of a Heart,” while taking pains to emphasize the pop hooks of “Hungry for Heaven” and the dark beauty of “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” just before it transitions into a blazing inferno of rock. And they kick out the jams in “Heaven and Hell,” turning it from a slow-building dirge into something more aggressive and angry.

Flashier than Campbell and out to prove something to a fan base that wasn’t all that accepting of him initially, Goldy plays with a chip on his shoulder, and his ingenious soloing and torrential riffing are electrifying. Appice is a locomotive on drums, and Bain, always the glue of this outfit, tenaciously holds down that low end like a smiling pit bull, while Schnell combines the muscular thrust of Jon Lord with the synthesizer swirls of a Keith Emerson. Aside from Bain, they all take a solo turn, and while Schnell’s is somewhat less compelling, the others are dynamic and thrilling.

Add in an informative featurette, narrated by Dio, on the elaborate stage show, two thoughtful interviews with late singer, the original video of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Children” and nostalgic, insightful Malcolm Dome-penned liner notes and the fully loaded Finding the Sacred Heart – Live in Philly 1986 becomes a comprehensive look at one of the most ambitious tours in metal history.

Label: Eagle Rock Entertainment