Friday, May 18, 2007

Dio - 'The Last In Line'

This was one of the first CDs I ever bought, and the first to be stolen by some bastard with no morals and great taste in music. I recently picked up a replacement copy, and I've been rediscovering what a great album this is. It might just be Dio's finest moment as a band. Holy Diver was a great album, bursting at the seams with energy and enthusiasm, leavened by a couple of Ronnie James Dio's effective exercises in creating epic centerpieces that would stand as worthwhile succesors to the classic songs he created with Black Sabbath and Rainbow. Still, it's a lot more rock n' roll hyperboogie than metal in many places and it also has the slightly nebulous sense of identity many debut solo efforts do. On the follow-up, however, I believe there's a stronger sense of identity and direction, as well as a truly democratic group dynamic that doesn't seem to be there on a lot of Dio's later albums.

The mix of songs is great, and the flow of the album is immaculate. From the opening shot of 'We Rock', through the more intricate (but concise - the song is just over 5 minutes long) considerations of 'The Last In Line', the album continues on a winning streak with pacey, gutsty tracks like 'Breathless' (with a great Campbell solo) and the proto-speed metal blast of 'I Speed At Night'. 'One Night In The City' seems like a throwback to some of the more boogified moments on the previous album, but it rapidly takes on an epic feel with some tasteful mid-tempo arrangements and Ronnie James Dio in full storyteller mode. 'Evil Eyes' sizzles with some seriously scorching riffage, and keyboard motifs that actually accentuate the heaviness. 'Mystery', in contrast, sounds more like a typical mid-80s commercial hard rock radio staple, down to the cheesy keyboards. Still, it has all the (melo?)drama of the more metallic material, and the heavy stadium groove of the 'Eat Your Heart Out' gets things back on track. If the epic tracks on 'Holy Diver' built from Ronnie James Dio's work with Black Sabbath, the album closer 'Egypt (The Chains Are On)' looks back at the eastern-flavoured epics on the early Rainbow albums with its leaden, pusling riffs and snakecharmer-music keyboard embellishments. It's a great way to close out the album - a slowed-down grinding assault to finish what the speedy artillery of the opening track started.

I haven't mentioned highlights from individual songs, but what really makes this album stand out for me are the little fills and frills that Vivian Campbell, Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice throw out all over the place. A band of competent musicians can just play it straight, sticking to the script except for pre-agreed solo spots, and put out a perfectly servicable album. But if there's real chemistry between them, everyone is spurred on to add that little bit extra that doesn't serve as a showcase of individual worth, but instead adds to the mood and atmosphere of each song. They produce bass slides and runs, drum fills and incidental guitar flourishes that are individually easy to play, but placed in the right spots to lift the song from a rote exercise to something really compelling.

This album is full of that sort of magic, and I don't think that Dio the band ever sounded this together and excited again. They continued to put out some great albums, of course, but to me this will always be the big one, the one where the thrill of having put out a totally killer debut, and the evolution from a thrown-together band to a real heavy rocking ensemble seem to have contributed to some of the finest moments in Ronnie James Dio's already-legendary career.


rock_of_ages said...

Nice write up JP. I took a bit of stick on my blog a while back for not giving Holy Diver 5/5 but it's just too much of a Heaven And Hell rewrite in places.

For some reason I'm not as familiar with this album as many and tend too reach for Sacred Heart more than any Dio album personally, but agree that using Holy Diver as a base Dio the band developed into a fine band.


JP said...

Thanks. I remember your Holy Diver review, and I thought it was pretty fair. HD was a great, credible kick-start to DIo's solo years, but it did consciously draw on things that worked in the past - although, again, you might sat the 'Egypt "The chains are on"' on this album was a take on those mid-eastern flavoured epics with Rainbow.

bob_vinyl said...

I don't like this quite as much as Holy Diver, but I still think it's a fine album and it showcases RJD's strong vocals. The problem with Dio is that they never really went anywhere with their music. After the first two albums, I don't know if there's anything essential. I do like these two more than the RJD-era BS albums.

JP said...

I know what you mean, while continuing to like most of the DIo album. There's a case to be made for Strange Highways, at least, although it is, along with Angry Machines, the most reviled Dio album. I think Dio was really trying to carry on that darker vine from Dehumanizer and make his sound dirtier and grittier. Personally, I think Magica and everything since has been a decent but ultimately slightly boring attempt to recapture the old magic of the classic Dio years.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

definitely my favorite Dio album...I keep listening to Master of the Moon, even if there's no new ground broken there...but this will always be the deferred Dio album