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.