Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of; wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air;
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
Where never lark, or even eagle flew;
And, while with silent lifting mind I have trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
'High Flight', John Gillespie Magee 1922-41 ¹
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A genuinely nice man who deserves his pedestal, Ronnie James Dio transcends critique. His was a unique vocal talent; an instantly recognisable and timeless phenomenon (compare, say, 'The Butterfly Ball''s 'Love Is All' or his Elf stuff to 'Last In Line' to see what I mean), his fondness of using medieval imagery to illustrate his themes was trend setting and he never ever failed to deliver.
His voice swooped and soared with a grace and power that many aspirants can only dream of. His operatic style of delivery had the strength and depth that gave gravitas to material that could otherwise have sounded comical if done by anyone else. His ability to scale octaves without breaking into a scream has never been surpassed. A definitive Metal voice against which if all other Metal vocals were judged, many would be found wanting.
Whilst with Rainbow and Sabbath, not only did RJD stamp his own identity on their material, both bands also left indelible marks on him and as a composer and writer he certainly made use of what he learned, creating at least one classic album in his own right. In fact, he is almost unique in that he has contributed to three classic, genre defining 'every home should have one of these fuckers' albums; Rainbow's 'Rising', Sabbath's 'Heaven And Hell' and his own 'Holy Diver' and there are convincing arguments for a few more, one of which is this album, Dio's 'Last In Line'.
For those who are unfamiliar with the work of Dio, 'Last In Line' was the band's second album and was originally released in 1984. It received many plaudits at the time but its predecessor 'Holy Diver' overshadowed it and has done so ever since. A nine track master class in traditional Metal, its sound and performances are informed by RJD's previous tenures.
With a band that was made up of a young Irish hot shot six stringer by the name of Vivian Campbell, RJD's old Rainbow cohort Jimmy Bain, Claude Schnell and Vinny Appice it was unlikely this album was going to be anything other than another Metal masterpiece.
Now it has been given the deluxe treatment, being re-mastered, re-packaged and re-released as a two disc set. The first disc is the re-mastered album itself; a fantastic dose of traditional Metal with the band showing enough restraint to avoid over egging its Metal histrionics and therefore there is not a single bad track on here.
I suppose I could go on but to be honest, if you have not heard the likes of standouts 'We Rock', 'The Last In Line', 'I Speed At Night', 'Egypt (The Chains Are On)' and 'Mystery' (the nearest the album comes to MTV ear fodder) then you really should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.
Though 'Last In Line' is a natural progression from 'Holy Diver', keeping the same general formula, it's the way the band have tweaked it that makes this album different enough to be regarded as another Dio classic. To some it is 'Holy Diver' 2 but that's like comparing Rainbow's 'Long Live Rock n' Roll' to 'Rising' or Sabbath's 'Mob Rules' to 'Heaven And Hell'. It's lazy, unfair and lacks respect.
The original production was pretty damn good so the re-mastering should have been a doddle but the increased separation and greater clarity seems to have lost some of the original mix's rugged grunt and rendered it a bit bass heavy. The re-mastered sound may be cleaner and more defined but 'Last In Line' could possibly be one of those albums that perhaps should have been left well alone.
Disc two is a live extravaganza; the bells and whistles of the package. There are fourteen tracks, the first six of which are live B sides from contemporary singles and the remaining eight are Dio's entire '84 Pinkpop Festival set. All perfectly illustrate how easily Dio's stuff transferred from studio to stage and how brilliant the band were at recreating it live, especially Dio's vocal.
It all sounds excellent and testifies to the quality of the writing and arranging of the studio material that the songs sound just as good live, if not better. Only three tracks are actually from 'Last In Line', the rest being culled from 'Holy Diver', interspersed with a few choice moments from Ronnie's stints with Rainbow and Sabbath.
Although again there is not a bad track, it is the second disc that nonetheless has the package's killer moment when RJD takes time to thank the audience for their support and introduces the band; a moving moment that pretty much sums up the man himself.
The herd has spent many hours and reams of print debating which Dio album is better but the bottom line is that there is very little to choose between this and 'Holy Diver', or 'Sacred Heart' for that matter. All can be considered Metal classics so it is really down to personal taste and y'all should know them well enough by now to make up your own damn minds and if you don't, then here is a splendid opportunity to remedy the situation pretty damn sharpish.
Oh, and the poem? Well, it came to mind whilst listening to RJD as not only did his voice once dance the skies as if on laughter-silvered wings but in May 2010 Ronald James Padavona finally slipped the surly bonds of earth, reached out his hand and touched the face of God.
¹The Nation's Favourite Poems, BBC Books, 1996.