There can be no argument that Ronnie James Dio was one of the greatest rock singers of all time, his extraordinary voice gracing some legendary recordings. For anyone to make a landmark album with one band is a feat that very few attain, but RJD can count at least three, all with different outfits, as Rainbow’s Rising, Black Sabbath’s Heaven & Hell and his own, self-titled band’s debut Holy Diver standing as benchmarks of hard rock and Metal.
Ronnie James Dio – The Studio Albums 1996-2004 (BMG)
Release Date: Out Now
Words: Paul Monkhouse
It was with Dio that the singer was finally able to truly flex his creative muscles, answering to no one but himself and pouring his heart and soul into ten albums that run from stone-cold classics to frankly lesser well-received entries in his catalogue.
Whilst his power as a vocalist has never been in doubt, the opening salvo of Holy Diver and Last In Line were dizzyingly high watermarks that the band struggled to reach again. Fortunately, though, such was the quality of the talent involved, the remaining output still stands as great slices of bombastic Metal that fully played into the singer’s passion for great storytelling.
This new box set allows the listener to soak up the last four titles from the band, the evolution of Dio expanding from his dragons and castles territories to the social commentary that never buried itself too far from the surface of his work.
Spanning the eight years from 1996 until 2004, Angry Machines, Magica, Killing The Dragon and Masters Of The Moon saw a fluctuating line-up with members coming and going, but RJD’s vocals were as consistently impressive as ever. Eschewing predictability, Dio also liked to mix things up with regard to their sound, the writing in this quartet ranging from some of their heaviest material to heartfelt ballads.
1996’s Angry Machines was the last to feature long-time friend and drummer Vinnie Appice and was produced by RJD himself. Arguably one of the band’s most eclectic albums, it runs the gamut of the doomy sludge of the Sabbath-like opener Institutional Man through to the rather lovely piano ballad This Is Your Life.
With a dip into psychedelia-tinged Metal in the head-spinning Stay Out Of My Mind also included, it certainly sees the band stretch their wings quiet like never before, and whilst the results didn’t quite click with some fans at the time, tracks like Double Monday showed that they could rock as hard as ever.
Arguably the pick of the set and something of a renaissance concept album, Magica was set to be the first part of a trilogy, thwarted by the great man’s passing before work could start on the later-dated follow-ups.
There had been a few changes, with ex-AC/DC drummer Simon Wright replacing Appice and Craig Goldy filling Tracy G’s role as six-stringer, these new additions heralding a freshness to the band that embraced the challenge of the project.
Given its nature, there was more room for experimentation to move the narrative along and different sonic textures weave throughout.
Highlights are many, and with quality material like the majestic Lord Of The Last Day and big hitters like Fever Dreams and Otherworld, this is an album to embrace, neatly sidestepping the issues that KISS’s woeful Music from the Elder fell into.
With the tempting Baroque ‘n’ roll meets Thin Lizzy Celtic rock of Losing My Insanity and ambiguous ending pointing the way to much more to come, the lost opportunity for Magica volumes 2 and 3 is even more poignant.
Killing The Dragon saw the band returning to a usual album structure, each song being its own self-contained element. Now, with Doug Aldrich on guitar, the high from Magica continued, and sparks flew.
This was most definitely a ROCK album and features some of the heaviest tracks Dio had ever done, tracks like Scream and the titular Killing The Dragon benefitting from scorching fretwork, pummelling rhythms and RJD in full-throated roar.
It even featured a semi-sequel to Hear ‘n’ Aid’s social commentary Stars in the form of Throw Away Children, replete with a choral section for added emotion. Not as ambitious as the album it followed, it still has its own bombastic charms.
With Craig Goldy back in the fold, Master Of The Moon proved to be the swansong of the band. Sadly, it was not their finest work but one that saw the outfit refusing to rest on their laurels, even though the material sometimes seems a little tired.
Overall, though, a middling Dio album is better than a huge swathe of what else was around at the time, and there’s certainly enough fire here to make it a worthwhile dip back in to reassess.
Given the strength of the bristling One More For The Road, the massively powerful title track and vibrant rockers like The Eyes and In Dreams, Dio were very aware of the standards expected of them and were here to prove they still mattered.
A set more for completists rather than the casual fan discovering the work of the great man for the first time, this box set has its fair share of gold, and with the mix of musicians, it’s fun to soak up their differing styles.
Centre to everything will always be Ronnie himself, and each and every track here is a masterclass by a king amongst men, his power and legacy eternal.
He rocked the world right to the end.
Now we wait for the Last In Line remaster.