Ronnie James Dio is a name in the metal community that does not need introducing. So the more surprising I find that his self titled band Dio isn't far as well-known, and recognized, as Ronnie-era Black Sabbath and the new Heaven And Hell project. Sure, most heavy metal fans know the classic Holy Diver
, or have Dio's Greatest Hits album, but sadly, that's where the common metal fan's knowledge of Dio ends. Some of the more knowledgeable metal listeners are also able to quickly name Dio's other two more famous albums, The Last In Line
and Sacred Heart
. Now, I can proudly say that I own most of Dio's records, and the sad news that came the other day about Ronnie James Dio's struggle with cancer prompted me to give these classic heavy metal albums a go once more. It must be stated, that I'm a sucker for good production and heavy sound, and during most of my free time I listen to metal done in the mid-to-late 90's and 2000's. But when about once or twice a month I spin those old (classic) metal albums (Iron Maiden's Piece Of Mind
, Dio's Holy Diver
, Black Sabbath's Heaven And Hell
etc), the listening experience I get from those feels just so much more special and genuine.
Today, I'm here to review one of Dio's most acclaimed works, the album The Last In Line
. When Dio's massive debut album Holy Diver
landed on the shelves of music stores all over the world in 1983, people were absolutely blown away by it. The guitar harmonies, Ronnie James Dio's pitch-perfect tenor, and amazingly well done song compositions were all unbelievably good and stand tall even till this day. Holy Diver
had proved that leaving Black Sabbath was a right decision for Ronnie, even though who knows what Black Sabbath and Ronnie would've accomplished in the future, if they had stayed together. Still, if they had done that, we wouldn't have a Holy Diver
to listen to, neither would we have the Dio albums that succeeded it. Only about a year after the super-successful Holy Diver
, Dio already released another album, titled The Last In Line
. Expectation were obviously high for it; could The Last In Line
possibly live up to Holy Diver
? The answer: it's not as good, but it is a worthy descendant, and an excellent classic heavy metal album.
What catches the ear, at least for me, is that The Last In Line
is not as aggressive and raw-ish as Holy Diver
was. The guitar harmonies are still mighty magnificent, Ronnie's voice is as powerful as ever, and the bluesy solos are technical as always, but the whole atmosphere is lighter, the guitars are softer all-around and the songs are less quirky. Even the production is a lot more polished on this record. With that though, comes a bonus - the bass is audible. The enjoyable slow bass lines in "One Night In The City", the slightly pummeling bass in "Eat Your Heart Out", or the smooth, picked lines in the single "Mystery" add a great deal to the overall quality of the songs. Those are just the standouts though; the bass plays an important role in every song.
One thing that I admit, has gone down a bit, is the songwriting. On one too many songs, the verses sound shallow, and the tracks are always circling around the chorus. There are still cleverly put solos throughout the album, that fill some of those voids, but compared to Holy Diver
, the songwriting has gone down. It's not necessarily bad, but overly simplistic and a bit lazy. Luckily, the guitar work and Ronnie's vocals are just enough to save the show, and save it with grace.
The main attraction for Dio are, of course, mr.Dio's soaring, dramatic and powerful vocals. There's no question about it; the man and his voice are legends. Confidently, his voice flows from track through track, heading towards the glorious end of the album. There's no need for me to describe them any further, as in a sense, Dio's vocals are indeed, indescribable. I am simply a conjuror, trying to paint a picture as clear as I can, but in order to fully grasp it, it is you, who needs to try it out yourself.
Instrumental side of The Last In Line
is great as expected, although a bit soft-sounding, like I already mentioned. The bluesy solos are top notch and technical, and while the verses are mostly infested with rather simple chords with small progression, they still work/are pleasantly overshadowed by Ronnie's vocals. Drum patterns exhibited here are mostly simple as hell, but due to the fairly slow pace of most songs, the drums manage to keep pace and compliment the guitars nicely. Still, at times, some more energetic kicks and slashes wouldn't hurt. Overall though, both the rhythm- and melody section work very well. The riffs are in perfect harmony with Ronnie’s voice and the solid rhythm section keeps things well intact.
What Dio achieved with The Last In Line
, is a worthy follow-up to an album that I do not hesitate to call a classic. It's not as good, and will probably always be compared to its predecessor, but is no way a giveaway album, far from it, it’s excellent. Classic tracks like "The Last In Line", "I Speed At Night" and "Mystery" will no doubt please fans of classic heavy metal for years to come, and this metal act, although at least in my opinion definitely unrecognized, will sure live long in the memory of many.