Review Summary: The beginning of Dio's brief downfall.
Anyone who has listened to Dio's work will know that the mid 90s wasn't exactly the greatest years of the man's solo band. Lock up the Wolves
, despite having a fairly consistent set of songs, proved that both Dio and his band were beginning to show growing weaknesses in musicianship and delivery, and it wasn't long before the band's once jam-packed fan-base got tired of the lack of magic which made albums like Holy Diver
and The Last in Line
extra special. Dio's sixth full-length, Strange Highways
, is no exception to this. The album's release takes place after Dio had reformed (and attempted to re-invigorate, with sub-par results) Black Sabbath, proving somewhat short-lived thanks to the mostly half-hearted Dehumanizer
is not absolutely terrible, and in fact anyone who is introduced to Dio's work via this album would probably like it quite a bit. The fist-pumping rhythms, metallic production and driving riffs all contribute to a fairly consistent set of songs, yet for those who knew what Dio had been capable of in the 80s, this album would have been seen as a sore disappointment. The album's first half, save for the excellent title track, is considerably average. Opener “Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost” and “Firehead” have rhythms which fail to get the listener's head nodding, and instead result in completely tiresome pieces of music, devoid of any energy or drive which should be there in spades. The instrumentation plods along with little inspiration, and the production, despite making everything sound polished (especially for an album from the 90s), does no favours for the band's musicianship. Other songs suffer even worse from this same problem, such as the poor and quite ludicrous “Evilution”, on which Dio sounds as if he's trying too hard to sound, well, “Evil”. Thankfully, the remaining eight songs of the album fare somewhat better, that is if you're expectations haven't been lowered considerably by this point.
What the album succeeds with brilliantly is the tenser, slower-burning likes of the title track and “Give her the Gun” (which bears an uncanny resemblance to the beginning of “Don't talk to Strangers”). The former should be no surprise, since the title track of a Dio album is usually one of the highlights of each respective album. Introduced via the beautifully mellow guitar work of newcomer Tracy Grijalva and Dio's hard-to-perfect vocal delivery, the album's title track gives an appropriate example of when Dio are at their very best musically. The latter is introduced in the same way, but has a stunningly heavy guitar tone which sometimes echoes Sabbath's doomier songs, but makes no mistake in reminding you of how solid and tight the band's musicianship can get. These two are definitely the most memorable of the album, yet unfortunately by comparison every other song seems weak.
Perhaps the album's biggest flaw is its length. Running at 52 minutes long, the majority of the album seems to drag for a long time until the temptation to skip a track is too much. This flaw hits various songs - “Hollywood Black”, “Pain”, “Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost”, to name a few – and despite the solid instrumentation making for a sometimes decent listen, it doesn't take away from the fact that the songs themselves are too lengthy for their own good. What's more is that Dio himself sounds like he's completely bored with himself on the aforementioned songs, resulting in a lacklustre affair which never seems to bring itself out of a state of stagnation.
is too long, too inconsistent but still relevant in Dio's long-running solo career. Although many regard the album as one of Dio's worst (and no-one could blame them), there are still precious moments to be found here. The problem is that these moments are few and far between, and the majority of the album unfortunately lacks the magic or power which made previous Dio albums more remarkable.