One thing every metal fan can agree on is the eternal majesty of Ronnie James Dio. Whether you liked his music or not (and if you didn’t, then why are you reading this?), the simple fact is that the man’s talent was unquestionable. Whether you preferred his solo work or his time with Rainbow, or Black Sabbath, (or for you picky little contrarians out there – The Electric Elves, Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, or Elf), the fact remains that there is still a gaping void in the world of metal, even now, nearly ten years(!) after his death.
Like other veteran artists, Dio found only minor success in his later years, and aside from a final, welcome resurgence when he rejoined Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler (this time under the name of Heaven and Hell) his solo career seemed to run disappointingly out of steam. Although quality was undeniably a factor, the lack of interest in Dio from the early nineties to the early ’00s can be largely attributed to the huge shift in musical tastes during that time. Spandex, rainbows, and dragons had been replaced by woolly jumpers, floppy hair and syringe abuse.
Now, featuring remastered material, packaged in a mediabook format, and reissued by Niji Entertainment/BMG, the final four Dio albums (complete with bonus tracks) have finally been made available again.
Released in 1996, Angry Machines found Dio playing catch-up to the grunge and alternative scenes. Arguably the band’s weakest release, Dio’s voice still sounds as good as ever, but although it boasts the occasional highlight, it really doesn’t sound like anyone was having a good time. From plodding opener ‘Institutional Man’ to the schizophrenic, Danzig-infused ‘Don’t Tell the Kids’, the Alice in Chains influence of ‘Black’, and ‘Dying in America’ which blatantly steals the melody to ‘In Bloom’ by Nirvana, nothing on Angry Machines sounds natural or fun. ‘Stay Out of Mind’ even manages to sound like Slayer when they slowed down into creepy ‘213’ territory, and although it’s saved by a great chorus, ‘This is Your Life’ has to be one of the most miserable songs ever recorded. Still, it’s not all bad. From a time of uncertainty and turmoil, Dio’s live performances sound as good as ever, and bonus cuts like ‘Long Live Rock and Roll’, ‘Mob Rules’ and ‘Man on the Silver Mountain’ sound appropriately belligerent.
Moving on, 2000’s Magica is an entirely different kettle of metal. A fully-fledged concept album, thankfully none of the previous album’s grunge tendencies are in evidence. Whereas the slower songs on Angry Machines could sound grey and lifeless, here they’re played with purpose. After no less than two introductions, the album broods and soars with opener ‘Lord of the Last Day’ while ‘Fever Dreams’ recalls earlier times like ‘The Last in Line’ and ‘Dream Evil’. ‘Losing My Insanity’, ‘Challis’, ‘Turn to Stone’ and the darkly balladic ‘As Long As it’s Not About Love’ help make Magica a far more enjoyable listening experience than its lacklustre predecessor. The bonus material features the album played (almost) in full, and the full eighteen-minute Dio-narrated ‘Magica Story’.
Released in 2002, Killing the Dragon is a record seemingly freed of any restraints. Feeling no pressure to keep up with current trends, and with no need to repeat himself with another concept, Dio just goes for it with possibly one of the most underrated albums of his career. The fully throated gallop of the title track hits you squarely in the face, followed by the uptempo surge of ‘Along Comes a Spider’, the downbeat but sturdy ‘Scream’ and the freight train approach of ‘Better in the Dark’. Not exactly front-loaded, most of the better tracks do appear on the first half of the record, but ‘Guilty’ is prime Sacred Heart, and closer ‘Cold Feet’ just sounds like classic Dio with a twist of blues. The live material included on this reissue is fairly decent, but the production certainly isn’t the best you’ll ever hear.
What was to be the final studio album released under the Dio name, 2004’s Master of the Moon turned out to be an enjoyable solo swansong before rejoining his old mates in Sabbath a few years later. Staying firmly in safe territory, cuts such as ‘The Eyes’, Living The Lie’, ‘Death by Love’ the title track, and ‘Shivers’, as good as they are, could never hope to trouble anything from his ’70s and ’80s output. The live bonuses included here aren’t necessarily the best quality either, but it’s nice to see ‘Prisoner of Paradise’ make an appearance, the rare studio track only previously available on the Japanese version of the album.