Though Ronnie James Dio remains an iconic and incredibly beloved figure in Greater Metaldom nearly a decade after his untimely death — for reasons we explored at length with his widow Wendy in this candid interview two years ago — the vocalist’s later work is often left to crawl about in the shadows of such towering, universe-altering behemoths (Murrays?) as Rising, Heaven and Hell, Holy Diver, and The Last in Line.
Now comes a quartet of deluxe reissues of largely overlooked albums — Angry Machines (1996), Magica (2000), Killing the Dragon (2002), and Master of the Moon (2004) — originally recorded by Dio’s eponymous band in the aftermath of a inauspicious reunion with Black Sabbath for 1992’s Dehumanizer, lineup flux, and 1994’s solid-yet-largely-ignored Strange Highways, which peaked on the Billboard charts at 142 — a far cry 1990’s Lock Up the Wolves (61) or 1987’s Dream Evil (43) never mind The Last in Line (23).
A couple thoughts on these reissues:
First, for those with even a passing interest in classic Dio, the amazing bonus discs stuffed with live and lost studio tracks are worth the price of admission alone.
Second, though much of the studio material — a bit too much, if we’re being honest — hews to the bluesy dirge and mid-tempo chime that came to the fore on Lock Up the Wolves there nevertheless are immensely satisfying, surprising, soul-stirring songs on all of these albums which ably demonstrate Dio’s uniquely potent talent and his searcher’s heart: Here was a true artist, doing the work and pushing the envelope, even — or, perhaps, especially — when fewer fans were paying attention.
Here’s our guide to a few of the great man’s lost treasures…
It’s not a Pearl Jam cover, but this song definitely has the vibe of Dio attempting to mesh his sound with some Alice in Chains-ish grunge. Give it the smallest opening in your heavy metal heart and it’ll seize you by those ventricles, humming its melodies in your ear for days.
“Don’t Tell the Kids”
A straight banger that is a bit reminiscent of both old school Dio and deep cuts on Judas Priest’s Painkiller (1990) — a very good mix.
“Stay Out of My Mind”
A grind-y, dark track that around three minutes in breaks into a left-field baroque classical passage that gives way to a jarring industrial hellscape. It should not work, but the band improbably pulls the transitions off, plumbing a rousing epic out of a pond of weirdness.
“Losing My Insanity”
“Losing My Insanity” sounds like Jethro Tull meets Ride the Lightning. They should teach it in school.
Symphonic metal Dio. ’nuff said. (I hope!)
“Feed My Head”
Peak Dio: Workmanlike meat-and-potatoes riffs. Driving beats. Great chorus. A bravely odd and ethereal bridge. Some breaks worthy of horns-throwing. It’s the Ziggy Piggy of Dio jams.
Killing the Dragon
Endless groove and strut. Dio in full-on 70s rock croon. Can’t beat it.
“Before the Fall”
Not that it was ever on the table, but should Motley Crue have perhaps tapped Dio to replace Vince Neil rather than John Corabi? This track, loaded with Mick Mars-esque swagger and chug, makes that thought experiment a bit more interesting…
A borderline power ballad graced with a stellar, ultra-emotive Dio vocal performance that closes with a children’s chorus. (Your serve, Pink Floyd!) Take my money.
Master of the Moon (2004)
“One More for the Road”
You wanted an heir to the “We Rock” throne. You got one!
Again, an anthem that should be loved and covered at least as much as “Rainbow in the Dark.” (Though Khemmmis slayed that one…) Also, can’t not adore a song that includes the line, “Now I’ve become the cat…”
A fitting thematic close to the Dio canon: “If I’m a river then you’re the sea/Somewhere you’ll find me/Alone and swimming here in ecstasy/If I am silence/You must be scream.”
Well, are you?