Welcome to another “Album by Album Challenge.” For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.
This time around I dove head first into the discography of the late, great Ronnie James Dio. When I polled my fellow Fartheads about what acts they’d like to see an Album by Album Challenge, Dio was one of the most frequently asked for. This challenge was a truly interesting one if anything because I pretty much lost touch with Dio after their Lock Up The Wolves album. This challenge held many surprises and even some disappointments but either way, I was brutally honest in my thoughts on these albums.
This is a two part post. Part I will cover his first five albums (Holy Diver – Lock Up The Wolves). I hope you all enjoy this Dio Album by Album Challenge and I look forward to hearing everyone’s feedback. Let’s do this.
Release Date: May 25, 1983
The Good: Holy Diver, Gypsy, Don’t Talk to Strangers, Straight Through the Heart, Invisible, Rainbow in the Dark, Shame on the Night, Stand Up and Shout
The Indifferent: Caught in the Middle
Just listening to this album reminds me why Ronnie James Dio was and still is a monstrous metal legend. Coming from a nasty split with Black Sabbath, Dio forged forward and put together a band and a collection of songs that took heavy metal to a whole new level of greatness. One could argue that his lyrics are cheesy but you know what? Who gives a fuck? Its one thing to write cheese just to be cheesy but it’s another to create anthems for a lost generation of young people that needed a “grown up” to understand them. Dio proved to be the father figure of all the lost metal kids and with his music empowered a whole new generation of kids. This album is without a doubt a powerful statement and what an amazing way to step into the scene for the first time as the leader of his own namesake band. This album from start to finish is an awesome listen and even though I kinda felt that “Caught in the Middle” was just meh, it didn’t slow down the pace one bit of this killer album. What an amazing way to kick off a new legacy of music.
The Last In Line
Release Date: July 13, 1984
The Good: We Rock, The Last in Line, I Speed at Night, One Night in the City, Evil Eyes, Mystery, Eat Your Heart Out, Egypt (The Chains Are On)
The Indifferent: Breathless
Wow. Dio really is two for two so far. The Last In Line was the perfect progression from Holy Diver lyrically, sonically, and performance wise. This time around Dio and Co. really sound like a much more cohesive unit with their own identity. Holy Diver kind of sounded more like he was still trying to figure out where he wanted to go as some of the songs were reminiscent of the Sabbath sound but on Last In Line, this is all Dio. Maybe it was the touring and what not but whatever it was, this album to me is DIO all the way. “We Rock” has to be one of the single greatest album openers ever. This song just slays my face every time. There’s a reason this is such a “go to” album for not just Dio fans but for metal fans in general. Chock full of anthems like “We Rock”, “Last in Line”, and even the hook laden “Mystery”, Dio continued to deliver the anthems to his rock n’ roll children. I did find myself really enjoying “Mystery” a lot more than I did before. It’s got such an amazing hook and I also really loved hearing “Egypt” as that wasn’t a song I remember loving this much back in the day. “Breathless” was about the only song that I didn’t find myself loving but all in all, this album stands the test of time and there were no huge surprises here. Last in Line is just as awesome as I remember it being and it’s still, as of now, probably my favorite Dio album.
Release Date: August 15, 1985
The Good: King of Rock N’ Roll, Sacred Heart, Like the Beat of a Heart,
The Bad: Hungry For Heaven, Shoot Shoot
The Indifferent: Another Lie, Rock N’ Roll Children, Another Day, Fallen Angels
Wow, I’m really not sure what happened with this album but talk about a nose dive into lameness. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t say that this album flat out sucks but man, talk about a total disappointment coming off the heels of Last in Line. The album starts off really strong with “King of Rock N’ Roll” which I still love to this day but then things just start to get weird. I don’t know if this was the labels idea to try and have Dio go more commercial and friendly but it sounds forced and contrived. The only song that really sucks on this album is “Hungry For Heaven.” That song isn’t even remotely good. “Sacred Heart” is a fucking epic song and “Like the Beat of a Heart” sounds like it could’ve been on Last in Line. That song is awesome but the rest of these songs are just weaksauce. I remember LOVING “Rock N’ Roll Children” back in the day and they even had a video that was kinda cool back then but now it just sounds kind of lame. “Shoot Shoot” just may be the single worse album closer ever. I do remember no liking this album very much back in the day and it seems like that hasn’t changed one bit and if anything, I like it even less today. What a bummer.
Release Date: July 21, 1987
The Good: Night People, Dream Evil, Sunset Superman, All the Fools Sailed Away, Naked in the Rain, Over Love, I Could’ve Been a Dreamer, Faces in the Window, When a Woman Cries
Ok, so it looks like this is the first huge surprise of this challenge for me. Holy shit what an epic album. I’m not sure just what happened or what the story is but I just find it interesting that the minute Dio ditches Vivian Campbell, he gets a new guitarist in Craig Goldie and puts out a record that does not have one single ounce of filler on it. Song for song this album just fucking rules. As a kid, when this album came out I don’t remember liking this album nearly this much. Maybe at this point I started to kind of drift into other acts or something but hearing this album for this challenge was like hearing it for the first time. Ronnie just sounds so angry at times and full of life and the songs just seem to reflect a more dark and at times sinister side of Dio which I love hearing. “All the Fools Sailed Away” and “I Could’ve Been A Dreamer” just may be two of the greatest Dio songs ever written and the fact that they’re both on this album together is just awesome. In some ways, I would almost say that this album should’ve been the follow up to Last In Line. This platter of awesomeness totally makes up for the failure that was Sacred Heart. Now I’m really curious now the other albums will measure up to this one.
Lock Up the Wolves
Release Date: May 15, 1990
The Good: The Wild One, Born on the Sun, Hey Angel, Between the Hearts (Sabbath), Night Music, Lock Up the Wolves, Evil on Queen St, Walk on Water, Twisted, Why Are They Watching Me?,
Ok, surprised #2! Holy fucking facemelt Batman. So I remember buying this album when it came out, I remember seeing the tour, and yet why am I feeling like I’m really hearing this album for the first time? What an absolutely amazing album and up to this point I have to be honest and say that THIS is my favorite Dio album. For this album, Ronnie completely overhauled the lineup. There isn’t a single “classic” member on this album and it was the first and only to feature a young, unknown guitarist named Rowen Robertson who was the ripe young age of 18 on this album. From start to finish this album is an absolute masterpiece. “Wild One” is such a powerful opening track and “Lock Up The Wolves” just may be the best Sabbath song that never was. “Born on the Sun” is probably my favorite Dio song that I never knew and “My Eyes” is one of those perfect album closers. It’s damn near impossible to really pinpoint any “stand out” tracks because very song is outstanding. There isn’t a single thing about this album that isn’t perfect in my eyes. This album sounds amazing production wise and the performances are just absolutely perfect. The songs really captured a fine mix of the many faces of Dio. Maybe it’s the fanboy in Robertson that captured the elements of Dio era Sabbath, Rainbow, and even Holy Diver/Last in Line era Dio. I really wish we could’ve heard more from this line up as I feel that this was Dio at his absolute best.
PART II IS NEXT… STAY TUNED!