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.
For the 2nd and final installment of this challenge, we’ll be dipping into Dio’s last five albums (Strange Highways – Master of the Moon). 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: January 16, 1994
The Indifferent: Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Ghost, Strange Highways, Hollywood Black, Evilution, Pain, One Foot in the Grave, Blood From a Stone, Firehead, Here’s To You, Bring Down the Rain
In the four years after the Lock Up the Wolves tour and before the release of Strange Highways, Dio made a monumental decision to rejoin Black Sabbath in what would be the first reunion of the “Mob Rules” line up of Sabbath. When things went awry once again in the Sabbath camp, Dio walked away (see what I did there?) and reassembled a new Dio lineup that would feature guitarist Tracy G (horrible name) and former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson. The result of this lineup was an album that sounded so much darker and heavier than anything Dio had done to this point. Lock Up the Wolves was the last Dio album I really paid attention to. I remember when this album came out. I even saw the tour for this one but I didn’t even buy the album. Matter of fact, it all sounds like it could have been cutting room floor Sabbath compositions but not in bad way. I mean, the guy had spent the better part of 3 years in Sabbath for the 2nd time, of course these songs would sound like Sabbath songs. While none of the songs really suck or are flat out terrible, they are all just pretty forgettable. In the case of songs like “Jesus, Mary, & the Holy Ghost” and “Evilution” they just seem to trod on forever leaving me to zone out a bit. “Blood From a Stone” and “Bring Down the Rain” are probably the album’s strongest songs and even those still didn’t do a whole lot for me. While this album didn’t suck, it did little to engrain itself in my mind as an album that I should go back and listen to over and over again. It all just sounded so contrived and even bored at times. I’m curious to see how it gets from here on.
Release Date: October 15, 1996
The Bad: Big Sister, Double Monday, Dying in America,
The Indifferent: Institutional Man, Stay Out of My Mind, Golden Rules, Don’t Tell the Kids, Black, Hunter of the Heart, This is Your Life
Wow. I’m actually pretty speechless. Dio was two for two with Angry Machines which registered a whopping 4.0 on the suckter scale. I just don’t know what was going on with this album. It’s a huge platter of mediocrity with a side order of suck. It’s just so hard to wrap my head around how he could make such a bad album. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of the songs. They sound completely thrown together, the production is muddy, and the guitar playing is subpar at best. I can’t even talk about this album any more. I think I’m going to cry.
Release Date: March 21, 2000
The Good: Magica Theme, Lord of the Last Day, Fever Dreams (motsm, dream evil), Ebeil, Challis (cat scratch), As Long as It’s Not About Love, Losing My Insanity (tull), Otherworld, Magica (Reprise), Lord of the Last Day (Reprise)
The Indifferent: Turn to Stone, Feed My Head,
Wow. Talk about taking a complete 180 here! Dio himself must have really sensed that he was drifting so far from what he was about because for Magica, Ronnie brought back guitarist Craig Goldie and original bassist Jimmy Bain. As corny as this sounds, this album is pretty magical. It’s a total fantasy, metal dorks dream. Dio constructed a concept album and the overall vibe of these songs is very much classic, old school Dio. There are elements of Dio past in songs like “Fever Dreams” which touches on that “Man on the Silver Mountain”/”Dream Evil” kind of riff while “Losing My Insanity” has a sort of Jethro Tull vibe in the beginning. “Challis” also is pretty much the riff from “Cat Scratch Fever” but that’s the only similarity to that shitty song because this song just rules all kinds of face. As a whole, the album has a really great flow to it with only 2 duds. Even those songs aren’t terrible as I just found them both to be kind of annoying if anything (especially “Feed My Head”). All in all this album is a return to form for Dio and a very welcomed return. It’s almost as if he just quit trying to be modern and something he’s not and he just went back to being Dio. It’s a formula that never fails him and I think he was seeing that at this point.
Killing the Dragon
Release Date: May 21, 2002
The Good: Killing the Dragon, Along Came a Spider, Scream, Better in the Dark, Push, Guilty, Throw Away Children, Before the Fall, Cold Feet
The Indifferent: Rock and Roll,
When Dio switches guitar players, it can be a scary thing but Dio knew what he was doing by recruiting Doug Aldrich. First off, Aldrich has this way of being able to capture the essence and vibe of all of the great Dio guitarists (Not Tracy G. I said GREAT guitarists) yet he really lets loose on his solos which is where he totally distinguishes himself from the others. Song wise, this album is a sonic masterpiece and in my opinion could be the greatest Black Sabbath album never made. It really packs this sonic Black Sabbath kind of vibe and it really doesn’t sound or even feel like a Dio album. This isn’t a bad thing though because this sound in general is very much Dio’s sound as it is Black Sabbath’s. The title track just may be one of Dio’s greatest masterpieces and while this album does have more of a Sabbath vibe to it, I love that songs like “Before the Fall” and “Cold Feet” (curiously back to back) sound very reminiscent of Sacred Heart/Dream Evil era Dio. This just shows me that no matter how hard he may try that at times that sound and vibe just infiltrates the barriers no matter how hard he seems to try and keep it back. This alone makes the songs that much more fun and awesome to hear. This is a really surprisingly awesome album and this is one that will get some repeat spins from me without a doubt!
Master of the Moon
Release Date: September 7, 2004
The Good: One More For the Road, Master of the Moon, The End of the World, Shivers, The Man Who Would Be King, The Eyes, Living the Lie, I Am, Death By Love, In Dreams
As this album came to close, it hit me like a ton of bricks that this was the last solo Dio recording ever. Not long after this recording, Ronnie would be reunited with his former Sabbath mates to do Heaven & Hell which, in my mind, is probably one of the single greatest band reunions ever. If Ronnie had to go out at all, Master of the Moon without a doubt left a big fist print on the face of metal. Everything about this album is epic: The production, the quality of songs, his vocal performance. This folks was Dio moving forward. With Master of the Moon, I felt like Dio was able to take everything that I love about classic Dio and infuse it with a new found energy and charisma. If Ronnie would have never gotten sick, I would honestly say that this album sounded like Dio was returning to the fold as a force to be reckoned with and that this just proved that he was nowhere near out of ideas. There isn’t a single song on this album that I would even remotely call a dud and in all honesty, it was so fucking good I had to go and listen to it a 2nd time just to wrap my head around it. One of the things I loved so much about Ronnie is that he was never afraid to take risks. If it ended up sucking, he would just shrug it off and say, “We’ll get it next time” and he did. Master of the Moon just sounds like years of Ronnie working his way back to being DIO and not someone everyone thought he should be and this is one hell of a way to end this chapter.
Ronnie James Dio left behind a massive legacy of music that touched, inspired, and gave comfort to a vast generation of lost rock n’ roll children. Was he perfect? No? Were the albums always amazing? Not at all. While all this is true, what is evident by this challenge is that Dio was an artist. He was a man who took risks, challenged himself, and even challenged his fans. Sometime times it clicked and sometimes it didn’t but in the end, closing his book with Master of the Moon is a strong, upstanding testament to the fact that Dio was still the fucking king. He was taken from us all way too soon but his music, his influence, and his magic will be forever with us.