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Dio

The Very Beast of Dio

Review by Mike Korn

Few musicians have had a longer or more storied career than Ronnie James Dio. The pixieish vocal powerhouse has lent his immense lungpower to bands like Elf, Rainbow and, of course, Black Sabbath. However, his best musical output has come from his own band, Dio. "The Very Beast of Dio" is a compilation of top tracks from the man and his band,spanning all of their lengthy tenure with Warner/Reprise Records. This is a well-packaged effort. Cover art by comics standout Bill Sinkiwiecz is suitably ominous and the extremely detailed liner notes by Martin Popoff should delight the experienced or novice Dio fan. There are also some really good listings showing the evolution of the band throughout the years.

Having just seen Dio in an incredible live show at House of Blues, I can vouch that the man rules the stage with an iron fist. However, the career of Dio has had its ups and downs. "The Very Beast of Dio" follows his Warner career chronologically and it seems to demonstrate that Dio's best moments came early in his Warner career. The material from the first two albums "Holy Diver" and "The Last In Line" seem to rock harder than items from later LPs. It's hard for me to compare the turgid "Lock Up the Wolves" or sappily commercial "Hungry for Heaven" to the majesty of "The Last In Line" or the killer "Rainbow in the Dark". Happily, Dio's latest LP "Magica" sees him returning to the stronger material of old. "The Very Beast of Dio" is a great introduction to the band's works. It is a fine monument to one of heavy metal's most talented and individualistic vocalists.

I'm glad to report that "The Very Beast of Dio" is not a eulogy for the band. Their last two records, "Angry Machines" and this year's "Magica", see them regaining a lot of the vigor they used to have and live, they are an incredible act to see. So let's consider this compilation more of a dividing line for Dio's career.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Stand Up And Shout
Probably the quintessential Dio rocker, this bursts out of the speakers with a lot of energy and heaviness. Dio's first guitarist Viv Campbell,(later to wind up in the poppy Def Leppard), really cranks it.
Holy Diver
Another essential track, a powerful marching riff leads into a thumping rhythm where Dio's vocals weave a mystical tale. The cut includes a great chorus.
Rainbow in the Dark
This is simply one of the best melodic heavy metal songs ever written. A riff that is crunchingly heavy but incredibly catchy is peppered with a hypnotic keyboard bit while Ronnie's melodic vocals are at their peak. Compact and to the point, it is a tremendous metal tune.
Straight Through the Heart
This is a strong, muscular rocker with a bit of Sabbath flair to it. Ronnie's vocals are angrier than usual on this one.
We Rock
This fast, anthemic track is great live, but I always thought a thin guitar sound sapped its energy on record. I still maintain that,but you can't help but yell "WE ROCK!" along with Dio.
The Last In Line
One of the more majestic Dio epics, this begins with cheerful, mellow melodies before slamming into a heavy,key-drenched riff. Thre is plenty of crunch on offer here. This is a song that conjures up a feeling of ancient power.
Mystery
Obviously designed as a follow-up to "Rainbow in the Dark", this commercial track is a little sweet and syrupy in spots, but it still has a mesmerizing catchiness to it. Claude Schnell was a master at using just enough keyboard to flavor a heavy guitar riff.
King of Rock and Roll
Phony crowd noises lace this average track. The number is brisk and peppy, but doesn't cover any new ground at all.
Sacred Heart
By the time the "Sacred Heart" album came out, Dio was starting to sound a little tired. This is in the vein of the title tracks from "Holy Diver" and "Last In Line" but not as powerful. Viv Campbell's guitar work is flat compared to his earlier efforts but Dio's vocals are again spot on.
Hungry For Heaven
This is pretty sappy stuff, with a main guitar riff on the chorus that's old enough to draw Social Security. The keyboards are rather cloying, and the cut sounds like an obvious stab at a single.
Rock and Roll Children
At first listen, I didn't care for this much. I still think it is musically average, but on further inspection,it features one of Ronnie's most impassioned vocal performances. It's easy to hear that he puts a lot of emotion into the track, saving it from anonymity.
Man On the Silver Mountain (Live)
This old Rainbow chestnut is just about impossible to screw up, especially with Dio on vocals. The original is the song where he first introduced his vocal magic to the public. However, they seem to play it just a bit too fast here, almost like they're in a hurry to get it over with. The piece should be played with moderate speed,to capture the power and majesty of the track.
Dream Evil
The title track to the most underrated Dio album, this saw a bit of a return to the "Holy Diver" days. Guitarist Craig Goldie injects some fire back, with a very Rainbowish riff. This is a good number.
I Could Have Been A Dreamer
A moderately fast and catchy rocker, this one is pleasing but not terribly memorable. I would have chosen the blistering "Overlove" or the heavy "Sunset Superman" from "Dream Evil" instead of this.
Lock Up The Wolves
This is the dreary title track to the album Dio fans would like to forget. A stab at lumbering doom metal, this is boredom incarnate, with kiddy guitarist Rowan Robertson sounding way out of his depth.
Strange Highways
I have never heard anything from the album of the same name. The title track is very moody and much better produced than the previous couple of LPs. This is more successful at creating a doomy mood than "Lock Up the Wolves" and reminded me a little bit of the classic "Heaven and Hell" from Ronnie's Black Sabbath days. Still, it lingers just a little too long.
 
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