One of the greatest rock and metal vocalists ever

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of the passing of the great rock vocalist Ronnie James Dio, his widow and manager, Wendy joined forces with BMG to reissue the last four studio albums recorded by the mighty Dio. Spanning the years 1996 to 2004, the titles are Angry Machines, Magica, Killing the Dragon and Master of the Moon.

All have been remastered by Dio associate, Wyn Davis, with each release including a slew of bonus rare or unreleased live and studio tracks plus some updated artwork from designer Marc Sasso. Given Dio also served successful tenures with both Black Sabbath and Rainbow, during his fantastic career, his back catalogue is not just a wealth of quality music but also contains some impressive musicianship from the band line-ups he has constructed over the years.

For this selection of titles, the bass spot is filled by either Jeff Pilson  or the late, long serving Dio solo career bassist, Jimmy Bain. Dio’s original veteran drummer, Vinny Appice, only appears on Angry Machines. For the remaining three reissues, Simon Wright drummer mans the kit. Of the four albums, Angry Machines was released when the grunge movement had taken over the mainstream. Not surprisingly, Dio also navigated these waters with some caution as traditional heavy metal bands from the eighties were generally punted. To Dio’s credit, even though Angry Machines is not generally a fan favourite, the dry guitar attack from Tracy “G” Grijalva was a suitable response to the musical climate at the time. 

Of course, the loyal fan base wanted their sword waving dragon slayer to return to the fantasy realm and by bringing back in Dream Evil era guitarist, Craig Goldy, for Magica, normality resumed without losing creativity. That concept album remains an underappreciated classic. The guitar spot then alternated between Doug Aldrich and Craig Goldy, with the former moving on to join Whitesnake for a good decade. Keyboardist Scott Warren was present throughout all of the four reissues being reviewed here. Viewing all four titles as a whole, whilst the bonus material has a couple of interesting studio tracks, it is the stellar live performances that really make these reissues a worthwhile investment, regardless of the format.

Starting with the first of four reissues, the title of Angry Machines is apt. It is a confrontational, raw and for some, a divisive record. Lyrically, lofty topics such as feisty dragons are jettisoned for bleak commentary on society and politics. Musically, it reflects that direction but as the last studio album by Dio to have Appice on the kit, the rhythm section is incredibly heavy for the time. A thundering bass guitar attack from Pilson bolsters the down tuned, Seasons in the Abyss reminiscent arpeggiated clobber of opening track, Institutional Man, the barrelling pace of Don’t Tell the Kids and the jarring Black. The muted power chords of Hunter of the Heart also contains a very George Lynch-styled guitar solo from Tracy G., whilst the doom based Stay Out of My Mind is a Dio version of Soundgarden meets Sabbath with an orchestral interlude and a stabbing mechanical keyboard figure taking an album theme based musical tangent before returning to the chorus. 

The second half of the album has some deeper album cuts worth exploring. The circling riff of Double Monday, the shuffling groove of Golden Rules and the irregular note choices with shimmering chords of Dying in America make arrangements seem sparse but with interesting sounds. It is the final piano and vocal track of This is Your Life that rewards fans. A poetic piece with soaring chorus and string backing, it demonstrates Dio’s incredible vocal power and rarely heard gentle timbre. 

For the undecided, this version of Angry Machines also includes a great live bonus disc. The material from the tour promoting the host album is largely a selection of career spanning goodies with some Sabbath and Rainbow tracks amongst the reliable solo artist material. A couple of Angry Machines tracks rip by, with Double Monday seguing into Stand Up and Shout. The set contains heavier renditions of Heaven and Hell, the brilliant Man on the Silver Mountain, the originally poppy Rainbow in the Dark and the bombastic We Rock. It is debatable whether Tracy G’s style of guitar playing which swings between quick-fire shredding to harsh riffage, will appease older fans but it enlightens as to how Dio coped with the onslaught of grunge.

Magica, Dio’s concept album was slated to commence a trilogy, which was obviously never realised. However, without delving into the intricacies of the story, a long narrated track by Dio, now on the second disc, explains the netherworld fable. The lyrics in the original album contain story links but tracks still stand alone without relying on the story arc. Some didn’t like the additional robotic voice parts littered across the album but in context of the story, it is a legitimate device. Apart from some orchestral atmospherics and story-telling methods such as reprising tracks, the heavy metal riffs and powerful singing are still intact. 

Lord of the Last Day offers an ominous and slow track after the melodic Magica Theme but the gated guitar riffs of the Blackmore inspired Fever Dreams and the simple rhythm figure of Turn to Stone allow Dio to sing with strong projection and his signature vibrato and occasionally raspy snarl. Feed My Head is hypnotic yet catchy whilst Eriel, the album’s strongest track, offers up musical accents, vocal nuances, half time rhythms, varying instrumentation and necessary drama. The following tracks are all interesting with enough variety and space to allow the story to weave through the music. 

Before a couple of reprised opening tracks, the excellent mid paced Otherworld has Dio’s narrative style, vocal range and melodicism on show against driving guitar riffs, open strings and a tasty solo. The live concert part of the second disc’s rendition of Otherworld is a highlight with an extended call and response section between guitar and Dio. Also on the second disc, apart from the aforementioned fireside story time with Dio, there is a vocal led, emotionally significant, studio track titled Electra that includes a thick guitar tone, climactic solo and sustained chords. That song comes as a bonus seven inch if buying the vinyl format of the re-issue.

Ironically, Killing the Dragon was Dio’s metaphoric and barbed response to the rise of technology’s influence on humanity, obviously before the insidious era of social media and ‘alternative facts’. The album has some great music and the single Push also had an amusing film clip with mutual respect between Tenacious D and Dio. Old school Dio fans and newer metal fans should both enjoy the crisp mix and punchy arrangements on this release. The title track gallops out and also introduces Aldrich’s fast precision within his melodic guitar soloing, using an authentic, warm guitar tone. 

Chord progression variations make this album less predictable with both Along Comes a Spider and Scream being fluid, expressive tracks. The rhythm section locks in on Rock and Roll, partially influenced by Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. Push is certainly commercial but is tight, memorable and stays melodic, even with fast guitar sections. Similarly, Guilty has sonic hallmarks of the Mark Boals fronted Yngwie Malmsteen era Trilogy album, probably indicating how much Dio has influenced many rock singers. The ballad Throw Away Children segues into Before the Fall‘s strong galloping, heavy metal, complete with a keyboard solo. The final track Cold Feet feels like a hard rock version of old blues standards. But it works.

The live disc has a more direct feel to the studio material although the atmospherics are present. It just has a quicker pace to it, alongside the almost mandatory classics. Dio’s vocals are upfront in the mix and the drumming deftly powers into double time on sections. It’s also got a nifty version of I Speed at Night, dedicated, aptly enough, to Motörhead. 

Master of the Moon, the tenth and final studio album by Dio, is a pulsing album with Craig Goldy returning for guitar duties. Muted guitar riffs drive the rock bombast of One More for the Road whilst the title track; melodic and slow in the unfolding grandeur, is not overindulgent, providing a platform for Dio’s recognisable vocal tones to cut through the mix. The End of the World lets Wright and Goldy explore playing an AC/DC styled track with Dio. By contrast, Shivers is technical then melodic, playing with the underlying synth figure. 

Dio’s clarity in his vocal attack is evident throughout, especially during the slow but eventually catchy The Eyes and the quick pace of Living the Lie with Goldy exercising his wah pedal. I Am utilises Dio’s penchant for doubling vocals against a spatially free mix whilst Death by Love is heavier with a banging progression and lyrics making for a signature Dio track. Rounding it all off, In Dreams has a slower pace but interesting harmonised parts. 

For the bonus material, the four live tracks from the album’s tour are all very good. Heaven and Hell has a more aggressive vocal delivery and this version is a ten minute rendition, including a call and response interlude. Rainbow in the Dark, admittedly dated by the keyboard riff, still holds up well and this performance is heavier than the studio track. Rock and Roll Children, from Sacred Heart, oozes eighties radio hard rock but Dio is in fine form here. The down tuned punch of The Eyes provides a sinister feel with Dio’s slow song about extreme paranoia, moving with dramatic ebbs and flows between verse and chorus. The singalong outro vocal part works beautifully live. 

The final treat is a bonus track from the Japanese pressing of Master of the Moon, titled Prisoner of Paradise. The mid paced track has soft, muted chords that usher in a powerful chorus, as Dio’s vocals slowly climb in pitch, as does the guitar solo. It’s not essential but the song structure is very well done and it is nice to have a bonus track that is usually only available via import markets.

In summary, all of these reissues are great for different reasons. If there is one album that is the lesser and largely as a victim of the era, it is Angry Machines but whatever shortcomings are within, the longer set of bonus live material makes it worthwhile and balances it out. Both Magica and Killing the Dragon are strong albums that contain enough quality tracks alone but again, the bonus material would be hard for serious Dio fans to resist. The last album, Master of the Moon, is probably the wild card for some but after repeated listens, it is certainly a grower with some fantastic deep tracks. 

Dio was one of the greatest rock and metal vocalists ever. These releases reinforce that statement and all these albums were done on Dio’s own terms, as always, and in context of the changing nature of the music industry. In that light, the longevity of his career is even more impressive. Long live the spirit and memory of Dio.

Angry Machines

Disc 1
Institutional Man
Don’t Tell the Kids
Black
Hunter of the Heart
Stay Out of My Mind
Big Sister
Double Monday
Golden Rules
Dying in America
This is Your Life

Disc 2: Live on the Angry Machines Tour 1997
Jesus Mary and the Holy Ghost – Straight Through the Heart
Don’t Talk to Strangers
Double Monday
Hunter of the Heart
Holy Diver
Heaven and Hell
Long Live Rock and Roll
Man on the Silver Mountain
Rainbow on the Dark
The Last in Line
The Mob Rules
We Rock

Magica

Disc 1
Discovery
Magica Theme
Lord of the Last Day
Fever Dreams
Turn to Stone
Feed My Head
Eriel
Chalis
As Long as it’s Not About Love
Losing My Insanity
Otherworld
Magica (Reprise)
Lord of the Last Day (Reprise)

Disc 2: Live on the Magica Tour 2001
Discovery
Magica
Lord of the Last Day
Fever Dreams
Eriel
Chalis
Losing My Insanity
Otherworld
Electra – Studio Track
Magica Story – Studio/Spoken Word

Killing the Dragon

Disc 1
Killing the Dragon
Along Comes a Spider
Scream
Better in the Dark
Rock and Roll
Push
Guilty
Throw Away Children
Before the Fall
Cold Feet

Disc 2: Live on the Killing the Dragon Tour 2002/2003
Holy Diver
Heaven and Hell
Rock and Roll
I Speed at Night
Killing the Dragon
Stand Up and Shout

Master of the Moon

Disc 1
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

Disc 2: Live on Master of the Moon Tour 2004/2005
Heaven and Hell
Rainbow in the Dark
Rock and Roll Children
The Eyes
Prisoner of Paradise – Studio Track.