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One of the most painful things in the world is to watch a hero of yours fail in his quest, and that is what I felt when I first purchased this album 11 years ago. After coming off some gigs with my all Metallica cover band that didn’t go so smoothly, I sought solace in the fact that Dio’s 7th LP was out. My band mates at the time used to make fun of my fan boy obsession with the former Sabbath front man, referring to him as a washed up has been, and I had feared when I bought this album that that was what he had became, in only a short while after successfully bouncing back from the Sabbath debacle with a solid Doom Metal album in “Strange Highways”.
The principle flaw in this album is a complete lack of direction, something which is common in the genre of Progressive Metal, and technically Ronnie’s status as a pioneer qualifies him as being part of it. Once we get about 1 minute into “Institutional Man” we recognize that he’s pushing a bit too hard for something new, in addition to drawing from some rather questionable sources. The beginning of this track sounds a tiny bit like Sabbath, but the muddy as hell tone sounds like a clumsy attempt at emulating a Crowbar album. The usage of odd time signatures doesn’t mix well with the muddy guitars (I think Tracey G used a baritone guitar on here, which was also used on Sepultura’s Chaos AD). Likewise the drums are not dense enough for a metal album, resulting in a quasi-punk sound unintentionally sneaking into the mix.
“Don’t tell the kids” is a Pantera style speed metal song with good vocals, definitely a winner if you’re a fan of songs like “Shattered” and “Rise”, and thankfully the muddy baritone guitar is not to be found on here. “Black” is a doom track that is under-developed, not enough riffs to keep it interesting, and Ronnie’s vocal delivery is all over the place. “Hunter of the Heart” is an odd mishmash of old style Dio metal from the Holy Diver era and his newfound sense of tonality, resulting in something that doesn’t stick in the memory at all, it’s simply there and then gone. “Stay out of my mind” is loaded with weird keyboard sounds and a small collection of doom riffs, although a bit too long for its own good, it’s a wild mind job for anyone who likes Progressive sounding Doom Metal.
“Big Sister” is a big loser; not a bad bass line, but otherwise it just plods along and occasionally switches feel before plodding some more. “Double Monday” picks up the tempo a bit and we get something that sounds a bit closer to “Strange Highways”, definitely a keeper. “Golden Rules” and “Dying in America” both repetitive Groove Metal tracks with somewhat interesting atmospheric intros, they’re good for the first 45 seconds and then fall apart. And before we finally leave the weird ass place that is this album we hit the closing ballad/afterthought “This is your life”, which not only is lyrically steeped in cliché and musically derivative, but is 100% out of place amongst the previous 9 tracks of sludge driven Doom/Groove.
When interviewed about this album, which was not received well by fans or critics, he stated that at the time he wasn’t really even sure what metal was at that time. I can sympathize with him in that at the time I was completely baffled at what it was. Was it the repetitive bore fest of Pantera and the Groove Movement, was it the dark hell of post-Technical Brutal Death Metal, or was it the completely devoid of structure approach of many Prog metal outfits at the time? The metal movement had absolutely no unifying symbol at the time, only a bunch of tribal leaders trying to establish their own dogmatic styles and turncoats who wanted to sell records by playing Alternative Rock.
Dio’s answer to this was ironically to take the catholic (small “c”, not the religion) approach and to simply embrace all of this, in other words he chose to be eclectic. And the resulting mess of contradictory styles and sounds is blatant, though more than anything a sign of the times. There is absolutely nothing wrong here with Dio’s singing, Tracey G’s playing (he gets ripped on for not being Vivian Campbell as Craig Goldy did, but he is good), with Jeff Pilson’s bass work (this is the most active I’ve ever heard him) or Vinnie’s drumming. The problem is that the songwriting is devoid of any continuity, it’s trying to be both everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Fans of Dio will not be happy with this release, nor am I. When I buy an album with his name on it, I get something that listens well from start to finish; I don’t have to use the skip button constantly. You’ve got 3 or maybe even 4 songs on here that are good, but even they are a bit out of character for him. I can’t endorse this album, although I continue to happily endorse pretty much every other release he’s put out. Every band is entitled to a flop at some point, and Dio was fortunate that so far this has only happened to him once. If any of the songs on here sound appealing, shop for this at $3 or less.