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On his course through the 90s, Ronnie James Dio has lost a rather large group fans. People didn’t like his more experimental, and dare I say it, modern side he had adopted back in 1994 with the release of “Strange Highways” and which he further developed in succeeding albums. In “Angry Machines”, we heard Dio dwell in a sludgy, bottom-heavy grounds and even Magica was still caught in the web of this modern approach. While I’m actually one of those people who think that Dio can do no wrong, I still very much embraced the return to the Dio of old with “Killing the Dragon”. This is one of those few albums where the “back-to-the-roots” term can actually be used in the appropriate sense.
The album kicks off with the mighty title track, which might actually one of the highlights in Dio’s career. Driven by an almost Maiden-ish galloping main riff, Dio soars his way through the track (fuck, this man was 60 years old when this was released! Unbelievable) and gives one of the best performances in years. The lead guitar playing (courtesy of Doug Aldrich, definitely the most proficient guitar player that Ronnie ever had) is stunning, boasting with lots of emotion instead of a bazillion notes played randomly on the fretboard. Definitely one of the heaviest tracks in Dio’s long career.
Of course there are more killer tracks on this album; “Push” is another one of those awesome up-tempo rockers that just kick ass. Very uplifting lyrically, Dio shines again, providing an awesome vocal line for the intriguing chorus. “Throw Away Children” changes the pace & lyrical direction radically. It almost sounds like a “Dehumanizer” leftover, but might be even more effective due to the very dark lyrical output. “Guilty” is a track for the true oldschool Dio fan – if the production was a tad aged, this wouldn’t have been out of place on “The Last In Line”, as it more than loosely resembles the melodic heavy metal ideas of songs like “Breathless” or “Evil Eyes” on said album.
I wouldn’t say that there is any filler material on here, but not everything is flawless on this record. “Along Comes a Spider” and “Rock & Roll” seem to lack direction as they (especially the latter) drag on for too long without any real highlights and the song-structures seem too predictable for repeated listening pleasure.
Apart from those two tracks, there is no real weakness to be found on this record and Ronnie James Dio proves again what he’s capable of. Even today, he’s still showing the youngsters how it’s done. A recommended, no wait, a must-have (!) album for all fans of Dio, or heavy metal in general.
Highlights: Killing the Dragon, Push, Throwaway Children, Guilty