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Like many, I had grown accustomed to the Dio of "Holy Diver", "Last In Line", "Sacred Heart", & "Dream Evil", so naturally I was expecting more of the same.
Upon first listen of "Wolves" I was so disappointed I was going to trade it in for credit at my local record shop. It sported more slower, bluesy tempos. Sure, these days I'm into blues, but back then I wanted my metal music fast and powerful. The occasional slow or mid-tempo number was okay if, and ONLY if, the singer was something special. There aren't any much more special than Dio. Other than Freddie Mercury I can't think of any rock singer that matches him. It's the "sound" of his voice, not just his range and powerful rasp. It must feel great being able to scream and stay on key.
I listened a second time and songs like "Wild One", "Hey Angel", & "Walk On Water" got to me, so I knew I had to keep at least those, but I didn't have a cd burner or computer at the time so I would only be able to save those songs on cassette. Might as well be a bloody 8-track tape (cassettes were about to suffer near total death thanks to the compact disc). So because those three songs were keepers, I listened again several times as it was the only cd in my car at the time and I grew to love this album from start to finish. Dio's voice is amazing and even the slow, bluesier songs grew on me.
The title cut is epic. The sound is huge and the mix is perfect. Just like they whined over "Dream Evil", some have complained that Vivian Campbell's presence was missed, but I didn't notice. I play closer attention to singers than guitarists anyway. 19 year old Rowan Robertson shreds like an old pro here. There's other personnel changes. Gone were keyboardists Claude Schnell and Jimmy Bain (replaced by Jens Johanson), as well as drummer Vinny Appice (replaced by former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright, but he retains writing credit on "Born On The Sun").
Reading other reviews, I've noticed this album has aged quite well.
"Holy Diver" may be seen as Dio's classic album and "Sacred Heart" may be their most commercially successful, but I always find this effort to be one of the band's most criminally underrated. Released in 1990, it has been constantly overlooked due to the music industry's changing times in spite of it being one of the band's strongest releases to date. It is also the first album to feature AC/DC drummer Simon Wright and the only one to feature bassist Teddy Cook, Stratovarius keyboard legend Jen Johansson, and DC4 guitarist Rowan Robertson.
Just as "Dream Evil" was an expansion of elements on "Sacred Heart," this album seems to expand on several things that were merely hinted at on "Dream Evil." Despite the presence of the talented Johansson, the keyboards have been pushed into the background and result in a more sinister and less dated sound when compared to previous efforts. There is also a subtle blues/doom metal influence to be found and mid-tempo groove based songs like the title track and "Evil On Queen Street" are featured more prominently than in the past. Of course, the slower approach is nothing compared to what would come on the next few Dio albums and the frontman's second stint with Sabbath...
Even with the slower tempos brought in, this album still has a great deal of variety and familiarity in the presentation of songs. Songs like "Wild One" and "Walk On Water" show off fast speeds in the vein of "Stand Up And Shout," "Born On The Sun" is a triumphant number similar to "The Last in Line," "Between Two Hearts" is a somber ballad with acoustic melodies contrasting building blues licks, and "My Eyes" shares an epic flair with some of the group's past closers. There are also no filler tracks to be found and every song is strongly written and performed.
The band itself pulls off a great performance and comes together as a unit in the face of the more legendary line-ups. Robertson is an excellent shredder comparable to Vivian Campbell and Craig Goldy and Wright is a surprisingly competent replacement for the great Vinny Appice. On the other hand, Cook's bass playing isn't as flashy as Jimmy Bain's and it'd be cool if the keyboards were a bit more prominent in the album's sound (This is the Stratovarius guy, after all...). And I don't think I need to say anything about Dio himself. He sounds as great as ever and these are some of his most intriguing lyrics since the "Holy Diver" days.
Even though I have a soft spot for "Holy Diver," I think this may be my overall favorite Dio album. It is an underrated effort that shows a band soldiering on in the face of a complete member/style overhaul. Too bad it's the only album to feature this line-up...
1) A great mix of old and new elements
2) A darker, less dated atmosphere
3) Excellent band performance
4) Great songwriting
1) I wish the keyboards were a little more prominent
2) Why didn't they do more with this line-up?!
My Current Favorites:
"The Wild One," "Born On The Sun," "Between Two Hearts," "Night Music," and "Evil On Queen Street"
Soon after the release of their strongest 80s album "Dream Evil", the entire solo project that was Dio completely self-destructed, leaving singer/songwriter Ronnie James Dio on his own to pick up the pieces. Suffice to say, he did an amazing job and picked a great bunch of musicians to fill the void. Simon Wright was probably one of the biggest surprises, going from the minimalistic and dry drumming style of AC/DC to a more technical challenge with Dio, and would prove to be one of RJD's more reliable bandmates in later years. Jens Johannsen also had found himself on his own after parting ways with Rising Force and appears on this album, although we see a more reserved and atmospheric set of keyboard lines out of him on here, rather than the shred lines he is better known for. Bassist Ted Cook is probably one of Ronnie's more active bassists and is a suitable replacement for ex-Rainbow member Jimmy Bain.
However, the truly biggest surprise on this album is 18 year old metal newcomer Rowan Robertson, who would not grace the metal scene again afterwards sadly. This guy really wrote some impressive and memorable riffs, not to mention some rather dramatic solos. The best way I can describe his style is a combination of Eddie Van Halen and Rhandy Rhodes, complete with all the screaming pinch harmonic bends and blues driven licks.
One plus to this album is the rather sizable collection of faster tracks. "Walk on Water" reminds alot of classic Dio cookers such as "Stand up and Shout" and "King of Rock and Roll". "Wild One" features one of the fastest drum beats I've ever heard put out by Dio, not to mention RJD's vocal delivery is amazing, especially the high scream just before the solo.
We also have some great mid-tempo epics loaded with great lyrical metaphors. "Hey Angel" has a thick texture, particularly in the vocal tracks, and is loaded with driving power chord riffs. "Born on the Sun" is has alot of blues driven riffs, and is highly comparable to epic Dio classic "The Last in Line". This song has Rowan's best guitar solo, and has an amazing ending fade out, complete with a similar background choir drone that was found on the title track of the 2nd album.
Not one to rely completely, Dio has a good collection of slower and more doom sounding tracks. "Between Two Hearts" is probably the darkest song lyrically on this album, depicting an abusive relationship involving some sort of celebrity I'm guessing. The acoustic guitar part is extremely gloomy sounding, and is contrasted with a down tempo blues driven section that moves equally slow. "Lock Up the Wolves" is another gloomy song with a good deal of blues in the riffs, although a lot more atmospheric due to some rather weird keyboard lines. Ronnie gives another rare performance where his range jumps into the quasi-soprano range from time to time, and helps to paint the illustration of wolves ready to pounce on their next hapless victim.
The highlight of this album, however, is the closing track "My Eyes", which includes on of the most memorable and poignant sounding acoustic guitar parts I've ever heard. The solo on this one is highly melodic, it doesn't have much in the way of shred licks, but what it lacks in speed it makes up for in sheer passion. This track is one of my 3 favorites ever by Dio for it's lyrics, which describe the deep and often somber experience of being cast out by society. It is a bit similar, in terms of lyrics, to "Invisible" off the debut album, though I would say it is less metaphorical and also alot stronger.
The rest of the music on here is solid, but not quite as amazing as the rest. If I had to pick a favorite out of the bunch, it would probably be "Why are they watching me". Pretty much your quintessential mid-tempo Dio rocker with a solid guitar riff and a rather weird keyboard intro. Lyrically it's a tiny bit corny, but it's easy to bang your head to and will please greatly in the musical department.
In conclusion, this is a solid release from a band that is not what it was before, and unfortunately probably never will be again. Out of the 4 musicians on here, only Simon Wright would have further appearances with Dio, starting with his year 2000 magnum opus "Magica". Jens Johannsen would go on to play the keys for Stratovarius, and the other 2 pretty much went off the metal radar and started doing their own thing. This album is recommended highly to fans of traditional 80s metal, and fans of shred and Van Halen might find some nice treats in some of these tracks. Enjoy!
The fifth full length Dio album and for one reason or another also one of the least popular ones - even though in my opinion this is a large step forward compared to "Dream Evil" (on which Ronny & Co. somehow seemed to lack creativity, energy and ideas).
Main and most interesting newcomer in the band is guitarist Rowan Robertson (only 19 when picked up by Dio) who gives the album a somewhat heavier and bluesier feel than usual ("Twisted" and "Evil On Queen St.") - it can be considered to be quite a shame that this collaboration ended so abrubtly because I really would have liked to hear more from this talented guitarplayer.
As far as i'm concerned this is easily one of the better Dio albums songwise - with excellent tracks as the fast opener "Wild One", the mid-tempo "Born On The Sun", the balladesque "Hey Angel" and "Between Two Hearts" and the excellent closing song "My Eyes". Well worth a buy if you are able to track it down.