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"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"