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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!