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This is like Dio turning over a new leaf. Of course, Holy Diver and Last In Line were amazingly ground breaking classics with tracks that any live concertgoer could not get enough of. But here we see something that one would have expected to come much earlier just from the types of lyrics that Ronnie writes - a concept album. The best part is, that if you buy the album that coupled with the coverart booklet, there is a seperate booklet that folds out into this massive write out of the story. Likewise, the last track on this album is about 18 and a half minutes, with Ronnie narrating the story. This is much different from other concept albums out there, even though the type of lyrics definitely fit for Dio's music. But the whole theme seems darker and heavier, musically and lyrically, and he uses much less of the "fire" and "higher" and "rainbow" words that he used on past (and present) albums. In fact, the line "Waiting for my turn to climb upon the cross. Maybe they'll forget about me."... It's what the man who wanted Ronnie to take his music in a heavier and darker direction had hoped for for years.
This album features Craig Goldy on guitar. Now, while Doug Aldrich can play remarkably fast (as can be told on the newest DVD Evil or Divine, or on the track Killing The Dragon's solo) and complexly, he doesn't have the heavy handed guitar work that Craig does. In fact, the only song that Doug screws up on the DVD is the main riff of Fever Dreams, it seems as if only Craig can pull it off. Craig, returning to the band for the first time since the Dream Evil album [and then later returning to do Master of the Moon], lays down some great guitar playing for this album. His solos fit perfectly, (most of them being melodic and very catchy) and while he may not have the chops that alot of other guys have, he definitely falls into the Tony Iommi school of being able to play and write what he does so well that it doesn't matter. On bass is Rainbow and Dio alumni Jimmy Bain, who lays down a very memorable bass line on Lord of the Last Day. Also in the band is Claude Schnell on keyboards, and drummer Simon Wright (ex-AC/DC) who came aboard around the album Lock up the Wolves and is still with the band.
Of course, Ronnie's vocals on this entire album are just as good as they always are (live and in the studio). He is truly an immortal figure in heavy metal, and should be preserved as such for eternity. A definite addition to the so called 'Book of Heavy Metal'.
The album starts out with Discovery, which features these robot voices, and then it goes into the instrumental Magica Theme. Somewhere in there, Ronnie says the words "Magica" in such a perfectly chilling voice, it sets the tone for the album. The instrumental features some great keyboard and guitar rhythm and soloing.
After this, the actual songs start with the best track on the album - Lord of the Last Day. This song is so evil, it's great. "I love the night. So many shadows." It helps that this is a very doomy type riff, nice and slow to mid tempo. But better than that, are the vocals. Seriously, Ronnie is a genious, and also definitely took a turn for the better in his lyrics. After this comes Fever Dreams, Turn To Stone, and Feed My Head, which are all great tracks.
Then come Eriel, which starts out almost like a Savatage rock opera, then rather than slamming into a heavy riff, goes into a mid-paced riff with more awesome vocals. Then comes Challis, which makes me think of Ted Nugent's Cat Scratch Fever, and it just is another twist in the songs on the album - though a good one.
As Long as it's not about Love is next, and followed after it is Losing My Insanity which has a split sound. It's a cross between medieval ministrel music and Blackmore's Night, and it's another great turn for the album. Lots of pinch harmonics in the riff that comes later. After this comes Otherworld (would be Annica if you have the Japanese CD, and it ALSO is a very good track and it's a shame they didn't put it on the US CD...), a decent track but nothing too exciting.
But then something new to finish out the album, the last two tracks are Magica - Reprise and Lord of the Last Day - Reprise. Wow, it's a great way to start and end the album with the best track on it! It's also something new in the realm of Dio albums. In fact, it makes it seem as if the whole album is one flowing concept medley based inside of Lord of the Last Day. And of course the last track is Dio's reading of the story, which is really an intriguing story of fantasy that sounds even cooler when you listen to him read it. It really sets this album apart from other Dio albums, and with Ronnie himself saying he intends to make Magica II & III as a double album (with Craig, depending on how soon he gets better), it will be interesting to see how that turns out and in what direction that will take the band [and if that will be when Ronnie retires].
So if you want to hear Dio turned darker and given a core theme to write new lyrics about, you'll probably like this album. In fact, I feel like this is a good point to go to from Black Sabbath's Dehumanizer in terms of giving a facelift to what you'd expect from a band. Also, coupled with a great story (and if you like fantasy or science fiction stories, you'll also probably like this), this album shows that Dio could overcome the skepticism that he wouldn't make a decent concept album. So if you want to jump into another Dio album, then either get Killing The Dragon or Magica - depending on whether you want more Holy Diver and Last In Line type stuff, or if you want something new and different... And heavy as hell!