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I've read quite a few reviews slagging this one off as "mediocre" or worse but this is actually a step up from the lauded "Killing The Dragon" from 2002. "Moon" excels in terms of songwriting, vocals and the overall production. It's also an album with more variety than the deliberate throwback that was "Killing The Dragon". There's a satisfying mixture of Sabbath-like doom metal, some clever, melodic songs like the Dio of yore, and a little experimentation.
One thing is certain: Ronnie James Dio knew how to produce a big sound in the studio. The bass is fat, the guitars crisp, drums heavy and of course the vocals soaring. While the album's opener, "One For The Road", is a by the numbers uptempo track that's not in the league of other Dio kick offs like "Stand Up And Shout", "We Rock", "King Of Rock & Roll" or "Killing The Dragon", the disc strikes gold by track 2, "Master Of The Moon". A slow, heavy-bottomed doom track with a memorable refrain. Lyrically, it's full of Dio-isms about dreams, the night, shadows, darkness, in what appears to be a song about fighting conformity. Dio has said that, although he was never a lonely person himself, he preferred writing songs for the lonely; the outcasts. Despite the familiar lyrics the melody wins the day. Metal songs with an actual hook have become scarce.
"The End Of The World" is another midtempo number with a guitar riff that sounds like it was nicked from an AC/DC record. A catchy, commercial guitar like that's refreshing to hear on a Dio album instead of the usual galloping speed metal guitar lines. Despite being melodically thin this one's sold by the voice. "Shivers", which follows, is the next standout. A humorous, yet sinister piece where Dio sings that spiders, rats, bats, graveyards, voodoo, black cats don't scare him but the antagonist, probably a cold-hearted woman, makes him "shiver". This proves Dio was hip to his tendency of self-parody and had a sense of humor. His tongue is firmly in his cheek here. The music is heavy and dark but that just punctuates the punchline. His voice again shows no signs of wear.
"Master Of The Moon" was released in 2004 when both George W. Bush and the Iraq & Afghanistan wars were especially unpopular. "The Man Who Would Be King" is a thinly-veiled jab at Bush's America. Dio sings: "We laugh at your religion/You people of the sand...forgive me father for the change we bring/All for the man who would be king" then later "Don't leave a body standing/Not the holy not the small/Deliver us from evil/If it's yours we want it all". An unusually transparent song from Dio. Next up is the fan favorite, "The Eyes", a spooky, paranoid track with a robotic vocal effect croaking "The Eye-yi-yissssss" throughout.
Another nondescript uptempo rocker, "Living The Lie", fills up some space until the anthem "I Am" comes roaring with it's mighty refrain. Dio is such a masterful and charismatic singer he can take the simplest of phrases and ring every bit of power and emotion from them ("I", from Black Sabbath's "Dehumanizer" being a good example). "Death By Love" is retro-Dio that could fit snugly on "Dream Evil" from 1987. The closing "In Dreams" is another midtempo number with a soaring Dio vocal (just love the chest voice again. That's a powerful voice. No cheating with falsetto, nasal projecting or screeching. Dio is a meat and potatoes singer belting from the soul).
Again, "Master Of The Moon" succeeds because of it's variety. In many ways you get the full range of Dio on one disc. Like "Strange Highways", this is one of two underrated LPs in his canon. Just as "SH" has finally grown in stature and praise I predict the same will happen with "Moon".