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The primary characteristic of doom metal that separates it from all the other genres in the metal umbrella is a combination of socially conscious lyrical pursuits and an emphasis on a slow, heavy, and atmospheric approach musically. In this respect, Dio has not been a consistently doom oriented band, but on this album they come closer than they ever have without sacrificing the quality of sound. “Master of the Moon” most resembles the musical complexity found on “Magica”, though lyrically it is closer to the darkness of “Strange Highways”.
If there is any real drawback in the approach taken on this album, it is the de-emphasis on the guitar as a lead instrument, something which is quite disappointing to me as Craig Goldy is my favorite guitarist of all the ones Dio has worked with since Sabbath. His solos are extremely short, they tend to focus on minimalist riffing, and they lack the flair and energy that was heavily present on “Magica”. Consequently, the songs tend to emphasize two aspects of the band more than others, and that is Ronnie’s lyrics and Scott Warren’s keyboard playing.
Although mostly a slow and heavy album, Ronnie and the guys have not forgotten how to put out a couple of decent up tempo songs. “One more for the Road” is a typical opening track, its fast and fun, reminding me heavily of “King of Rock and Roll”, minus the lyrics which seem to draw a bit from the title track of “Killing the Dragon”. Lyrically this song is probably among the more witty compositions Ronnie has put forth, save “TV Crimes” off of Dehumanizer. “Living the Lie” is also up tempo, but is not quite as energetic as the opening track.
Most of the remaining tracks on here are doom oriented. Some tracks such as “Death by Love” and “Shivers” borrow heavily from earlier Dio material, the former being lyrically similar to “Overlove” off of Dream Evil, the latter reminding heavily of a couple of tracks off of “Strange Highways”. “The End of the World” and “I am” are slower rock oriented and have some decent riffs, but are also mostly driven by Dio’s vocal delivery.
The real standouts on this album are the remaining songs on here. “The man who would be king” and the title track are quite catchy and lyrically thought provoking, although the former got caught up in the politics of the time and will probably lose its intended meaning over time. “The Eyes” is the heaviest track on here and by far the spookiest sounding. The effects on the lead guitar sounds almost like a person nervously trying to form words to articulate the sense of paranoia found in the lyrics. “In Dreams” is a solid track with a lyrical message about drawing borders between reality and the imagination, not quite as good musically as the other 3 standouts, but solid.
As to the political message of “The man who would be king”, 2004 will probably go down in history as the year that everybody felt the need to express themselves politically yet didn’t bother to apply any intellectual curiosity. Where Dio succeeds in separating himself from most of the halfwits who thought they knew what they were talking about (*cough* Green Day and Disturbed) is that he is intelligent in his application of poetic metaphors. However, much as is the case with Queensryche, he doesn’t give us any clue as to what alternative we should take to Dubya and his brand of Nationalism. If he wishes to imply that electing John Kerry, Ralph Nader or some wacko Green party guy would make things any better, I am afraid I may have under-estimated his mind. But thankfully, I don’t see him doing a lot of campaigning for politicians so I can give him a pass on what seems to be an absurd viewpoint, despite how annoyed I was at being preached at by the metal bands I love during that time period. Bush will be gone in 2 years and all you guys will have a new moron to complain about, this guy won’t even be a memory in 4 years.
In conclusion, pretty good album, although not quite up to the same caliber as his last two. I recommend it primarily to fans of “Strange Highways” and “Magica” as it sounds like a combination of the two. Lyrically it is quite an interesting listen, although it is a tiny bit lacking in the riffs department and it is quite slow compared to your average metal album