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I always tend to lump Master of the Moon in with Killing the Dragon when it comes to the Dio catalogue. Essentially, it's because they both have very cool cartoony covers drawn in a similiar style. However, it is also because of their status as relatively back to basics heavy metal albums compared to the fully fledged conceptual meisterwerk that was their immediate predecessor Magica. Both dial back to Dio before the relentless post-Dehumanizer heaviness of Strange Highways and Angry Machines, before even the structural complexities of Lock Up The Wolves or the power metal blast of Dream Evil, to a 21st century take on those first three Dio albums with Vivian Campbell.
Despite being armed with Craig Goldy, the sound of Dio here tends much toward the simplistic crump of Campbell-like riffs, and Simon Wright opts for piledriving but again straightforward drumming. The end result is an album that, were it fronted by pretty much any other singer, I would not give a second look (sadly missing out on some cracking guitar solos, mind), and it took a while for me to warm to it even with Dio's asbestos lungs gracing it. What the disciple of Dio gets, after some patience, is an album of fairly typical rock riffs that are raised to glory simply by the effect that the man singing over them can have. The unashamedly basic chugalug of 'Shivers' would be nothing if not for the menacing vocal purr in the verse and the rousing yell of the chorus. 'Twas always the way with Dio; would 'Egypt (The Chains Are On)' even be that good with some other guy singing? Hell no, and nothing has changed.
It is the title track (as it so often is with Dio) where things get really interesting, with crawling doom verses and a triumphant chorus, complemented by restrained guitar flickers from Goldy and Ronnie's impassioned vocals which seem to float regally above the instruments. 'End of the World' and 'The Man Who Would Be King' also present slightly theatrical renderings of traditional doom metal; the guitars are lighter and smoother than Sabbath or Vitus, but the ominous mood is in the background there. 'I Am' again proves that the album's strength is in the most belly-achingly great choruses Dio has come up with in years, coupled with very serviceable vintage leads from Mr Goldy.
Although the focus is on the traditional sounding doom anthems, Master of the Moon opens with a straight-up blazer, 'One More for the Road', which hearkens to 'Stand Up and Shout', 'Night People' and such. Absolutely pumping, with Dio immediately sounding more revitalized and full-throttle than he has in years. 'Living the Lie' and 'Death by Love' also have a catchy, rock'n'roll bounce that breaks up the trudging pace of the rest of the album somewhat.
The lyrics are the usual blend of cynicism and sentimentalism that Dio colours his visions of society with: "Don't get emotional, but we're out of time" is among my favourite lines from the man's discography, and 'The Eyes', with its creepy effects, caught my attention simply for continuing Dio's ongoing lyrical fascination with people's eyes onto the album's most cohesive and successfully gloomy piece of doom metal.
"So, why with the not giving it something in the 90 range? It's quite obvious that anything with Dio singing makes you a happy man Jon." Well, a few of the choruses don't quite match up with the choruses in terms of mood, sometimes seeming to transition a little too quickly (as on the otherwise flawless title track). And let's not forget, the album is the creation of four musicians, notwithstanding that most of the music was written by Goldy and the person whose name is on the cover, instrumentally Jeff Pilson and Simon Wright are a little reticent and leave their more Dio-pedigreed other half to do most of the work.
The album sounds mighty fine, better than most and scores very high in the replay value department, but doesn't have the same effect as say, Holy Diver, Last in Line or of course the Heaven & Hell album that would follow five years later. It's just a great Dio album, second only to Magica out of the band's post-Dehumanizer output. If it does, heaven forbid, turn out to be the last solo album from Dio, it is by all means a respectable one, delivering on pretty much every level for the singer's devotees as it features a Ronnie vocal performance besting all but The Devil You Know in the 21st century.