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I was barely out of my training pants when it happened, but I'm pretty sure there was a great level of disappointment when the Dio-led lineup of Black Sabbath went their separate ways after the release of 1992's "Dehumanizer." Fortunately Dio was able to bring original drummer Vinny Appice back into the fold, recruit Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and WWIII guitarist Tracy G, and went with a completely new sound with this 1994 effort.
While "Dream Evil" and "Lock Up the Wolves" embraced a darker direction compared to previous albums, this album really drowns itself in nihilism and appropriately picks up where "Dehumanzier" left off. Most of the songs are executed in a fusion of doom and groove metal, the riffs tend to go at a plodding pace, and the vocals continue in the angry style seen on "Dehumanizer." Of course, there is some variation seen in the tocken ballad "Give Her the Gun" and the upbeat "Here's To You," which would sound pretty awesome in a concert setting.
The lyrics are also some of the most pessimistic that the man has ever written and mostly deal with themes related to alienation, dysfunctional relationships, and disillusionment. But as "Dehumanizer" featured a sole light of optimism in the form of the individualistic "I," this album's biggest flicker may occur in the seemingly fan friendly "Here's To You." The title track may also deal with the theme of individuality but it is overshadowed by the perceived nihilism of assimilation.
But as evidenced by the frequent references to it, I feel that this album's most obvious flaw is the similarity between it and "Dehumanizer." It does have its own unique voice but several songs do resemble those of the past. The balladry of "Give Her the Gun" often reminds me of "Too Late" and many of the typical tracks on here remind me of "I" at times. It's still a pretty damn good album and worth checking out for fans of Dio, Black Sabbath, and any other kinds of doom metal out there.
1) A nice change of direction
2) Strong songwriting
3) Solid riffs and angry vocals
1) May be too plodding for some
2) Eerily similar to "Dehumanzier"
3) Not as accessible as other efforts
My Current Favorites:
"Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Ghost," "Strange Highways," "One Foot in the Grave," "Give Her the Gun," and "Here's To You"
DIO's 1993 release "Strange Highways" is a real oddball in the bands back catalogue. All the previous efforts were straightforward heavy metal records with little in the way of surprises. This album must have startled a lot of fans when it was released. They were expecting another 'Holy Diver' or 'Dream Evil', but instead got a mixture of Black Sabbaths 'Dehumanizer' (featuring Ronnie James Dio of course), and Doom Metal.
The first noticeable point when playing this album for the first time is that the production of this record is massive. Turning up the stereo reveals a huge deep drum sound, which is nice and natural. The guitar sound is absolutely fantastic with much more gain than on previous DIO efforts, and fabulous tone. I was so impressed that I actually emailed Tracy G a couple of years ago to ask what gear he used on the album (Randall and Marshall Heads, an old Strat type guitar made by a friend of his, and a Boss Overdrive pedal). A great example of the heavyness of the guitars can be heard in the intro of the title track 'Strange Highways' with lovely open power chords. The guitar playing of Tracy G is unique and quite unlike any of the other DIO axe slingers. There is lots of use of the whammy bar and pinched harmonics. The solos tend not to be particularly fast, but then the music isn't. I think they are well written and memorable but I know plenty of people who dislike G's playing intently so it is best to judge for yourself. Ronnie sounds like he has come from hell, and I mean that in a good way! I have never heard as much aggression from his voice as on this album and there is loads of grit in his voice.
The songs on this album are generally mid to slow tempo, apart from the opener 'Jesus, Mary and the holy ghost' and 'Here's to you'. The choruses of the songs tend not to be as catchy as previous efforts, but this is no bad thing. Ronnie is playing a different game here. The songs are deep, dark and disturbing with sinister lyrics. 'Evilution' and 'Pain' are a good example of the sludgy, doom laden material that represents 'Strange Highways'. I can't over emphasize just how cold and dark this album is.
I need to mention the album sleeve. Whilst the cover is quite good, the booklet is a joke. It consists of just 4 pages with no lyrics. Definitely one of the worst booklets I have come across.
To anyone thinking of buying this album, I would give it my full recommendation. If you dislike DIOs most well known 80s works, then give this a try as it is poles apart. If you love 'Holy Diver' etc, then be prepared for something a lot different! Personally, 'Strange Highways' is one of my 'Desert Island Discs'. Brilliant.
Heavy Metal has always been a flexible genre, allowing for individual artists to explore a variety of topics and evolve the sound of their music in almost any direction. However, most acts truly shine when they decide to get back to basics and provide something that is aggressive, yet still maintaining the musicality necessary to keep it from being rubbish. And in the year 1994, creating music that listened like garbage was pretty much the order of the day.
“Stranger Highways” is a dark and nebulous album, touching upon a variety of different musical and lyrical themes, yet maintains a sense of simplicity that makes it one of the more accessible Dio releases, particularly among people who go for the heavier side of the genre. Most of the music is heavily oriented around the Doom style, relying on a slow tempo and a somewhat muddy guitar tone. Likewise there is a heavy emphasis on the vocals and a general sense of anger and hostility in Ronnie’s vocal delivery, although it succeeds avoiding the Phil Anselmo caricature of a shouting fool.
Tracey G’s playing is actually quite comparable to Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, and even at times Vivian Campbell, but his approach to riff construction and soloing is actually quite a bit more agitated than any of them. “Jesus, Mary and the Holy Ghost” and the title track are probably the best examples of his rather unique approach to blending complex Neo-classical riffs with his dissonant riff drones. Other rockers such as “Firehead”, “Blood from a stone” and “Bring down the rain” sound quasi-Rainbow inspired, although the atmosphere is not nearly as light and hopeful.
Although mostly an album with slower songs and a good amount of socially relevant themes, the best song on here is the one that reaches back to Dio’s better days in the mid-80s. “Here’s to you” has a rather fun and fast atmosphere to it, reminding me of classic anthems such as “We Rock” and “Stand up and Shout”. It’s also a necessary change of pace for songs dealing with such deep topics as the ones discussed in more Doom oriented tracks such as “Hollywood Black” and “Evilution”, although that does not mean to suggest that either of these songs are bad. In fact, the only song that really doesn’t listen well on here is “Give her the gun”, mostly due to the stupid acoustic guitar line during the verses which sounds a lot like stuff heard on a Pearl Jam album.
Fans of Dio will obviously like most of the stuff on here, particularly if the music on “Dehumanizer” and “Lock up the Wolves”. It is a good deal heavier than the latter and probably not as lyrically witty as the former, but it is a solid listen nonetheless. Fans of Dio who can’t stand anything that Vivian Campbell isn’t on are advised to check this out as Tracey G’s style is not too far away from Viv’s. Dio recorded lots of good albums since then so get your heads out of your asses and wise up. To all the rest of you out there not familiar with Dio’s work, this will sit well mostly with Doom metal fans and some in the Progressive scene who like their music dark and angry.
From the moment the first guitar screamed through the speakers I new I was in for an aural onslaught of listening pleasure. It was clear that DIO has stepped up the big league in terms of production quality. A winner in every sense of the word and body.
Jesus….. The first track is brilliant, from the lyrics questioning Christianity, the structure of the song and the mood it generates. It blew me away when the guitar impersonated a saw cutting down the cross. The imagery created is first class.
The title track “Strange Highways” again takes you to the place Ronnie is writing about and the music is the sound track to the movie Ronnie is verbalising. It was at this point I started to think that this is close to the best album I have ever heard. “Strange Highways” gives us a glimpse into the madness that insecurities generated by adult figures can cause,. “I am good for nothing, So they say”. as well as the pressure of structured religion. Man I could really relate to this song.
Firehead and Hollywood Black have the hole band kicking arse. Hard and Heavy. I have never been a big fan of Vinnie Appice (Drums) but he really comes of age. There is not the obvious mistakes that can be found on Mob Rules and Holy Diver. The guitars throughout this album bring the songs to life. I love it. There is so much energy, aggression and thoughtfulness that has gone into not only the guitar planning the songs and production in total. This album comes alive and can really take a hold of you, in more ways than one if you are not careful.
“Give Her A Gun”, spews social justice and you find yourself imagining shooting the bastards yourself. It was so relevant especially with the gang rapes we have been experiencing here in Australia inflicted upon white Australians by the Muslim community.
The best track on the album to me though is “PAIN” I cannot remember the last time that a song meant so much to me before or since. A huge wall of sound intruduces the song, and like every other track on this album the guitars and bass pound your brain. I am beginning to believe that this album is the soundtrack to my life. It is dark! It is evil and it will get inside your head.
Not for the faint hearted.
There is more depth in this album than his previous outings and I hope he continues on in this direction.
Strange Highways has to be one of the most underrated and underappreciated Dio albums ever. Stuck in with Dio's so called "political albums," the music never was served justice. People wanted songs of rainbows, and instead got songs about Dio's inner struggles. Who cares what the material is about; listen to the music, which is what I am going to look at.
Strange Highways is a bit strange for Dio's own musical style. It centers around a more powerful, heavy guitar sound, giving it a very evil and wicked sound. In fact if you look at Dio's past work, nothing even comes close to being this heavy. That is for Dio's solo career. This album tends to take a lot of what is put out on Dio's Black Sabbath stuff. I am pretty positive that if you like Mob Rules and Dehumanizer, especially the latter, then you will like this album a lot.
Now for the music itself. The guitar riffs shine extremely brilliant on this album. For the most part the riffs are typical slow, doom metal riffs. Even if the riffs aren't doom centered, they still have that presence of doom (evil) because the riffs are so heavy. This can be seen on songs like One Foot In the Grave and Blood From A Stone.
One concept that works well on this album is the drum beats intermixing with the guitar riffs, which is most often seen in doom metal. The fact is that this album gets it done. On the openining track and Firehead, this is seen orchestrated well - as well as Here's To You and many other songs on this album.
Though there are no Dio hits on this album, that should not alter you from getting this album. This album is filled with awesome guitar riffs. The album is pure evil with its doom metal style. More like Dehumanizer than any other Dio album. Each song offers at least a good riff and or moment. Plus with the wonderful voice of Dio, what more could you ask for? Dio's voice is solid perfect on this album, in fact maybe better than some of his past material. I especially licked Dio's voice on Here's To You, which comes off super strong.
Great album, with a lot of great tunes, regardless if they are hits or not. Passing up on this album would be a mistake; for all Dio's fans and fans of heavy metal!
This is hands down one of Dio's heaviest albums, from the drums, to the sludgy, chugging guitar sound, to the overall production which seems to emphasize the sheer power in each respective instrument. The band seems to favor a Black Sabbath-like sound in the way that it's slow, sludgy, somewhat hypnotizing, but monstrously heavy and very take-no-prisoners. I'm not suprised this album took that direction, since this album follows the Black Sabbath album "Dehumanizer", which saw Ronnie James Dio return to the Sabbath fold....only to leave again. So, alot of this material could've been on "Dehumanizer" and I wouldn't be suprised if the bulk of these songs were in fact, written for that album.
However, with this new emphasis on heaviness, it does sacrifice some of the catchy melodies that were prominant in Dio's earlier albums. So, you have a heavier album, but not quite as catchy as, say, "Holy Diver".
But does this make this album bad? Why, no. It doesn't. As a matter of fact, i would easily put this up there with as one of Dio's best albums, along with "Holy Diver" and "Last In Line". Now, on to the music.
Highlights include the haunting "Jesus, Mary And The Holy Ghost","Hollywood Black", with it's grinding feel and again, the anger is very alive in this song. The title track is bar none the ultimate highlight of the album for me. It starts off, light, dreamy and very ballad-like, then suddenly, turns into a dark, dirty, ugly, slow and heavy rocker with some of Ronnie's angriest vocals ever. This song also has some nice bass lines from ex-Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and some great riffage by Tracy G. Easily one of Dio's finest moments.
"One Foot In The Grave" could have easily been a Black Sabbath song, with a very Sabbath-like melody and lumbering feelthroughout the song. Good stuff.
And "Give Her The Gun" is a song that swings back and forth from gentle ballad to crushing rocker a few times throughout the song, but this is another one of my favorites off the album.
"Strange Highways" is essential listening for any fan of Ronnie James Dio,but again, be warned, this is not the usual Dio album. It's got a heavier, more crushing,angry and sludgy sound than his other albums, but it shouldn't disappoint any of his fans, as this is one of his finest moments.
Somewhere between the Black Sabbath reunion and DIO's rejuvenated touring in the late nineties, there is a lttle 1994 release called "Strange Highways". As fucking heavy as Sabbath (as seen in 1992's masterpiece Dehumanizer) but as non-cliche as DIO's politically assertive "Angry Machines". This album was the highest point in DIO's evolution. The formula of Holy Diver - Last In Line - Sacred Heart - Dream Evil was cracked a bit with Lock Up The Wolves, broken by a Sabbath reunion, and completely decimated in 1994. This album in three words, is: HEAVY. NASTY. AWESOME.
We have good ol' Ronnie leading the charge, accompanied by the best man besides RJD in the DIO lineup canon, Vinnie Appice on drums. Vinnie makes this album work. He CRUSHES that drumset on every song. Jeff Pilson of Dokken fame gives us the bass, and Tracy G lays down some of the heaviest fucking riffs AND solos to be heard on a DIO album since....well NEVER. Vivian Campbell NEVER played this angry and crushing. People say this album doesn't sound like classic Dio, much like how many say Judas Priest's latest hasn't sounded like classic Priest. They are pretty true, but for Dio's sake, he manages to pull this switch off to perfection. From an industrial tinged vox and groove in the opener "Jesus, Mary, and The Holy Ghost" to the sludge of the title track, this thing rocks. Personally, I feel Dio is more suited to this kinda of throaty screaming with trudging riffs, especially in this day and age, but alas he no longer does this. Songs like "Firehead", "Bring Down The Rain", and the holy fucking awesome and extremely underrated "Evilution" slays everything in the Dio discography with the exception of the classic 2. The socially aware and anti-religion lyrics are really refreshing, and the band is really tight right off the bat. Sadly, the rehash of this formula in 1996's Angry Machines didn't come out as well, but here it strikes gold. A must for any Dio fan and doom metal minion.