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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.