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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.