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Regardless to how many other early metal giants were involved in this song, I’ve always seen it as a Dio song. And I mean this in the sense of the material that the entire band was putting out from 1983-87, not necessarily a culmination of Ronnie Dio’s various projects beforehand as well. But in order to hear it this way, you have to ignore all of the flashy lead guitar slots occupied by a dozen hard rock and heavy metal shredders and all the eccentric yet ingenious characters vocalizing the basic melodic material. Once this is done, the seemingly titanic beast screaming “this is the end all, be all of 80s metalness” fades away and what is left is an accessible, yet too simplistic concept that has been heard before, and in a much more subtle manifestation.
In a manner of speaking, musically this is the title track of “The Last In Line” communicated through the more subdued and radio friendly medium of “Sacred Heart”. It carries the mostly guitar oriented aspects of the former with subdued keyboard support, but downplays the intrigue and any sense of variation within the base riffs in favor of making room for fanfare, which proves to be all but carried completely by the vocal slots. There is a quiet exposition/intro that never returns in the fashion of the 2nd Dio LP’s title track and “Invisible”, and there is space filling lead guitar harmony put forth by Maiden’s two masters that is unfortunately buried under the vocal heavy chorus, but otherwise this is 3 or 4 chords banged out in a bare bones fashion in order to lay a smooth ground on which the Stars, no pun intended, are to stand. No real rhythmic fills, Zakk Wylde guitar screeches 4 or 5 years before he started doing them, or anything else to spice up what’s in between the vocal breaks that this thing should have yet doesn’t.
For all the redundancy that would suggest an utter bore fest, this thing all but overcompensates with a collage of fairly exceptional vocal performances all around. Paul Shortino in particular outdoes himself with a gravely high end wail that I don’t think Blackie Lawless could have pulled off if he’d been given lead duties on this beast, shocking mostly because the former's work with both Rough Cutt and Quiet Riot seemed pretty tame by comparison. Tate and Dio basically measure up to the high standards they’ve always held for themselves, although Tate does get a tiny bit overdramatic and sounds less like an 80s singer asking for relief donations and more like a prophet warning the masses that if they don’t donate that evil cyborgs from the future will obliterate Ethiopia. Part of the problem is that the melodic material that most of them are singing is so hook driven, as it is likely supposed to be in order to garner radio listeners’ attention that it works against the showmanship that these guys are known for. As a result, Kevin Dubrow and Eric Bloom sound powerful and on their game due to their comfort range being catered to, while Rob Halford and Don Dokken sound like their holding back and come off as contrived, despite that their voices contrast quite well with the others. The chorus is pretty cliché, almost like an oversimplified answer to Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger”, though thankfully when it gets repeated multiple times lead vocal and guitar fills get added to offset the utter sameness that sets in the 3rd time they go at it.
What basically stands out most in this song is the gargantuan, garrulous, mouth gaping monster of a guitar solo interchange/medley/contest that takes up a good 3 minutes of the song. And I say that with regard to the fact that the radio cut of this song is not “the song”, precisely because it butchers, shortens and abridges what truly makes this song interesting. Someone not versed in the mysticism surrounding the various lead players in congress on here might just assume this a monstrous Van Halen homage, but an educated ear hears several layers of generational evolution spanning nearly 20 years. The generation gap between Buck Dharma and George Lynch is pretty damned huge, as is that of the otherwise ahead of his time fret board blazer Neil Schon and the guy who rediscovered playing a Bach toccata at warp 10 Yngwie Malmsteen, but everything is placed in a methodical fashion to showcase this evolution without any abrupt shifts in feel. In the midst of it all are the two principle figures at war in Dio’s history, at least as far as I’m concerned, in Vivian Campbell and Craig Goldie. Campbell basically throws out every trick he has in his book, sounding technically impressive yet also disheveled and all over the place, as if he’s trying to upstage the two people he’s been situated next to in the solo section (Gillis and Malmsteen, two of the most technically oriented guys on here) and knowing that he's failing in the process. It utterly amazes me that to this guy insists that Ronnie was pressuring him to play like a maniac when considering that the guy who replaced him is the most uninterested in trying to impress. When Goldie takes the helm, his solos exhibits a calm and methodical character, almost a Zen-like balance between showmanship and musicianship, resulting in the leads that basically define this song. He can play like Malmsteen when called for, but he doesn’t need to all the time to give the song what it needs, and a simple sampling of his work since joining forces with Dio puts the final nail into the coffin of the illusion that Vivian’s lack of adequacy as a player for the Dio fold existed anywhere outside of his own mind.
When judging this song, it’s easy to get caught up in all of the historical drama and intrigue of the time; after all it was the golden age of heavy metal. But when you take away the “Stars” that put their talents into this song, it’s a pretty average song by both Dio and overall metal standards. The intensely AOR oriented structure, the lack of any real instrumental contrast or riff development doesn’t give this the lasting appeal that a “The Last In Line” would, or even a “Into The Fire” if you want a song to which this is also comparable. Take away the solos and hearing only the short version, and this is an occasional fun song to break out with your friends every few months while drunk. Keep the solos and blow 7 minutes instead of 4, and then you’ve got something that will appeal greatly to G3 fans, but will only be par for the course for someone who follows most of the bands that provided talent to this project.