Dio – Sacred Heart (1985) – Review

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Loved by many, hated by some. Dio‘s 1985 epic Sacred Heart really split the fan base in more ways than one. Remember, Dio released the excellent The Last in Line just barely one year prior to this one. And went on to hit the stage in 1987 with the smasher Dream Evil1) that still resides high up on RMR’s playlist to this day.

Ronnie James Dio took off like a rocket with his new outfit in 1983 after his secretive departure from the confines of Iommi’s Black Sabbath, some pretty turbulent times of Heaven and Hell alright. The band followed this up with two top-notch records with something pretty near to warp speed.

Sacred Heart indeed served as a portent of things to come later. First off, it was the last record with Vivian Campbell on guitars. As the lore goes, he left right in the midst of the promotional tour and much later famously joined Def Leppard.

Then, the rapid-fire releases of one new record each year – in ’83, ’84, and ’85 – started to take a strain on the band’s abilities to deliver at that high-octane level of rock and metal. And – lo and behold – first cracks appeared in that shiny armor Dio somehow built around themselves. A spottiness that would accelerate after the 1990 piece Lock Up The Wolves would hit the CD shops.2)

Don’t believe me? Well, just look at the charts. Clearly, Sacred Heart basked in the warm light the former two records bestowed on it. It hit the US billboard 200 at position #29 and went gold straight in 1985. But then the fame kind of went out the window with no further prizes ever appearing again for this album. In other words, after a first impressive sales rush3), word probably reached the rest of the fan crowd that things started to move South in Dioland and sales tanked. The aforementioned cracks, like.

Consequently, no other Dio album enjoyed another gold rush until the compilation The Very Beast of Dio hit the stores in 2000. But, it only got there in 2009, so pretty much a decade later. And truly so, Dream Evil reached rank 43 only on the US 200 charts, and up that ranking went as the years progressed. This, until positions plateaued somewhere in between #110 to #145.

Now, let’s put things into perspective for a moment. Actually, consistently being on the US Billboard 200 is already a testament to stellar performance for any record, including Sacred Heart. Many a band would gladly sacrifice to the unholy gods of the underworld to get to a position on that list. Any position.

Make no mistake, Holy Diver and The Last in Line are pure Hard Rock and Heavy Metal geekery that has not been equaled since. They gorged with signature tracks that resonate to this day. A fact that indeed helped to let the inevitable duds appear less sour.4) The bar to do better thus was already very high for any follow-on record.

Sacred Heart – by contrast – only boasts the title track as THE highlight with King of Rock And Roll as a close second. Well, let’s throw in Like the Beat of a Heart for good measure, perhaps. This one indeed contains a meaty beat with that absolutely stunning solo Campbell kinda carelessly threw into the fray. Oh, and let’s not forget this underground monologue just towards the end.

Yet, many of the tracks in the second half really don’t quite cut it. Even if the band tried to polish the quality some by slamming more solos onto already doomed pieces. A technique that is pretty fashionable to this day. Yet, soloing something to stardom or just actioning the magic of progression never quite worked out.

Oh, and if you think that slamming a live recording onto a #1 position of a brand new record is courageous or something, I have news for you. Rumor has it that the aforementioned King of Rock and Roll was no live recording. The crowd noise was added to the mix later, yet it is exceedingly well done. Speedy to please yer metal soul, this track almost escapes into thrashy realms. Oh, and don’t forget to look for that galloping sound. That’s one feature that really took on steam back then.5)

Dio‘s records always contained some filler material, but Sacred Heart more so than the rest. In hindsight, Dio – quite apparently – didn’t have all that much stellar metallics in store for yet another record. With that same retro vision 20/20 in mind, he probably should have waited for a little while longer before hitting the industry with yet another album. And truly so, Dream Evil ‘only’ reached our turntables some two years later.

In the end, Sacred Heart is a mixed bag. It contains – in part – much of the drive and bluster of the former two records. Yet, a lot of the rest fails to deliver at consistent levels of quality. That doesn’t mean that Dio threw a bad record on the market. But it shows that haste and an urge (or outside pressure) to release at all cost risks to drive ye straight into a wall.

And that’s what almost happened here. Almost.

Record Rating: 6/10 | LabelWarner Bros. / Vertigo | Web: Official Band Site
Release Date: 13 August 1985


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