I know. For a long time, the review horizon stayed devoid of any new Dio records. To avoid overcooking the stew and scare our fans off, I guess. But – by Loki – the temptations are sometimes just too juicy. Specifically when The Last in Line released on 2 July some 34 years ago. So, here’s to a few moments for this fanboy to gush about Dio and his travels about the early metal landscape.
The ’80s definitely were a superb decade for metal in general. And without the crystal clear voice of Ronnie-James Dio belting out lyrics, we would miss a big junk of metal lore. You can surely find fault with his earlier or later work, but fact of the matter is that he wrote metal history. The first signs of brilliance appeared during his tenure with Rainbow. Which were – again – reinforced – when he was in cahoots with the folks of Black Sabbath a short while later. The first Dio album Holy Diver launched in 1983, just a few short months after his somewhat unduly hasty departure from Iommi’s troops.
The sophomore offering The Last in Line really captures the essence of early Dio beautifully. This starts – of course – with the pseudo-satanic album cover that caused quite a stir back when the record released. Hell on earth (or somewhere else), with Murray – in his role of the grim reaper – watching benevolently upon the mayhem he just caused. Or are the looks deceiving and not all is what it seems?
Remember, this was a time when the Heavy Metal movement just started to build some decent momentum. With a population over much of the globe still being pretty closed like so many clams to these new sounds. So, such depictions, coupled with the high-pitched screaming was seen as the work of Satanists. The very same thing that happened to Iron Maiden when they released The Number of the Beast in 1982.
The Last in Line may still be a bit rough around the edges, but surely projects a much-improved level of maturity compared to Holy Diver. The quality only seriously started slipping by the arrival of Sacred Heart. And this comes somewhat as a surprise. Usually, the abyss looms right at second base. Yet, Dio let the lines slacken somewhat only by the third album.
Albeit that the signs of doom are already visible on The Last In Line, for sure.
Yet, much improvement found its way back into Dio‘s offerings later with the excellent Dream Evil and the somewhat belated, but still juicy Lock Up The Wolves. After that things started to drift again, kind of aimlessly towards dark rocks looming at the horizon.
The Last in Line hits the ground running with two straight killer tracks. Both We Rock and The Last in Line – the title offering – just race forward like there is no tomorrow. A no-nonsense, straightforward, and very speedy delivery of Heavy Metal that quickly became part of the staple of Dio tracks for any metalhead’s music collection. Two heavy rollers at the beginning of the tracklist should pave the way for more goodness to reach our ears.
Or do they?
Because by the ominously named Breathless, steam seems to escape from a leak somewhere in the hull of this ship. The Last in Line turns into some sort of roller coaster that left me strangely unsatisfied at the end of a series of new listens. And same as with a steam pipe sporting a leak, sometimes pressure increases again and – sometimes – it hits rock bottom. And back to Breathless, this track just about limps into acceptable space by virtue of a good solo.
But then comes I Speed At Night that impresses on speed (no kidding) and an acceptable solo, but severely lacks on structure. Simplistically noodling about the track like Scorpions on a bad day will just not do, even for a Dio track with all its brownie points attached. Eat Your Heart Out – the other dud – almost made me go to sleep by sheer boredom.
Evil Eyes surely gets the nod with its typical Dio-esque antics and pretty acceptable solo in the middle. The Last in Line makes us wait to the very end for one of the best tracks, though. The mid-tempo Egypt (The Chains are On) impresses with substance and a pretty sturdy storyline that gets you a typical Dio-esque send-off. This is one juicily delicious track, right out of the Dio playbook.
Yet, finally, The Last in Line really delivers a mixed bag of goodies. Hailed by many as the ultimate Heavy Metal album out there, the reality is a bit more profane.
The record sports just too many ups and downs to really call it stellar without a huge payload of goodwill. The album comes across like the evil twin of Holy Diver. Hand-in-glove they seem to march down towards Dio‘s future glories. Only the portents on The Last in Line point towards a cloudier future and a sound growing stale.
So, yes, it is a good album, but the tracks that barely making it onto dry ground pull this album severely back from trve metal greatness. And that is deplorable when looking at the talent amassed in this band back in time. Hard judgment for this die-hard fan, I can tell ya. But this is where we are.