"A generation which ignores history has no past and no future." Robert Heinlein
Sometime in 2006, I once heard some kids on the bus badmouthing Dio, saying that the original version of Holy Diver (1983) must be s**t compared to the cover. Something inside me snapped and I proceeded to lecture, neigh school them, until I reached college. If that day was a message board, they were most certainly newfags.
Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010) is one of the most recognisable people on the rock planet. His voice and performance (He was responsible for the metal-horns (\m/) being used as it is today) has helped shape the genre and whatever band he has performed in, (Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio, Heaven and Hell), his vocal performance has always shined through. Sadly he was taken away from the world on May 16th, 2010 after cancelling a solo tour (which I had tickets to), but his spirit began living on instantly in the form of the Stand Up and Shout Cancer charity and today there is even a statue of him in Bulgaria.
The Last in Line (1984) is Dio’s second solo effort, hot on the heels of their wildly successful Holy Diver (1983). It featured three singles and is one of three Dio albums that got the ‘remastered’ treatment some years after. This album shines with confidence. It doesn’t try to recreate the success of its predecessor; instead, it feels more like a continuation of it. Even artwork is cool. A bunch of peasants running and screaming, tortured, harrowing expressions on their faces in sight of a massive horned overlord-type figure on the horizon; what can be more metal than that? If you have this album, check out the guy just below the dead centre. I always found his expression a little unnerving.
The album opens with We Rock. It’s a song about how awesome Dio is. It has a similar fast-pace as Stand Up and Shout, the song that opened Holy Diver, and has a chorus that’s hard not to chant along with the band. It’s a cool song and a ballsy move to open his second solo album with such a self-fellating track. The solo mid-way through shows that Vivian Campbell hasn’t slowed down at all and why should he? At this point he was in his early twenties, he had everything to prove and it seems to have paid off as since his tenure with Dio he’s worked with some of classic rock’s heaviest-hitters.
After We Rock the album slows down with the enchanting melody of The Last in Line. It’s nice, warm and for lack of a better word, lovely. Dio acts like a smooth-talking dentist as he almost serenades this song as he leads it into the heavy part. This one is the sing-along one of the album and thanks to the guitar work it’s a complete head banger too. The solo is fairly long and complex and stands out as one of the more thought-out on both this and Holy Diver. After the long lead-section, a third verse, more powerful than the other two, is followed by an extended chorus with the vocals treating us to Ronnie James Dio’s signature wail. It’s easy to tell this song was meant to be the flagship of the album.
After some pervert-on-the-phone-styled heavy breathing, Breathless opens. While it may have a decent hook in the chorus, this song is more vocal-driven than the previous two. The music takes a back seat with some chords while the vocal pattern carries it through to the solo which is more emotive than The Last in Line’s, but lacks that signature coolness.
I Speed at Night sounds very close to Kill the King by Dio’s old band Rainbow off the album Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll (1977). It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise through really, and nobody should look that far into it; they’re both cool songs, so why care? I Speed at Night is the fastest song on the album and features some expert drumming from Vinny Appice and lightning-fast shredding in the solo. It would be nothing but a disappointment if this song was slow and boring. After all, it’s called I Speed at Night. You can’t have a song with ‘speed’ in the title and have it slow. Even Billy Idol got that right.
One Night in the City is what you could call this album’s emotive song. It starts off as standard hard rock song with lots of balls and beef, but the lyrics that take over are about a couple of children, one dark and one light (a princess), who meet up like a macabre Romeo and Juliet. The lyrics are pretty vague, but the music helps carry the message. Campbell doesn’t over-do it with technicality in this song and that helps keep the focus on the story it tells. The keyboard in the pre-chorus’ definitely stands out as being the most recognisable part of the music section and while it may not be the best song on The Last in Line; it would be sorely missed if it wasn’t there.
The next song starts with a run down and a riff that any fan of 80’s metal should recognise as Evil Eyes. This song has been in just about every rock bar’s jukebox since well, 1984 probably. It’s a balanced song that mixes technicality with speed and rhythm. It’s fast-paced, but not thrashy; technical, but not lecturing. This song follows the standard rock format and is the short-but-sweet one of the album.
Mystery comes next and like in One Night in the City, the rest of the band takes a step back. After what sounds like panpipes on the keyboard (played by Claude Schnell), Dio begins the verse over some heavy chugging guitar. This song teeters on glam rock, but not nearly as much as Hungry for Heaven would do on their 1985 album Sacred Heart. It’s got the same pace as any glam rock classic and just as much flash. It’s a happy tune about, presumably, mysteries and things of a mysterious nature. It’s uplifting to listen to and makes a nice juxtaposition to Evil Eyes’ fast and furious nature.
The Last in Line ends with Egypt (The Chains Are On), and is by no means the least. This song starts with some wind noises, similar to Holy Diver with some Egyptian sounding notes on the keyboard. Just as you think it’s going to be a sombre tune, in comes Campbell with a mother of a riff. It lurches through a few times, drilling it into your head before Dio starts singing about ancient Egypt and what it was like to possibly be a Jewish slave there. In a way, this is an angry song, singing about the Jewish people’s rage at their captors. I’ll stop myself there, because I don’t know much about Hebrew theology and I don’t want to offend and/or start a trolling match. The solo is by far the angriest on the album, starting with some shredding, then a bit of melody, then going off into an all out shred at the end. A harmony leads back into Dio’s section where he follows with another verse and chorus. The lead guitar over the final sections is faultless and when the song fades away, I always find myself putting it back to the start to listen to this song again. Egypt (The Chains Are On) is the most serious song on the album, and is my personal second favourite on it, behind The Last in Line.
Has it stood the test of time? While it was not as commercially successful as Holy Diver, back in 1984, it was Dio’s first album to go platinum. Some people think this album is ‘tiresome’ for not changing the winning formula of its predecessor, but it was only a year after and only the second album. Most bands wait until their third to change something, which Dio eventually did with Sacred Heart. Today, Holy Diver, both song and album, is still Dio’s most successful album to date, but this is always a close second. The album has survived so long that the video to The Last in Line appeared as an easter egg on the DVD version of Little Nicky (2000). On ‘special features’, press up or down enough so that it says ‘1984’ in the bottom corner. Press OK and enjoy.
Personally, I favour this album to Holy Diver, simply because The Last in Line is one of my favourite songs ever. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise though as just from the opening paragraph, you should have been able to tell my stance on Dio.
Rest in peace, metal lord.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/