Killing the Dragon
1. Killing the Dragon
2. Along Comes a Spider
4. Better in the Dark
5. Rock & Roll
8. Throw Away Children
9. Before the Fall
10. Cold Feet
Strange Highways (1994)
Angry Machines (1997)
Holy Diver (1983)
Last in Line (1984)
Sacred Heart (1985)
|Many had lost faith in Ronnie James Dio through the 1990s with good
reason. Instead of continuing his legacy of powerful metal with majesty and strong hooks,
he decided to deviate from this path of relative success and instead wander down the
Sabbath-esque road. The 'new' formula of building plodding doomish dated pieces
overshadowed even his lovely voice, drowning it in a sea of downtuned guitars and melodies
that had the life mercilessly sucked out of them. This all began with his short reunion
with his former band Black Sabbath in 1992 with "WHATEVER ITS CALLED", which
bombed in the blink of an eye. If the schtick didn't fly backed by a household name why
would one expect it to soar on its own? 1994's "Strange Highways" yeilded quite
a few hot spots but the followup, "Angry Machines" unveiled an even more
alternative sound and lyrics that are based around the world's state of affairs, the old
swords and sorcery standbye flushed down the toliet. Dio himself swore away the magical
laced lyrics, calling them dated relics from an era more open to dungeons and dragons
inspired epics. So what if the so called 'real world' has scarier issues than those
lurking in a fantasy land?
Apparently the fans didn't take to the rather depressing social commentary of "Angry Machines" or perhaps it was because the disc was painfully boring, no matter the reason, the much complaining and whining that was tossed about for even a few years afterward had an effect on the pint sized singer, for 2000 saw the release of the much hyped "Magica". The name itself gives away the game, as it was supposedly breaking out the red carpet for a celebrated return to the olden sound. Sure the lyrics had a fantasy punch, but someone forgot to leave Ronnie a note about those crap-ass plodding themes that were destroying his credibility and career for they were back in force. "Magica" ended up being almost as comotose as "Angry Machines".
Without further delay it was time for makeover or stand aside and watch the coming trainwreck for the third trek into rapidly declining quality. "Killing the Dragon" eked out the door mid 2002 aiming to make a huge statement with just a cover glance. The album art of a powerful dragon being dragged down by a pack of blood thirsty, pitch for weilding peasants while the scale covered lizard beasts blasts the "Dio" logo with a column of fire is a quite a powerful statement, summing up Dio's past few years. The vocal giant being tied down and blasted apart by the media... a relic of the past himself succumbing to the tides of popularity before redeeming himself with... "Killing the Dragon".
So yes, its true, the latest disc is finally a return to glory days, but one foot of course is kept in the recent past. I guess you can slay the dragon but you can't crush its soul. Some of the songs are thicker than one would hope. There's a difference between sweeping majestical heaviness and thick plodding mess to create the illusion of heaviness. "Holy Diver", "Last In Line", BS's "Mob Rules" and "Heaven and Hell" are all classics in the majestically heavy category. On the other hand, "Angry Machines" is a stunning example of what you don't want to do with heavy metal. "Killing the Dragon" straddles the fence and blends the two worlds. Therefore we end up with swift powerhouse tracks like "Better in the Dark" and then sink to mediocrity with "Rock & Roll" that immediately follows it. But luckily there's plenty more pluckily pleasurable tracks to partake in, made even more desirable by the seasoned cast of metal veterans that comprise Dio's more than capable backing band. Even though its undoubtedly Dio's show, these guys are so talented that they manage to slip by undetected for a few crowd pleasing virtuosic attempts at taking the spotlight. Doug Aldrich is Craig Goldie's replacement, and his riffs are energetic and masterful. Its easy to see his stints in Lion, Hurricane, Bad Moon Rising and more recently Burning Rain have honed his skills like a finely sharpened sword. Bain and Wright are still on board as the formidable rhythm section and play their parts as solid as ever with time keeping sense and natural flair.
|01.] "Killing the Dragon"
A haunting synthesizer webbed opener sets the stage as a creepy backwater place where anything can lurk in the shadows. Then drums and guitars kick in and the furious fun begins without further ado. We hear the claims of a child taken in the night and with equal parts swift and heavy plod we are swept away on an epic journey through heaven and hell. The instrumentation is deft and Doug Aldrich handles the guitar duties with ease. His solos have the "guitar hero" crystal ringing tone of the 80s and the biting expectancy of a modern day beast. All the yawning gaps in the song are stuffed with riffs and crisp drums and Dio brings the house down with his emoting about electrical hearts and digital dreams.
02.] "Along Comes a Spider"
Galloping riffing matches well with R.J.'s chosen attack plan for the vocals. He twists and turns it around before sizzling the song to a blistering ending. Some of the more 'careful' pacing reeks of that plodding "Angry Machines" flavor, but only for a moment. A superb bridge kicks in that sees them dancing to another rhythm just seconds before careening into another sizzling electric guitar fiasco. "Holy Diver" its not, but damn good it certainly is.
Terrific! Flaunting a different flavour all together, this track chooses a slower path to wander, but the rousing vocals are of blow-you-away caliber and the chorus absolutely slays and kills with its emphasis on anything following the word "scream". The bridge leading into the beating heart is vibrant and powerful, softening guitar building around the bullseye hitting verses.
04.] "Better in the Dark"
This one streches out with the familiar tempo of tunes 80s past. Thumping drums, unexpectedly up-front bass and sizzling guitar lend a hand in making this one hell of a metal ride. Bursting with instrumentation and the kind of tight songwriting that populated the beginning of Dio's solo career some twenty years before, it proves once again that he's back and in fine form as well. Too bad they couldn't keep it together for the followup...
05.] "Rock & Roll"
The lyrics are trite, the music is plodding in that "Angry Machines" sense, and the whole affair feels as if its been locked in a dungeon and is screaming at the top of its lungs "Filler material!" Even searching through the remains of the cell next door uncovers little to redeem itself. This one should have been axed, but instead is victim to a public hanging.
is quick n' simple fare that sees Dio lighting a fire behind the chorus and um, pushing it out each time with fire and ferocity. His command of the vocal situation is mesmerizing as always even when belting something as cliched as this. He makes it not just good, but bordering on great just by flaunting his style and his unexplainable knack into turning silly little lyric bits like "hands against the wall" into the most important musical lines on the planet. The drums are thunderous and convincing, adding to the forcefulness.
This easily could have edged its way into "Lock Up the Wolves" and no one would have thought twice about it. The flavor of that record crops up here and is embraced with open arms. One could bask in the light of this forever. The chorus is simplistic but so melodic it could pass as AOR, and revisited in ways that let it keep its mystique even on multiple repetitions and the breakdown in the middle is genius, splitting the song at the perfect and most desperately needed moment. The guitars have poignant flair without overly overshadowing the proceedings. Tasteful, catchy and most importantly, rocking.
08.] "Throw Away Children"
This is where the disc really begins to falter. Its difficult to really slam the subject matter, that being homeless and abused children... a worthy cause to sing about of course. This kind of neglect has been going on since the beginning of time, so if one must, you can pretend its a bard's social song from the medieval times, even if its really all about the here and now. Its slow moving, like slagging through a vat of molasses, yet the sappy part is still to come - when a whole choir of kids kick their high pitched voices in for the corny closing. Dio surely means well, but personally I'd rather have another ode to the weird and arcane than a song with high hopes to change the world.
09.] "Before the Fall"
Another step into the spiraling stairway into dreck. Ronnie draws those words out, stretching them until they almost snap, losing one's interest with each word butchered in this manner. This is followed by too quickly delivered lines and a chorus that falls flat with barely a whimper. Its focus may be on rock n' roll heroes and their struggle to success that echoes the circumstances of almost every aired VH-1 "Behind the Music" special, but if the music is boring and the lyrics trite then you are left with just a useless timewaster. Your retro hammond organ can't save this one guys.
10.] "Cold Feet"
It starts out promising enough, a bit more down tempo and rougher than the past few tracks but that all screeches to a halt in the blink of an eye. There's a heavy bent structurally towards 70s rock n' roll and the lyrics are just plain strange. Unfortunately its duller and more lifeless than a blood leeched corpse. You keep having the urge to poke it with a stick to see if any other reaction can be coaxed out, but its so bloated and awful looking that there's too much fear lying in the soul to actually touch it to see if its not just the feet that's gone cold.
"Killing the Dragon" is overall a promising return to form for the celebrated singer. While I wouldn't boost it to the same pedestal as any of his 70s or 80s material, it does soundly clobber anything done after the Black Sabbath reunion (with the sole exception of "Strange Highways"). Whether the new breed of metal fan will cotton to this as quickly as the old school crowd will, its hard to say. Those raised on a steady diet of European power metal with their mega gigantic orchestras, sweeping epic prose and stables of musicians to back them might have a hard time swallowing the rather simple Dio formula where power and might is suggested by the in-the-spotlight-vocals and everything else is simply the supporting act. Give it a go however and you may be surprised by the high quality of the early material and later on appalled by what's just purely cringe-worthy sappiness.
Ratings and Wrap Up: