Every Ronnie James Dio album ranked from worst to best

10) Black Sabbath – Dehumanizer (IRS, 1992)

Although Heaven & Hell’s The Devil You Know was a Black Sabbath album in all but name, Dehumanizer was, officially, Ronnie’s last work with Sabbath. The making of this album was a long and rather farcical process. Before Ronnie was invited to rejoin the band by guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, they had already begun rehearsing for the album with drummer Cozy Powell – who had starred with Ronnie in Rainbow – and singer Tony ‘The Cat’ Martin, who had featured on three previous Sabbath albums. 

Martin was fired, then briefly reinstated when Ronnie got cold feet, and then fired again when Ronnie committed to the project. Cozy had to pull out after suffering a broken hip in a horse-riding accident, and was replaced by Vinny Appice. As a result, Dehumanizer featured the line-up that first recorded together on the Sabs’ Mob Rules.

Produced by Reinhold Mack, famed for his work with Queen in the early 80s, the album was not as great as Heaven And Hell or Mob Rules, but two mighty tracks, Time Machine and I, were the best that Sabbath had recorded since Dio had last been in the band.

9) Dio – Sacred Heart (Vertigo, 1985)

The third Dio album was the last to feature guitarist Vivian Campbell, who went on to star briefly in Whitesnake before settling in Def Leppard. Campbell and Dio parted acrimoniously, but to the end they achieved great things together. The best tracks on Sacred Heart are genuine Dio classics: two powerful anthems in Rock’N’Roll Children and Hungry For Heaven (the latter’s riff nicked from The Who’s Baba O’Riley), plus a typically monolithic title track, all sung as only Dio can. 

The Scared Heart tour was Dio’s biggest stage production, in which our hero battled a giant rubber dragon to much hilarity. The press nicknamed the dragon Denzil. For Vivian Campbell, it was a joke too far.

8) Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know (Roadrunner, 2009)

Named after the first album that Ronnie made with Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell featured the four men that had made the Sabbath albums Mob Rules and Dehumanizer: Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice. 

Sadly, this album turned out to be Ronnie’s last, but it would serve as a fitting epitaph and a glorious end to a storied career. In tracks such as Atom & Evil and Bible Black, the old magic was still there – the band locked into heavy grooves, and Dio weaving his spells.

7) Dio – The Last In Line (Vertigo, 1984)

Some conspiracy theorists claim that the Dio logo, when inverted, spells ‘Devil’. The jury is still out on that one. What is certain is that the eternal struggle between good and evil was a central theme in Ronnie’s lyrics since the early days of Rainbow, as illustrated by the cataclysmic title track on the second Dio album, on which he weighed opposing forces – “evil or divine”, “the Angel or the Beast” – like a man whose soul hung in the balance. 

The Last In Line was the band’s first million seller and a worthy follow-up to Holy Diver. From the exultant We Rock to the fantastically overblown and brilliantly titled Egypt (The Chains Are On), it’s heroic stuff.

6) Black Sabbath – Mob Rules (Vertigo, 1981)

If Dio’s second album with Black Sabbath wasn’t quite as great as the first, it remains a cult classic, as heavy in atmosphere as in sheer riff weight. Within the band, tension was building. Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler felt that Dio was trying to “take over”, a claim the singer strongly refuted. 

What can’t be denied is that Dio gave everything he had to this album, his commitment palpable as he roared through the bludgeoning title track and cast a dark spell over The Sign Of The Southern Cross and the creepy Voodoo. But even this wasn’t enough for Tony and Geezer. Dio was driven out in 1982. A year later, Holy Diver delivered a defiant ‘fuck you’.

5) Rainbow – Long Live Rock’N’Roll (Polydor, 1978)

The lyrics for this album’s title track proved strangely prescient. Dio sang of “writing on the wall”, and so it was. Long Live Rock’N’Roll would be Dio’s swansong for Rainbow, and he went out as he came in, throwing the horns and singing like a messenger of the gods. 

Gates Of Babylon was this album’s Stargazer, another of Dio’s desert-themed epic tales. Kill The King had him crying treason as Blackmore drove the band at top speed. And the title track was one of the classic rock anthems. Dio left Rainbow as an iconic figure.

4) Rainbow – Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (Polydor, 1975)

Having quit Deep Purple when they got too funky for his taste, Ritchie Blackmore styled Rainbow as a more purist heavy rock band. Dio was a perfect foil, his richly expressive voice and fantasy imagery adding a mystical aura to the ‘castle rock’ archetypes Man On The Silver Mountain, The Temple Of The King and Sixteenth Century Greensleeves, the latter featuring his finest opening couplet: “It’s only been an hour/Since he locked her in the tower.” 

After years of toiling in obscurity, working with Blackmore was Dio’s first golden opportunity, and he seized it as if it were the Holy Grail itself. From there, he never looked back.

3) Rainbow – Rainbow Rising (Polydor, 1976)

The magnitude of Rainbow’s second album was perfectly illustrated by Ken Kelly’s cover art: a giant fist thrusting from a raging sea to grasp a rainbow. This was heavy rock on a colossal scale, and only Ronnie James Dio had the voice to match. Displaying characteristic ruthlessness, Ritchie Blackmore had brought in powerhouse drummer Cozy Powell, bassist Jimmy Bain and keyboard player Tony Carey to replace three ex-members of Elf, but Dio survived as Blackmore’s prize asset. 

And as Blackmore attempted to outdo Zeppelin’s Kashmir with Stargazer – the towering centrepiece of Rainbow Rising, its neo-classical riff swelled by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra – Dio performed near-superhuman heroics to soar above the tumult. Sounds hailed Rainbow Rising as “thermo-nuclear rock’n’roll”. 40 years on, it’s power is undiminished.

2) Dio – Holy Diver (Mercury, 1983)

One of the classic heavy metal debuts, Holy Diver is a work of such bravura and bombast that Sounds magazine stated emphatically: “Ronnie James Dio has thundered back.” 

This was a new beginning for Ronnie, but his past was in evidence both in his choice of two former bandmates (ex Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, ex-Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice) and in the epic feel of the music. The little fella’s masterstroke was the acquisition of 19-year-old guitarist Vivian Campbell, the man who “put the fast in Belfast”, who gave the band a vital, contemporary edge. 

With its electrifying opener Stand Up And Shout, its spooky title track and the majestic Rainbow In The Dark, Holy Diver was the album on which Dio, the man, was able to fully realise his own singular vision.

1) Black Sabbath – Heaven And Hell (Vertigo, 1980)

Ozzy Osbourne is, irrefutably, the definitive Black Sabbath singer, but as Ozzy himself admitted recently, “Sabbath made some great records with Ronnie Dio”. Heaven And Hell is the best of them, a masterpiece to rival the band’s seminal early 70s work. 

With Dio a commanding presence, Sabbath was a band reborn. The single Neon Knights was their clarion call, fast and brutally heavy, Dio hitting notes that Ozzy could only dream of. The sprawling title track proved that Tony Iommi, king of riffs, was also a brilliant lead guitarist. Children Of The Sea, the first song they wrote together, had an eerie, magical quality. And that power ran deep throughout the album, from the spine-tingling Die Young through to the monumental finale Lonely Is The World

With this album, Ronnie James Dio made Black Sabbath great again. And for all the power and glory in Rainbow Rising and Holy Diver, this was, for heavy metal’s greatest singer, his defining statement.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”