The untimely death of Ronnie James Dio in 2010 robbed the world of heavy music of one of its most revered figureheads, not to mention arguably its greatest ever singer. If there’s a silver lining to be gleaned from a world without Dio, it must be that the great man’s catalogue has finally begun to receive the attention and care that it deserves.
A Decade Of Dio: 1983-1993 is a no-nonsense collection of the first six Dio albums, all newly remastered and adorned with brand new artwork from long-time collaborator Marc Sasso. In truth, only the most miserly of cynics would dispute that most of the music contained within is among the most influential and enduring in metal’s near five-decade story.
Quite what one could say about the immaculate Holy Diver that hasn’t been excitedly repeated every few seconds since the album’s release in 1983 is anyone’s guess. It’s an album so utterly familiar that it should be part of the furniture, and yet Holy Diver remains a singular statement from a subtly unique band: not just a collection of brilliant songs, but a gold-plated benchmark for huge swathes of the metal and hard rock that followed in its imperious wake. Coming from the man who had sung on both Rainbow’s earth-shattering Rising and Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell, Holy Diver was nothing short of audacious and, remastered or otherwise, it still sounds as fresh as a daisy.
Their triumphant predecessor may have overshadowed the next three Dio albums, but they are all timeless classics. The Last In Line showcased the thrilling chemistry that had evolved between guitarist Vivian Campbell, bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice by 1984, with songs like the explosive We Rock and the stately One Night In The City exuding intra-band bonhomie and providing Ronnie with a consistently dynamic and hook-filled backdrop. Sacred Heart emerged a year later, exhibiting a little more mainstream polish but losing none of the earlier albums’ electrifying oomph: King Of Rock And Roll, Hungry For Heaven and Rock ’n’ Roll Children are all particularly joyous.
The real unsung gem of the early Dio years, Dream Evil’s slightly anemic 1987 production job has benefited most from the remastering process. Night People is a vigorous opener every bit as exhilarating as Stand Up And Shout, Sunset Superman is superlative heavy metal nonsense and All The Fools Sailed Away is one of the diminutive legend’s finest ever vocal performances, not to mention an ingeniously prog-propelled slab of artful metallic indulgence.
It’s hard to imagine even the most psychotic of fans disputing that A Decade Of Dio tails off slightly after its first four chapters. Neither Lock Up The Wolves nor Strange Highways were particularly well-regarded at the time and history tends to state that changing market tastes threw many musicians of Ronnie’s vintage into a confused, creative tailspin. The truth is less dramatic: Wolves is 50 per cent stinker, but it boasts numerous strong moments too: Wild One, Night Music and the title track are all perfectly serviceable, albeit primarily because that voice could carry any amount of half-baked nonsense.
Strange Highways is far better than received wisdom would suggest, the nascent gifts of teenage guitarist Tracy G proving far more effective and suitable than previous six-string incumbent Rowan Roberton’s rather uninspired efforts on Lock Up The Wolves.
Best viewed as a dark and brooding counterpart to Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer, glowering fare like Jesus, Mary & The Holy Ghost and Pain may have been partial attempts to siphon off some of Soundgarden’s mid-grunge momentum, but the riffs are powerful, the melodies sharp and the steadying influence of a returning Vinny Appice imbued the whole grinding squall with plenty of swagger. The title track remains the record’s most startling moment – seven minutes of oppressive doom metal topped with a snarling vocal.
Whether devotees feel inclined to invest in this smartly packaged set or see no point in rebuying albums solely to witness some minor sonic improvements, A Decade Of Dio amounts to a respectful salute to a fallen hero and a neat introduction to one vital part of his extraordinary career. The mistake we so often make with departed legends is to reduce their memory down to a few select milestones when it’s the bigger picture that really counts. This treasure trove ensures that memories of Ronnie James Dio will be vivid and lasting.