Dio – The Studio Collection 1996 – 2004

Dio
Angry Machines / Magica / Killing The Dragon / Master of the Moon
Hard Rock, Classic Rock, Heavy Metal
Originally Release Year: 1996/2000/2002/2004
Release Date:  February 21, 2020 via BMG and Niji Entertainment Group Inc

If there is one band that I can safely say shaped how I hear music to this day I would definitely say Ronnie James Dio and his hard rock/heavy metal collective. Dio are up there as one of the many bands I would sit and listen to for hours on end. I remember my Dad playing me songs like Holy Diver, Rock ‘n’ Roll Children and many others which captivated my attention and informed my music taste. Ronnie James Dio, is an icon to the world of heavy metal. His distinct vocals and descriptive poetry are just the stuff of dreams for the genre. His heavy metal stories are still looked fondly upon today for any and all musicians. Simply put, if you listen, play or even pay the slightest attention to the genre then Dio is a famous and influential name. I remember sitting at my Dad’s computer desk listening to song after song from him and unknowingly learning how his influence is seen everywhere in the genre then and still to this day. 

As much as I would love to spend all day looking over the entire career of Ronnie, and maybe one day I will. Here, I will only be discussing 4 albums. The last four albums of the band Dio. 1996’s Angry Machines, 2000’s Magica, 2002’s Killing The Dragon and 2004’s Master of the Moon. Now, in 2020 we have been given remasters of these four albums and I have to say they sound really good. I mean, get yourself an up-to-date sound system and enjoy heavy metal in its purest form. Those last two albums are both albums that I got on their original release and listened to with my Dad but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’ll get to those.  Just as an opening statement about these remasters before we get properly started. They’re pretty good. If you like classic heavy metal done well and sounding nice and crisp, I would highly recommend picking up the new remasters.

Firstly, let’s cover the 1996 album Angry Machines. This would be the last studio album with the original drummer Vinnie Appice. It would also serve as the last studio album appearance from guitarist Tracy Grijalva. The main remaster of the original songs is really good. You get this fresh crisp sound to the songs and it sounds a lot better. The bass booms and the drumwork sounds commanding. The overall tone of the album feels bigger and some of my favourite tunes from the record like “Hunter of the Heart” and “Big Sister” sound so good in a whole new way. The opening song “Institutional Man” is a cold mechanical song that leads into the heart of the album’s themes really nicely. Themes of the de-humanisation of mankind and the really oppressive overtone. It’s one of the heavier albums from Dio. A mix of doom and stoner rock that thud along. The riffs coming through loud and powerful with the commanding vocals of Dio captivate and enthrall. This would probably be the album that most general hard rock fans might miss in the Dio repertoire and is certainly not the album that I would say best represents his finest work. However, I feel like as part of the 90’s metal scene it was a good fit. Metal being in that period of crossover between old school and new school. That battle rages on this record as you can hear glimpses of Dio’s old-school ways mixed with a smattering of different metal styling. It feels very much like a band that was throwing everything at the wall to see what stuck. Unless you’re a hardcore fan of Ronnie, this might be one to skip. 

5/10

Moving forward a few years let’s cover Ronnie’s record from 2000, Magica. This album marked the return of guitarist Craig Goldy, who also had performed on Dio‘s 1987 album Dream Evil and in the 2004’s Master of the Moon. Magica also features Jimmy Bain on bass and Simon Wright on drums. Ronnie produced this album and originally planned for it to be the first as part of a trilogy of concept albums and was planning to release them after touring with Heaven and Hell. Sadly, Dio passed away on May 16, 2010 and the only song released from this potential project was titled “Electra”, which is included on this remastered edition. This album feels like a Dio album of old with themes and stories of mysticism, swords and sorcery, tales of otherworldly places and pure fantasy. This is Dio’s bread and butter. The album contains a much brighter and more hopeful sounding band than Angry Machines with lighter guitar and tighter production. It feels so much more consistent and, for lack of a better term, like a Dio album. The guitar solos that Goldy provides are hard-hitting and powerful and coupled with the strong rhythm section played by Bain and Wright and you get music that has more of a beating heart. The opening selection of tunes really set a great tone and get you captivated in this concept album and get you invested in the story that Ronnie is trying to convey. The album just allows you to become lost in its aura, making the story moments intriguing and the pure rock ‘n’ roll moments a real treat. I could personally do without the small interludes breaking up the album, I suppose it’s to flesh out the concept but they don’t add much to the overall listening experience. It feels like it’s more there to pad out the run time. Which isn’t really necessary as the album is pretty lengthy as is. It’s weird listening to “Electra” today. A hint as to what was to come from this icon before his demise. Although the audio quality is not great from a musical perspective, Dio’s vocals are sublime and I feel robbed from the potential project that never was. I would love to hear what Magica II and III would have been. However, Magica itself was a pleasant listen and one worth revisiting to this day.

8/10

Jumping right along now to 2002 and what was my personal introduction to the master himself. It’s definitely up there as one of my favourite albums from Dio, Killing The Dragon. I was a 10 year old kid when this was initially released and I can remember spending time at my dad’s computer playing video games and listening to this record. This album introduced guitarist Doug Aldrich (of Whitesnake fame) to the band. Goldy co-wrote some of the songs before leaving the band and you can hear his fingerprints in places here. This would be their final album with bassist Jimmy Bain. I love this album so much. Like everything about it. This album was such a huge part of my heavy metal christening. It led me to so many bands and informed so much of my personal music taste that I couldn’t really put it into words. Hearing this remaster is quite nice, the songs are just as powerful today as they were back in the day. Aldrich’s solos are very different from previous guitarists. Much more flash and flair to them, more effect pedals were used and they feel much more freeform. It’s like Aldrich was improvising on the day of recording. Though, if you listen carefully, each part is so well constructed and he uses the songs to just build and build. Songs like “Better in the Dark” and “Along Comes a Spider” just evoke that classic Dio sound that old fans, no doub, would love. Dio, sounds so lively here. His vocals are as excellent as ever and you are reminded of why he is the legend he is. The titular “dragon” of the album title refers to modern technology. Dio has expressed his concerns with it possibly threatening society in the future and felt like we needed to rebel against it. I think that in 2020 and the world now revolving around smart technology and peoples reliance on it, this album is more prevalent than ever. The album has some dark themes amongst the bright hopeful rock n roll. Songs like “Throw Away The Children”, “Guilty” and the title track “Killing The Dragon” have very foreboding lyrics. Yet, the heavily charged rock music keeps the pace of the album going and at no point does it linger. Dio gets in, makes his points and gets out. Leaving you with heavy moral questions and entertaining you at the same time. There’s just so much to ponder and enjoy with this album and it’s why I love it so much!

10/10

Finally on this review-rollercoaster, our last section will take us to 2004 and the final ever Dio album, Master of the Moon. If Ronnie has to leave his name-saken band with any sort of legacy, Master of the Moon is not a bad one to leave it on. For this album we see the return of Craig Goldy on guitars, Simon Wright on the drums and long time collaborator Scott Warren  on the keyboard. On bass guitar for this record Dio had Jeff Pilson, from Dokken. A commanding line up and one that delivered a damn fine album. Though, for me personally I don’t enjoy it as much as Killing The Dragon, objectively this is a good record. Deep themes interlaced with well constructed hard rock music with well performed instrumentals and Dio singing his heart out. The production is well put together with every piece of instrumentation doing their work and it all comes together really nicely. Yet, ultimately there feels like there’s something missing. There’s no standout songs, the album just blends together. If we’re comparing all of the remasters in this review, this lacks the aggression of Angry Machines, the imagination of Magica and the passion and persistent drive of Killing The Dragon. It mostly serves its purpose of more Dio music. It’s decently written and competently performed however it lacks that real power that would capture your attention. It’s not even hitting that nostalgia vibe as it doesn’t really capture the 80’s Dio sound that made him famous. It’s not bad by any means however, revisiting this albumin this remaster it just hits the middle of the road. Which is not what you want from the larger than life metal icon. 

6/10

This remaster adventure has been really fun and made me really think about what I look for in a Dio record which makes me think about my taste in heavy metal in general. The man was a legend, no doubt. His star will never fade and my love for his music will never die. He had one of the most complete and commanding careers in the genre. He worked with so many musicians and was a complete product of his era, which informed the genres of rock and heavy metal to a great extent. For me, he was an eye opener. Someone I truly looked up to and it pains me to this day that I never got the opportunity to see him in concert. A true master of his craft and a respective icon for generations to come.

Mick Birchall

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