Admittedly, my unholy DIO obsession didn’t start until I was 32 years of age. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t a fan of Ronnie James Dio’s music, I just didn’t own anything other than the first two records until I got older (Thanks, Keith!), and THAT’S when the obsession began. But one that I DID own, and played the ever-loving shit out of as a teenage metalhead was 1984’s The Last In Line, which in honor of it turning 30 this year, I wanted to talk about for this week’s Classic Albums. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can argue all you want that Holy Diver is his best work, but last I checked this was my segment, not yours, so there.
I remember hearing “We Rock” on one of my friend’s older brother’s mixtapes in ’86, and knowing then and there that it would become my all-time favorite DIO song forever and ever amen. And as luck would have it my best friend Joe (who I had just started hanging out with in the summer of ’87) and I would occasionally do a bit o’trading with our CDs. Once again, I don’t remember what he wanted in return but he willingly handed over The Last In Line much to my delight. Once I got past playing “We Rock” about 50 times I hungrily devoured the rest of the album. Second song and title track “The Last In Line” starts out slow with guitarist Vivian Campbell playing something clean and simple and then Ronnie belts out this spine-chilling note that lets it be known that “Holy Diver” was no fluke, people. Vinny Appice’s drums and Jimmy Bain’s bass (the latter of which can actually be heard for a change) are large and in charge throughout the whole record, but especially here. And keyboardist Claude Schnell (ex-ROUGH CUTT) is a welcome addition to this fantastic band, making his presence felt in spades.
I didn’t have long to fully bask in the glow of these two songs, though. “Breathless” revs up the motor with a quickness, Campbell solos his balls off, and the machine is running smoothly as we shift into fifth gear for the appropriately-titled “I Speed At Night”, and just when you think the man doesn’t have any fingers left with which to shred, boy are you mistaken. Another solo that’s so hot, I swear it’s stolen! Appice’s thunderous drumming ushers in “One Night In the City”, a story of Johnny and Sally, the dark child and princess, also featuring one of the best riffs on the whole record. When this particular band got together there were few, if any, who could touch them, and I have a TON of live footage to back that up.
On the old album this would be side two, and it starts off with a bang courtesy of “Evil Eyes” sounding very similar to one of my DIO-era BLACK SABBATH favorites “Turn Up the Night” but slowed down a half step, and don’t look now but there goes Mr. Campbell seemingly melting the goddamn fretboard again! Everyone pulls back the reins a little bit for the very, very catchy “Mystery”, another personal favorite of mine all these years later, Schnell really shining for this one, and damn if this doesn’t STILL get stuck in my head for days after a spin. It sounds a lot like they were having some fun when they recorded this one, to me anyway. The Riffmaster General is of course front and center for “Eat Your Heart Out” which also has a tinge of SABBATH to it and wouldn’t have been out of place on Heaven and Hell.
The album closes with the epic number “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” which moves along slowly, each snare drum hit sounding like the whip crack on the backs of the doomed souls who were forced to build temples for the Pharaohs of the time. An ambitious seven-minute track, I have been lucky enough to see DORO perform it live on two separate occasions (2010 and 2011) in tribute after Ronnie lost his battle with stomach cancer on May 16, 2010. And I can think of no one better to carry on the tradition of such a fine song written by a King than The Metal Queen herself. Ronnie James Dio may have left this world, but he is forever in our hearts and our souls as true metalheads, and every time I am out somewhere with one of my DIO shirts on I always get a bunch of knowing smiles, nods, and Devil Horns thrown my way. I’m sure Ronnie wouldn’t want it any other way. Rest In Peace, old friend. You are missed every day. \m/ \m/ ~dc