Less than a month removed from the untimely death of bassist Jimmy Bain, the fellow founding members of DIO’S iconic original band are set to release their debut CD Heavy Crown (February 19, Frontiers Music) under the name LAST IN LINE. This has been in the works for a few years now, and it features Vivian Campbell on guitar, Vinny Appice on the drums, Mr. Bain on bass and Andrew Freeman, an accomplished singer in his own right, on vocals. Quite frankly, I can think of no better way to honor the memory of their fallen comrade than with this collection of rockers that take the listener back to a glorious time in hard and heavy music. Are there some DIO influences? Of course there are. What did you expect when these three got together? But never once does this album, or this band veer off into soundalike territory.
As soon as the first track “Devil In Me” starts, with a sound as thick as a bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, it’s obvious we’re all in for a treat. “Martyr” ups the ante with a fast-paced number and Freeman really shows off his chops on this one as well as the next number “Starmaker” one of my standouts right away and every listen since then. Campbell has some exciting slide stuff going on in the background giving the song even more ambience to go with the chunky riff. “Burn This House Down” has a similar lumbering pace to the opener, at least on the verses. Then it plants both feet squarely in 80’s mid-tempo rock territory for the hooks, but not in a cheesy or dated way.
Four songs in and out comes “I Am Revolution”. A real barnburner, this would be perfect for an ESPN highlight showing a shootout game between Drew Brees and Philip Rivers as they throw touchdown after touchdown. Another one I keep gravitating toward is “Blame It On Me”, a track that is darker than the others, but sits well as the album’s centerpiece. With a 6:33 running time it is one I could envision Ronnie singing, although Freeman totally makes it his. And Campbell solos his ass off. Still, the similarity is undeniable, which I 100% mean as a compliment. Both Bain and Appice really shine on this track alongside him, showing that musically these guys are just locked in and worthy of any and all accolades heaped upon them over the years.
We’re off to the races again with “Already Dead”, a tune that is a simple rocker, but an effective one, with Campbell once again lighting up the fretboard. For a change of pace we come to “Curse the Day” featuring another stellar vocal from Freeman that is soulful and evocative. Man alive, this fucking guy can SING!! The rhythm section is the glue holding “Orange Glow” together behind a beckoning guitar line that flicks its tongue seductively over your ear, while the title track “Heavy Crown” brings a bit o’the swamp boogie blues to the party. Closing things out is “The Sickness”. This one has megahit written all over it. The arrangement is all at once gorgeous, majestic, and anthemic. Bain, Appice, Campbell, and Freeman sound like a band that’s been together a decade here.
Not only is the group on fire during all the songs, but the production is off the charts, thanks to the one and only Jeff Pilson (yis, THAT Jeff Pilson!). More and more it’s becoming glaringly obvious just how good of an ear he has, as is evidenced not only on Heavy Crown, but on previous works as well. When we’re dead and gone how are we remembered? Only by what we leave behind. Jimmy Bain went out doing what he loved, and at the end of the day LAST IN LINE have delivered what is sure to be recognized as one of the best and rockingest albums of 2016. And one that is more than worthy of standing alongside anything these men have recorded separately, or as a group.
R.I.P. JIMMY BAIN (19 DECEMBER 1947 – 23 JANUARY 2016)
STANDOUT TRACKS: ALL OF THEM