Holy Diver is one of many monumental albums released in heavy metal history. The Dio band has released some great albums since that 1983 debut album of Ronnie James Dio‘s then new solo project, but none have been as highly regarded. Two more albums followed with that same line-up (both regarded as Dio‘s next best albums by many fans) before the firing of guitarist Vivian Campbell. Down the line, bassist Jimmy Bain, drummer Vinny Appice and keyboardist Claude Schnell also parted from the band and were quickly replaced. When it was announced that these surviving Dio members were getting back together a few years ago, I thought it would be another tribute band to the late great Ronnie, similar to Dio Disciples. It didn’t take long for this new band, dubbed Last In Line (named after the second Dio album) would release new music as well as perform old classics, I couldn’t help but wonder what the world of classic heavy metal was in for.
Down the line, Last In Line lost two members: Claude Schnell was asked to leave the band and Jimmy Bain suffered a recent death while aboard the recent hellish Hysteria on the High Seas cruise. Luckily Bain lived to write and record on Last In Line‘s debut album Heavy Crown. Jimmy‘s hand in writing many Dio classics as well as helping out with the many other artists he’s worked with throughout his career has gone a little unnoticed. His role with Last In Line was as integral as anything else he’s done and we’re fortunate to have this album to remember him by.
What was intriguing to me about Last In Line and Heavy Crown was hearing Vivian Campbell‘s return to heavy metal. After leaving Dio he had a brief stint in Whitesnake before permanently joining Def Leppard. He’s only ventured away from Def Leppard‘s arena hard rock sound a just few times since joining them in the early 90’s, rejoining his old band Sweet Savage on an occasion or two, and touring with a revamped Thin Lizzy lineup are two of the only occasions I can think of, so hearing what he could do on an entire heavy metal album more than piqued my interest.
I wish I could say listening to Heavy Crown makes it seem like nothing has changed since (Vivian‘s last Dio album) Sacred Heart but after over 30 years, Viv has developed new styles and new habits that broaden the rhythm aspect of his playing, as there are some fantastic riffs – many of which (like “Curse The Day,” “Already Dead” and “The Sickness” to name a couple) sound like they would not have been out of place on old Dio songs – but his guitar solos don’t stand out the way they used to. Every Last In Line song has a solo of course, and for an average guitarist they’re pretty good, but long gone are the days of “Stand Up and Shout” or “Sacred Heart.” My favourite guitar solo on Heavy Crown lies in the track “I Am Revolution.”
Listeners shouldn’t expect a second coming Dio album. I was foolishly expecting this, but have since realized the flaw in expecting Heavy Crown to be like an eleventh Dio album. Ronnie James Dio always had spectacular musicians behind him. Sure some were better than others, and sure they all contributed, as a band with true camaraderie, to the sounds of every Dio classic, but the main ingredient was always Ronnie. No disrespect to Last In Line vocalist Andrew Freeman. I quite like his voice and range, but without Ronnie‘s final input, these songs are Last In Line songs and Last In Line songs only. Quite frankly, that’s what the band wants. Sure there are songs, like the previously mentioned “Curse The Day,” “Already Dead” and “The Sickness” as well as the title track, “Heavy Crown“, that have many parts that sound like they could have been used in Dio songs of the past, but there are also tracks like the slow “Blame It On Me,” the fast track “Martyr” as well as the opening track (and first released from the album) “Devil In Me” that show Last In Line are far more than just a tribute band rehashing old memories. Vinny Appice‘s distinctive drumming is the only constant throughout the album which sounds from beginning to end like something from a Dio album.
That all being said, as a heavy metal album, Heavy Crown is something that bands who want a good classic metal sound should take note of. The combined educated and experienced efforts of Vinny, Vivian and Jimmy are all too apparent. There aren’t really any heavy metal classics, at least none that I think will stand the test of time, but Last In Line have released an album that is solid all the way through. One or two tracks are less significant than the rest, in particular I don’t find much appeal in “Blame It On Me” aside from the Black Sabbath influence that I hear in it, but it has more than enough songs with a drive and desire to them which has me convinced that the band treated this like a serious project rather than just a fun side activity.
“Heavy Crown” – The first thing I notice every time the song starts is its main riff and how similar it is to one of my upmost favourite Dio tunes “Don’t Talk To Strangers.” Aside from that, the song stands as one of the most exceptional songs on Heavy Crown with its vocal hooks and slow tempo that switches from low to loud in a very Dio-esque way.
7.5 (Out of 10)
|1||Devil in Me||4:51|
|4||Burn This House Down||3:55|
|5||I Am Revolution||3:00|
|6||Blame It on Me||6:32|
|7||In Flames (Bonus Track)||2:57|
|9||Curse the Day||4:51|