Killing The Dragon
Spitfire Records, 2002
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/23/2002
Whatever he does for the remainder of his career, Ronnie James Dio has established a place for himself as one of the grandfathers of today's heavy metal scene. Whether it was his pioneering work with Rainbow, the job he did filling the "unfillable" shoes of Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath, or the success of his solo career in the '80s, Dio's name is one which commands a lot of respect - and rightfully so.
Yet Dio has struggled to come up with a fresh-sounding idea since around the time of The Last In Line - and I admt I've fallen a little behind with his solo albums, all but ignoring everything from Lock Up The Wolves until he put out Inferno: Last In Live a few years ago. Killing The Dragon, the latest effort from Dio and his band, doesn't do much to change my opinion. Is it a bad album? No... just more of the same old same old that fans have come to expect. If only it didn't sound like yet another re-tread.
It's really hard, in the case of this album, to pinpoint exactly just where things went wrong. On the side of songwriting, Killing The Dragon stumbles, featuring a collection of tracks which sound like they could have been written at any stage of Dio's solo career. Tracks like "Along Comes A Spider," "Scream" and the title track almost ooze a lazy familarity - almost as if Dio didn't want to take any chances with a style of songwriting going on 20 years old now. Even some of the better tracks like "Guilty" and "Throw Away The Children" make me think that I've heard this before - and it's not because I've listened to this disc for the past month.
On the side of musicianship, with no disrespect meant to guitarist Doug Aldrich, but anyone who straps on the guitar in this band is going to be chasing the ghost of Vivian Campbell (who's now securely in place with Def Leppard). Only the guest appearance of Scott Warren on "Before The Fall" suggests the injection of new lifeblood into the band's sound - and it works, dammit!
Then, there is Dio himself. Again, no disrespect is meant, but his vocals are more often showing signs that Dio isn't able to belt out those lung-scraping wails he is best known for. Listen to tracks like "Better In The Dark," and compare them to anything from earlier stages of Dio's solo career, and listen to what the passage of time has done. I'll concede that this is one thing that Dio has no control over, but it is noticeable.
If there is any positive to be taken from this album, it is much more approachable than Magica, Dio's previous release. Where Magica was overblown and uninteresting, Killing The Dragon has many more moments which at least make the listener sit up and pay attention. In all fairness to Dio, if I had to choose between the two albums, I'd snag Killing The Dragon in a New York minute.
It's hard enough to say where Killing The Dragon became just a passable album for Dio; it's even harder to start suggesting ways that he could right the ship. Frankly, I'm at a bit of a blank - and maybe Dio himself is, as well. It would be too easy to use a hackneyed phrase such as "you can't teach an old dog new tricks". But this style of music has worked for Dio nearly his entire career - and I'd hate to see him try to become one of these nu-metal bands a la Limp Bizkit. (The day Dio starts rapping is the day I give up all hope for heavy metal.)
I really hate to wimp out on a review like this, but the truth is, there are no easy explanations for why Killing The Dragon is the way it is, nor are there easy answers for how things could have improved. Let's just leave it at this: long-time Dio fans will find something to love in this album, though it's not Dio's best.