Spitfire Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Ronnie James Dio has become the grandfather of heavy metal music - and that is meant in the most respectful of ways. From his stints with Elf, Rainbow and Black Sabbath to his days as a solo artist who cultivated some of the genre's finest musicians, Dio could easily take the easy way out with his music and record albums similar to 1982's Holy Diver and thrill his long-time fans.

Ah, but that would be too easy, one thinks. So Dio chose to record the closest thing to a concept album he's done in his career, Magica. And while there are pieces on this disc that show why Dio is such a legendary singer and songwriter, it's easy to see why concept albums are so tricky to do, as some pieces fall flat.

Magica reunites Dio with several former band members - guitarist Craig Goldy (who took over the guitar chores on Dream Evil), bassist Jimmy Bain (whose four-string work helped to shape the sound of Dio's early solo works) and drummer Simon Wright (who left AC/DC to provide the trap work for Lock Up The Wolves). What is disappointing is that none of these musicians really steps up to the plate and demonstrates just why they are so respected on their instruments. Bain's bass work especially disappoints - and I'll freely admit I was hoping to hear some of the work like he did on the song "The Last In Line" to really jazz up these pieces.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Dio himself is in fine voice throughout Magica, and while he might not be reaching for the trademark shrieks he once was able to do, time has added almost a more sinister edge to his vocals. With some of the subject matter, this turns out to be the perfect voice for Dio.

Musically, though, Magica runs hot and cold. It takes far too long for the energy level to get turned up on this disc, starting with two interludes ("Discovery" and "Magica Theme") before coasting into the slow-lane-tempoed "Lord Of The Last Day". It takes nearly a quarter of the album for Dio and crew to really get things cooking on tracks like "Fever Dreams," "Turn To Stone" and "Challis (Marry The Devil's Daughter)" - and even these tracks take some time for the listener to warm up to.

The real creative spark musically starts with the hard rock ballad "As Long As It's Not About Love," a track that allows Dio some room to expand his singing range. And if you don't think this is the kind of song that Dio should be doing, give it a good hard listen and see if it doesn't change your mind. The following track, "Losing My Insanity," is the perfect follow-up that cranks the intensity level up to just the right pitch.

While I understand that Dio needed to complete the story that takes place in the songs (a story I'm still having troubles following), I question whether we really needed the two reprises - one of "Magica," one of "Lord Of The Last Day" - to close out the musical portion of this disc.

The real highlight on Magica is the 18-minute narrative featuring Dio telling the story of "Magica" - a tale that convinces me that if Dio ever chose to start writing science-fiction books, he'd be a best-seller. It's an engrossing tale between good and evil (not surprising, looking at the body of Dio's work), but the ending might be surprising to people. Normally, this kind of stuff bores me, but Dio makes things sound so convincing that it works - and 18 minutes passes far too quickly.

Listening to the narrative helps to put some of the contexts of the songs into perspective, but the ovall theme behind Magica's songs is still a tough one to follow. If you drop the idea of trying to follow the story behind the music, then you're left with a slightly above average Dio album. If you approach it as a concept album, you're probably going to be a little disappointed. And I'm not faulting Dio for this; in all my years of listening to music, I've heard only a handful of artists get concept albums right.

Magica is a decent enough outing from Dio and crew, but it does leave you with the feeling that the band in general could have done something spectacular with this disc. Why they didn't, I'll never comprehend. As for the songs, Dio has a knack for telling stories, but he might be better off focusing on the music than the stories behind the tunes.

Rating: C+

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© 2000 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Spitfire Records, and is used for informational purposes only.