Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Dio "Magica"

I will admit to being a huge Ronnie James Dio fan, one of those fans who stand by the fact that he is one of the most important figures in heavy metal. For those who don’t know, after years of hanging around the music business with several incarnations of his first band, which would end with the title Elf, Ronnie was asked to join none other than Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore in his first post-Deep Purple band called Rainbow (or as the first album read, “Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow”). The band was essentially the Elf line-up just with Ritchie on guitar instead of guitarist David Feinstein. After various line-up changes (which continued after Ronnie left), Ronnie continued his climb to the heavy metal top by joining none other than Black Sabbath after the departure of original lead vocalist, some guy named Ozzy Osbourne. It was now that Ronnie gained the attention required to be a credible name in heavy metal. Having already started a popular transition while in Rainbow with his lyrics of wizards and sorcery, he brought this lyric style in to Sabbath’s sound, as well as the “devil horns” hand gesture which became the heavy metal symbol from that moment on.

After a few very successful years with the heavy metal titans, Ronnie left Sabbath over numerous misunderstandings and started his own band, simply called Dio. Now that Ronnie was finally the sole leader of a band, he hired his own musicians, who would all become (or already were) big names in the music business. Dio made an immediate impact with their debut album Holy Diver, which is still considered a classic to this day. The band pumped out great album after great album until Ronnie’s short reunion with Black Sabbath in the early 90’s, which didn’t last longer than an album and a tour after egos broke them up again.

Ronnie reunited Dio only to have some (but luckily not too many) problems finding a consistent line-up. This time around the band never managed to release an album that had as much impact as the bands first four albums, but still managed to remain relevant within the world of heavy metal. Ronnie would eventually once again rejoin Black Sabbath in 2007 and release a new album with them called The Devil You Know. This line-up was technically called Heaven and Hell due to legal issues, but no fan of the band has ever referred to this band as anything but Black Sabbath. It was in this time of performing with Black Sabbath than Ronnie developed stomach cancer and then passed away, leaving a hole in heavy metal too big for anyone to ever possibly fill.

Since his death, Ronnie’s widow Wendy Dio has continued to make sure that Ronnie’s name is not forgotten by releasing a few posthumous releases, particularly live albums/DVDs and compilations. Most recently in June of 2013, the release of the deluxe edition Dio’s 2000 album Magica was released.

Magica stands out as not only containing some of the finest tunes in Ronnie’s career, but it also marks the return of the bands second guitarist Craig Goldy, after the departure of Tracy G who performed on the previous two albums. It also marked the return of bassist Jimmy Bain, whose career with Ronnie goes as far back to Rainbow’s 1976 sophomore album Rising. As well the album featured mainstays drummer Simon Wright and keyboardist Scott Warren. Magica was, for the first time in Ronnie’s career, a concept album, essentially taking place in the eponymous medieval-esque planet.

Because it is a concept album, the song structures are a bit on the bizarre side. What I mean by this is something any listener will discover right from the first track, Discovery, which is not a song, but rather a robotic voice (heard at many points on the album) introducing the album and gaining information on this strange land called “Magica”. This leads in to the first actual song, titled Magica Theme, which is a short instrumental track that leads in to the first full song, titled Lord of the Last Day; a slow dark metal tune that gets straight to the point, not even taking a minute to get to the songs guitar solo. The songs middle section picks up into a melodic, slightly faster paced beat.

The album continues with Fever Dreams, continuing a very dark sound, darker than almost anything the band Dio has released. It is continued with Turn To Stone which, after a short guitar solo intro, turns in to a bit more of a faster paced song compared to the tracks that precede it. But it continues this very dark nature that the album seems to be consistent with. Feed My Head then takes a familiar Dio sound. Personally I feel it sounds like something that could have been on an album like 1987’s Dream Evil.

The next two tracks on the album are titled after the names of the characters in the albums story that they respectively concern. Eriel, whom in the story of Magica is considered the hero, is an epic seven minute song. Starting with an eerie heavy metal orchestral intro, the song turns in to the type of epic song that Ronnie has made a career of performing. Just like Stargazer from his Rainbow days, this song does through many different sections, including the long apocalyptic ending just like so many of Ronnie’s epics. This is song is followed by Challis, whom in the story of Magica is Eriel’s protégé, so to speak. This song is not an epic but rather more of a traditional heavy metal song.

As beautiful as Ronnie’s voice can be, he has rarely sung a ballad, particularly while singing in Dio. When in Rainbow he performed some of the most beautiful songs ever recorded such as Catch the Rainbow and Rainbow Eyes (For those who have never listened to Rainbow, no not all of their song titles contain the word “rainbow). Typically with Dio he would start a song or put a small segment in a song with his softer voice, such as the intro to Last in Line or the middle section to Egypt (The Chains Are On). On this album, we get the privilege of hearing that voice once again in the song As Long As It’s Not About Love. Though this track starts off very soft, it picks up slightly to be a tad more aggressive, but at every point of the song Ronnie sings from his heart in a way that no heavy metal singer has ever done.

Losing My Insanity experiments with different sounds like so many songs on this album have done. This time the song starts off with what sounds like a mandolin, or just an acoustic guitar, playing a tune that sounds like it belongs in a folklore fantasy world such as the world that this albums story portrays. The mandolin/acoustic riff eventually turns in to an electric guitar riff, which then turns the song in to another terrific heavy metal tune. This leads in to the last full song on the album; Otherworld. This song brings back the slow dark sound that started the album. I’ve always regarded this song as my least favourite from the album, but it fits on the album as well as even the songs I consider the best on the album fit in.

The album then ends with a couple of reprises, Magica [Reprise], which adds lyrics to the previous Magica Theme instrumental, and Lord of the Last Day [Reprise], which is merely a very shortened version of the previous track of the same name. Then the 20 minute Magica Story which is not a song, but Ronnie himself telling the story of Magica. This is a unique moment and it answers questions as to some of the songs on the album such as Turn to Stone.

Before Ronnie passed away, it was well known that he was working on a double disc sequel to this album titled simply Magica II & III. Unfortunately he passed away long before its completion, but in this recently released deluxe edition, two of the tracks have surfaced. Annica, which is simply a tremendous instrumental with Craig Goldy on lead guitar, and Electra, which is a six minute epic that was to tell the story of a newly introduced character to the story. This track features sometimes Dio guitarist and current full time Whitesnake guitarist Doug Aldrich on guitar. This song shows that had the Magica sequels been released, they would have been equally as terrific as the first Magica album. Ronnie’s voice sounds better than it did at most points on The Devil You Know (the last full album he ever released, during his final reunion with Black Sabbath).

We can be thankful that Ronnie did not die before his time. So many musicians, countless numbers of them in fact, passed away so young that we are left wondering what would have become of them had they lived. Ronnie luckily had a full life and career of making music. It just hurts knowing that he was so far from finished with making music when he passed. He had such an impact on heavy metal and everyone who ever knew him felt his magic. When I met Black Sabbath/Dio drummer Vinny Appice recently, and mentioned to him I had seen him perform twice live with Black Sabbath, it didn’t take him one second to say “good, so you’ve seen Ronnie”. That moment really showed how selfless Ronnie made even the most popular of musicians that he performed with.


Feed My Head” –­ It is difficult to pick a highlight from most Dio albums. Feed My Head I feel displays most of what Dio fans love about the band in general, and not what they will like about this album. As mentioned previously, it sounds like something that could have been released on the Dream Evil album. It features some of the dark aspects that continue through this album, but it’s the transition from being a heavy hitter to turning in to its soft middle section, reminding me personally of the middle section to 1984’s Egypt (The Chains Are On) that makes this a highlight. I’m not sure I’d call this the best track from the album, but if this were the first song someone to hear from the album, Dio fan or not, they would get the perfect idea of what the album is all about.



9 (Out of 10)


Track List:

"Magica Theme"
"Lord of the Last Day"
"Fever Dreams"
"Turn to Stone"  
"Feed My Head"  
"As Long as It's Not About Love"  
"Losing My Insanity"  
"Magica (Reprise)"
"Lord of the Last Day (Reprise)"
"Magica Story"

Disc 2:

"The Magica Story"  
"Feed My Head (official live bootleg)"  
"Fever Dreams (official live bootleg)"  
"Turn To Stone (official live bootleg)"  
"Lord Of The Last Day (official live bootleg)"  
"As Long As It's Not About Love (official live bootleg)"  
"Losing My Insanity (official live bootleg)"  


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