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Last-in-Line-Heavy-Crown-Review-2015

LAST IN LINE - HEAVY CROWN - ALBUM REVIEW

Frontiers Records | February 19 2016

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What an apt title for an album by a band formed by three of the original members of Ronnie James Dio’s DIO, and taking their name from that band’s second studio release (they also of course played on Dio’s debut ‘Holy Diver’ and 1985’s ‘Sacred Heart’ before Campbell left for rather acrimoniously and joined Whitesnake in 1986, leaving Bain and Appice to play with Craig Goldie on 1987’s ‘Dream Evil’).


Those original members – Vivian Campbell (guitar); Vinny Appice (drums) and Jimmy Bain (bass) are joined here by vocalist Andrew Freeman (formerly of Hurricane and Lynch Mob and who we last saw playing the ‘Raiding the Rock Vault’ show in Vegas) for an album that promises to “bring back Hard Rock to fans who can’t get enough of the real thing”. Interestingly the band parted ways with the remaining original ‘Last in Line’ member for undisclosed reasons earlier in the year - keyboardist Claude Schell who played with Dio for almost seven years and now resides in San Francisco.


Originally formed with the idea of getting together to play those Dio songs they wrote and recorded with Ronnie in the early 80’s Frontiers Records offered them a shot at recording new material and we are rather glad they did.


The premise behind this album as Campbell states was to “…enter the studio to write this new album in the very same spirit as we did the Holy Diver album…”


First things first Freeman is no Dio sound-alike but he has a great rock voice with plenty of power and no little soul. On opening track ‘Devil in Me’ he succeeds in selling what is actually a rather great song that certainly smells a lot like vintage Dio.  The big question of course is can they keep it up?


‘Martyr’ that follows pumps the pedal to the floor with the hoped for abandon of great classic rock, whilst ‘Starmaker’ takes things down a notch, but is still full of the sort of power and dynamics you would expect from a band made in Dio’s (the band’s) image, it’s great classic rock that smacks of an age before genre tags, the internet and cellphones, when people anticipated the release of an album an visited those modern-day anachronisms – record stores (google them!)…  


‘Burn This House Down’ stays mid-tempo and smolders, with Freeman phrasing as Ronnie might have, but without the sheer force of Dio’s voice and it’s perhaps here you realise it’s impossible not to immediately judge this release against Dio’s classic catalogue try as you might.  


‘I Am Revolution’ again hits the accelerator rather pleasingly, and as Freeman wails you can’t help but feel the shadow of a Ronnie vocal in the back of your mind, it’s a song that just like what has come before manages somehow to capture the spirit of what the players have acknowledged they were trying to channel here.  

 

At the midpoint ‘Blame it on Me’ has a definite calculated vintage Dio feel and the word ‘cancer’ in the lyrics shrieks large given the nature of Dio’s demise and Campbell’s brush with the same bastard disease. It’s a powerful song that echoes vintage Dio as well as any here and has some great guitar and perhaps Freeman’s best vocal. The deluxe version of the album also includes a bonus track ‘In Flames’ rather interestingly positioned mid-album and which wasn’t included in our review copy.


After that slight disappointing absence ‘Already Dead’ burns nicely and ‘Curse the Day’ takes the mood right down before the guitar bursts through briefly and the song returns to its understated progression – it’s certainly not our favourite track here and whilst it’s a serviceable track it seems oddly at odds with most of the other songs here.


The oddly-titled ‘Orange Glow’ follows and again ups the dynamics, it’s a nice song but somehow manages to just miss the mark; on the other hand ‘Heavy Crown’ the title track is all about atmosphere, and it creates a great noise upping the tempo towards the chorus before falling away again, it certainly has something but with more of a modern Metal bearing it’s again a little out of kilter with the bulk of the album. You wonder on one hand if the tank is empty and on the other if this is a way forward for a band coming out of a rather large shadow of expectation.


Closer ‘The Sickness’ comes in slow and builds with a sense of real expectation, and it coalesques perfectly to build into one of the real gems of the album. It has just enough to make you feel ‘Last in Line’ can be more than just a tribute band and maybe has the desire to actually set out to complete its stated mission to “bring back Hard Rock to fans who can’t get enough of the real thing.


Does it capture the magic of those first few Dio albums? Of course no one can ever recapture those first few classic albums and ‘Heavy Crown’ is very much a first step on a path that we hope manages to both celebrate the past and pleasantly surprise with the new.

 

 

by Mark Rockpit

 

 


 

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