Thursday, March 7, 2019

Album Review: Last In Line - II

Last In Line started as a fun side-project for ex-members of the original Dio band after the passing of Ronnie James Dio. Despite the bad blood and the unfortunate public rift between the musicians and their former leader, there was always one thing everyone could agree upon: the first two Dio records are among the greatest statements of the Heavy Rock idiom.

Quickly, the band grew from an informal jam to a bona fide international touring band, bringing the gospel of early eighties metal to the masses with the authenticity and legitimacy that only they can display. Things were going so well that they even started recording their own material, releasing an excellent debut (Heavy Crown) and playing all over the world.

Then tragedy struck: original bass player Jimmy Bain died of an undiagnosed cancer while on a cruise and the band recruited Phil Soussan, famous for having played with almost literally everyone, from Ozzy Osbourne to Johnny Hallyday.

Here we are a few years later, and with the release of their sophomore record they are out to prove that they are much more than just a Dio offshoot. Certainly, the riffs and grooves are indebted to the immortal classics of yore but this is a decidedly modern album, thanks in part to Jeff Pilson's muscular production.

I have to admit I wasn't sold on singer Andrew Freeman at first. He's a great vocalist for sure, but he seemed a little generic to me. And of course the main problem was... he is not Ronnie. Well, I'm happy to report that whatever reservations I had until now were dissipated after listening to II. Ronnie James Dio is dead, and I now realise that not using a clone like Tony Martin or Jorn Lande was the way to go. It seems Freeman has really found his voice, and the voice is a perfect fit for the melodies.

And it's a treat to hear Viv Campbell shred again and flex muscles that his day job as Def Leppard's rhythm guitarist don't allow him to. The interplay between his kick-ass metal riffs and Vinny Appice's heavy grooves was the foundation of Dio and thankfully it's still intact over thirty years later.

So obviously there are more than a few nods to their legacy: this style of writing and playing is what comes naturally to them. After all, they invented it. But this isn't a retread of old grounds: it's the continuation of an epic adventure which might have its roots in 1983 but is firmly planted in 2019.

Lyrically they don't deal with sword and sorcery, dungeons and dragons or heroic fantasy. These subjects might have been fun for 80's teenagers, but seem very dated today. And musically, they have assimilated all the evolutions of metal of the past thirty years.

There are many highlight: the aggression of Electrified or the Led Zeppelin vibe of Gods and Tyrants, the slow, groovy dirge of False Flag or the gospel-tinged heaviness of The Light which is sometimes reminiscent of King's X.

This is an excellent record from a classic band steeped in tradition but always looking ahead, a band that has overcome internal dissensions, lawsuits, line-up changes and even deaths and that has returned to claim its rightful Heavy Crown.

Check out our related content here:

The Last In Line @ le Trianon, Paris - 2016
R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio

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