LAST IN LINE – Heavy Crown

lilheavycIt really blows big time to have to start a review with something really tragic and sad. I’m talking about the passing of bass player Jimmy Bain, of course. He was just about to release his debut album with his new band Last In Line, the album that was supposed to be his comeback when cancer struck and took his life. That disgusting disease that keeps on taking lives in an ever flowing stream lately. So sad, so sad. And if that wasn’t enough, it was clear that Bain had been clean and sober for some 18 months, the first time in a long, long time, even though he had kicked his heroin habit many years ago. A good thing it wasn’t an OD that took his life, something I guess many feared was the case.But Jimmy will live forever in our hearts. Sleep well, mr Bassman! Last In Line were formed by ex Dio members Bain (also ex- Rainbow, WW III and Wild Horses), guitarist Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard, ex- Whitensake, Riverdogs, Shadow King), Vinny Appice (Resurrection Kings, ex- Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell, WW III, Kill Devil Hill, WAMI) and keyboard player Claude Schnell with new frontman Andrew Freeman (ex- Lynch Mob, Hurricane) as a tribute act to their former boss and friend Ronnie James Dio before they decided to give it a go as a real band and release new music. But before that happened, Schnell jumped the ship, which means that the members on this record are 3/4 of the original Dio line-up that recorded the now classic masterpiece Holy Diver in 1983. That means that Holy Diver would probably be a better suited name for the band than Last In Line. Of course, when you have 3/4 of a band that appeared on three classic albums such as Holy Diver, The Last In Line (1984) and Sacred Heart (1984), some really high expectations comes along. It needs to be said that Appice and Bain were also part of the follow-up Dream Evil (1987)  and Appice played on both Strange Highways (1994) and Angry Machines (1996) and Bain was on Magica (2000) and Killing The Dragon (2002), none of them have the high quality of the three first ones, which might bring down the expectations somewhat. But no matter what you think, it sure is a big thing when the three of them reunites for the first time since Campbell jumped the Dio ship back in 1986. All three members were, together with Ronnie, a big part of the song writing for those three great records so it’s only fair that there are some big demands on the guys to perform both in high quality songs and a sound that brings the thoughts to the sound they had in Dio.

The opening track – and also the first video that came out like a month or so before the album – “Devil In Me” bodes extremely well for the rest of the album. The tune is total classic Dio, heavy but melodic with a killer vocal melody and if Freeman’s voice had sounded more like Ronnie James, this tune could have been an outtake from The Last In Line sessions. “Martyr” is also very much a Dio tune, although it rocks in a faster pace and it reminds me somewhat of “I Speed At Night”. Since said Dio tune never was one of my favorite Dio tunes, “Martyr” gets a bit lost on me. Good, but not great. “Starmaker” sounds a lot like Dio as well, but not in the vein of the first three classic albums, it have more in common with the later Dio albums. Still, it’s a damn good tune and it would have been a top song on any other Dio record made after Campbell signed his walking papers. “Burn This House Down” is an ok song, heavy and middle-tempoed and Appice’s drumming style and files plus Campbell’s riffing brings thoughts back to the glory days, but the fact is, this tune would never have made the track list on any of Dio’s classic records. “I Am Revolution” is another speeder with Dio flashbacks, but again, this is just standard metal, nothing out of the ordinary and easily forgotten. “Blame It On Me” however, brings the quality up many notches, going back to the Holy Diver days and I have no problem what so ever hearing Ronnie sing this. For the first time on the record, I can spot the shadow of Dio in Freeman’s voice. This is really great stuff. On some editions a bonus track shows up right in the middle of the track list. This one is called “In Flames” and it earns its place as a bonus track. The song passes by pretty much unnoticed and is nothing I would put up any extra green for. It’s ok, but a standard rocker with extra nothing. Even though “Already Dead” provides us with classic Dio sounds and even a nod towards Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer days, it doesn’t move me at all. Nothing sticks and I have forgotten the song already by the second the song ended. The song is, pardon the pun, already dead. “Curse The Day” brings the band back up on a higher level of quality again. It is heavy, slow and with a sludgy beat that brings us back to 1983 and the melody the strikes hard. Freeman brings another amazing vocal performance on it as well. “Orange Glow” doesn’t really stick at first listen, but already by the second one, it has grown to be a real killer. For the first time, the Dio influence isn’t that obvious and it holds a more general hard rock / heavy metal vibe which actually makes it stand out here. The title track is a good song, but I can’t really get a grip on it and it just doesn’t seem to lift which is too bad as it holds a big potential. The closing track “The Sickness” is a song that borders to a metal ballad, but very distinct and direct. With a big atmosphere and a great melody, it is one of the record’s finest moments. Some editions also holds an acoustic version of the title track that for some reason works better than the original version. It’s catchier this way and it makes it more up front – the dynamics comes across more clear.

I have to admit that I’m a bit disappointed, I had expected more out of this album. The problem isn’t the musicians performances or the in-your-face production signed Jeff Pilson (bass player ex- Dokken, Foreigner and yes, one album (Strange Highways) with Dio), no, what I’m missing here is the brilliant arrangements and the awesome melodies that Dio had on the classic records that involved the members here. I’m not saying that Last In Line should have made a Dio record, but in all fairness, this band was formed as a tribute to Dio and the way the songs are written and arranged here – and played, for that matter – it stands pretty clear that making a record that put Dio to mind was the case. But I’m missing epic pieces of music like “Egypt” and “Sacred Heart”, I’m missing catchy pop metal pieces like “Rainbow In The Dark”, “Mystery”, “Hungry For Heaven” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Children” and where are ball busters like “Straight Through The Heart” and “Invisible”? And When Dio did fast rockers like “We Rock”, “Stand Up And Shout” or “King Of Rock And Roll”, they stuck right away. I’m not saying that Last In Line should re-write these songs by any means, but those songs had an impact and are memorable and timeless and I had such high hopes that this album would include more of that vibe. When it comes to the odd man out here, singer Andrew Freeman, I think it’s great that the guy went with a guy that’s not a Dio-clone, but a guy that have his own style and you can’t argue the fact that the guy is a brilliant singer – he does a brilliant job here. If this album will be both Last In Line’s debut and their final call is too early to tell, but with Bain gone, it sure would feel weird to keep calling the band Last in Line. Too bad because there sure is an endless stream of potential here and who knows what the guys would have come up with after some touring and getting to know each other musically again. To sum it up, this is a good album, but unfortunately not a great one.

6/10

Tracklist:

1. Devil In Me
2. Martyr
3. Starmaker
4. Burn This House Down
5. I Am Revolution
6. Blame It On Me
7. In Flames (bonus track)
8. Already Dead
9. Curse The Day
10. Orange Glow
11. Heavy Crown
12. The Sickness
13. Heavy Crown (Acoustic Version)

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