I had such high hopes for this band. Let’s face it, three of the guys – guitarist Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Riverdogs, Shadow King), bassist Jimmy Bain (Rainbow, Wild Horses) and drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, WW III) – didn’t only play on but also helped to write the classic Dio albums Holy Diver (1983), The Last In Line (1984) and Sacred Heart (1985) and they were joined by big voice Andrew Freeman (Devil’s Hand, Lynch Mob, Hurricane) so it wasn’t any wonder my expectations on this project’s/band’s debut album Heavy Crown (2016) shot through the roof. Unfortunately, that album didn’t live up to my sky-rocketing expectations. Maybe I had set them too high because it wasn’t a bad album, I was just disappointed because I had thought it would be a real earthshaker. But it wasn’t. It was a pretty good album that style wise brought early Dio to mind but it was also a bit forgettable.
When the band now, almost three years later, follows it up with a new one, unimaginatively titled II, things have changed in the camp. The saddest thing was that Jimmy Bain lost his battle with cancer just when the debut was about to be released, which now leaves only two members of that legendary Dio line-up left, something that actually makes their band-name a bit less relevant. Joining Vivian, Vinny and Andrew was ex- Ozzy Osbourne, Beggars & Thieves, Billy Idol and Vince Neil bass player Phil Soussan – a good choice, I think. Just like Bain, Soussan have some song-writing skills and I had hoped that he would bring those into Last In Line so that they could make the album they should have made the first time around. That said, my expectations were more of normal proportions this time even though I still think these guys really should be able to shake me.
The dark and quite atmospheric opening intro is called just that, “Intro” and even though it does its job, why make it a track instead of a part of the real opener and latest single, “Black Out The Sun”? Said opener is a heavy and tough Metal tune that holds a slower pace and is quite monotone in its structure. It’s obvious that they’re aiming for an early Dio vibe here and sound-wise it works but quality wise, it’s a long way from the brilliance of the three first Dio albums. It’s quite riff-happy and the refrain is punchy enough so I give the song an ok even though it doesn’t really lasts for me. Second single “Landslide” is faster and pretty much in-your-face on a heavy and tough note. It’s sniffing around progressive arrangements but it’s not exactly Dream Theater were talking about here. With a chorus that’s aggressive and ballsy but not that memorable, the tune never really hits me and even though I wouldn’t call it bad, it’s not that thrilling either.
The album sure could have been granted a better start but with a title like “Gods And Tyrants” from guys like this, things really can’t go wrong, right? Well, it’s the best song so far – upbeat, heavy and moody with verses that are ballsy and rough and a refrain that’s a real jawbreaker but unfortunately it doesn’t rock my world. I’ll give it a “pretty good”. But things do get better with the leading single “Year Of The Gun”. Bouncy in a heavy way, a big groove and rough outlook, the tune’s memorable main-melody and striking chorus makes this the first winner on this record. Good one. Also on a good note, we get “Give Up The Ghost”, a heavy track in mid-pace that holds verses that are somewhat soft-ish and a striking refrain that sticks without being the least radio-friendly or hit-laden.
“The Unknown” holds a darker vibe and laid-back and atmospheric verses. It’s a riffy tune that brings on a dark Metal vibe and the refrain is big, beefy and melodic – catchy in a rough and kicking way. Very good and the finest track on the record. Viv’s and Vinny’s Dio past becomes very obvious in the slow, heavy and rhythmically hard-beating “Sword From The Stone”. Melodic and memorable, in the way that those Dio albums were melodic and memorable, the tune catches on pretty much by first listen. Still, it’s a good song that never makes it past “good”. “Electrified” is fast and kicking, a striking Metal tune. it’s quite aggressive but it also holds some Led Zeppelin-like riffing and a Classic Rock middle-break. The fact that it’s a classic Metal track, the variation makes for a different dynamic but as a song, it’s only ok and doesn’t quite keep what it promises – too forgettable!
“Love And War” brings on a blusier, Classic Rock groove, quite bouncy and a very effective rhythm – Soussan and Appice really works well together here. The tune holds an organic and down-to-earth sound-scape which makes it feel quite close. It also sports a refrain that’s really catchy without aiming for radio. Good stuff. “False Flag” is also Dio-like in both riffs and rhythm. Darker and edgy guitar riffs over a thunderous rhythm-section and on top comes a main-melody that’s memorable and a refrain that lifts the song further. There are some darker and slower passages that changes the dynamics of the track – very good. Closing track “The Light” starts off in a ballad mode, quite dreamy – a mode that returns later on in the song. After the balladry the guys lets it rip and takes the tune in a heavier and more bouncy direction with a meaty and thick groove. It works well as a closer as it also holds a memorable main melody and a pretty catchy refrain as well.
If you have read this far I guess you have guessed that this record didn’t really rattle my chain either – and it didn’t. Actually, I think this record is even weaker than the debut. I mean, it’s a pretty solid handiwork if you look to performance and musicianship and it’s not like I find the songs horrific, it’s just that to my ears, everything sounds bland and even when it comes to the songs I actually like while listening, nothing lingers. At all. It’s just so… forgettable. Where are the hooks? The crafty choruses? The melodies that you can’t get out of your head? And I’m not talking about writing hits, it’s not “Livin’ On A Prayer” I’m after here. Dio were a heavy band that still had melodies, hooks and big-ass refrains that nailed themselves to the brain without being the least poppy or radio-friendly but there’s nothing of the sort here. I’m not gonna slag Jeff Pilson who produced this record but a helping hand from an outside song writer could maybe do the trick for album # 3.
More Last In Line reviews:
2. Black Out The Sun
4. Gods And Tyrants
5. Year Of The Gun
6. Give Up The Ghost
7. The Unknown
8. Sword From The Stone
10. Love And War
11. False Flag
12. The Light