Ronnie James Dio is gone. But the legacy and the players live on.
The loss of Ronnie James Dio was a critical blow to the hard rock and heavy metal community. However, in recent years, it has become clear that a number of the men who have played with Ronnie over the years want to honor his legacy.
Last in Line (named for a classic Ronnie James Dio song and album) is a band that combines classic Dio band members Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath), Jimmy Bain (Rainbow), and Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard), with new vocalist Andrew Freeman (Offspring, Lynch Mob, Raiding the Rock Vault). An earlier version of the band featured classic Dio band keyboardist Claude Schnell, but they parted ways with him recently, upon deciding to go in more of a guitar driven, hard rock-focused direction. Schnell will be missed, but at the same time I also respect the band’s decision in this regard.
Last in Line band performances up to recent times have been comprised of Dio songs from the first three albums (said shows still had Claude Schnell as a band member) but the band made an announcement that they were going to begin recording new, original material as well. Heavy Crown, the first album of original material from Last in Line, will be released in early 2016 on Frontiers Records.
“Devil in Me” is the first track from Heavy Crown to be released to the public, in the form of an online video featuring the band. With so many fans of the Ronnie James Dio legacy, expectations are high all around for this original material. How do Appice, Freeman, Bain, and Campbell fare on this track, and will it have fans all the more excited for the forthcoming album release?
I had no idea what to expect going into this song. Would these musicians simply try to mimic and recapture the old Dio sound, or would they go off on a tangent and do their own thing?
The answer is…. Something in between.
There are some distinct riffs here like we heard from Vivian Campbell back in the Dio band’s glory days, but the song is something just as different and unique as it is familiar. The lyrics are certainly Dio-esque in their subject matter, but Andrew Freeman scores points here for not mimicking Ronnie; instead opting to do things his own way. The tone of the song is one that rocks hard throughout, but it also has a bit of a Badlands-esque bluesy vibe to it as well; this is not surprising giving guitarist Campbell’s previous work with Riverdogs, a criminally underrated blues rock outfit.
Not to be outdone, of course, is the mighty rhythm section of bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice. Bain is a phenomenal bassist and songwriter alike whose work with Dio dates back to his years in Rainbow, including work on the classic Rainbow Rising record in 1976. And Vinny Appice…. I do not know how many bands this guy is in now, but I think I would have to use the fingers on both of my hands to count them all. Much like older brother Carmine, Vinny is a drummer that has lost nothing over the years, and is an absolute beast as he pounds away at the skins. His powerful drum work throughout this track will be one of its most noticeable aspects, and rightfully so.
Truth be told, I could NOT picture Ronnie James Dio singing this song, but that is actually a compliment. This fan for one, is amazed by how well the former Dio guys gel with Freeman (a vocalist who does his own thing rather than mimic Ronnie outright, and adapts to any rock and roll style well) and how well these men have united to create something that, while Dio-esque in its own way, largely stands on its own, free and independent of any past work these artists have done with any other band. It feels like revisiting an old friend, yet something entirely new at the same time.
If the purpose of “Devil in Me” being released as a video online prior to the album was to build anticipation for the Heavy Crown release next year, Frontiers Records and the band members have succeeded beautifully. Campbell, Bain, Appice, and Freeman are on fire here, demonstrating their musical prowess and then some, showing that this is no mere “Dio tribute.” This band may be called Last in Line, but I will be FIRST in line on release day when Heavy Crown hits stores in 2016. If you are a classic hard rock/heavy metal fan, I advise you to do the same. In the meantime, click the link below and check out this superb new track.