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Dio • Holy Diver - The Last In Line - Sacred Heart (Universal reissues 2012)

It's nearly two years now since the greatest hard rock singer of all time died. Ronnie James Dio, whether with Rainbow, Black Sabbath of his own band Dio, contributed some of the greatest moments in hard rock history. There aren't many musicians who become adjectives but Dio was one of them.

Now, the first three albums he recorded with his own band, after parting from Black Sabbath, are being reissued as double CD editions, chock full of fantastic music. Each one comes with a booklet notes from Malcolm Dome and the releases are endorsed by Ronnie’s widow Wendy Dio.

"Holy Diver" was the debut from Dio, released in 1983. It's widely regarded as his finest ever album under his own name, but you won't be surprised to learn that I disagree. Even at the time, as an over exciteable teenager I remember thinking through a cloud of cider that it sounded really flat. I'd heard most of his Rainbow and Sabbath albums by then, and I knew a rotten production when I heard it. There's no faulting some of the songs on offer, from the title track to 'Don't Talk To Strangers', but even today, a lot of it leaves me wanting more. However, over on the second CD there are some real goodies. A couple of single B-sides including the awesome 'Evil Eyes', a song that should have easily dislodged a number from the main album, as well as a set recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour with cracking versions of 'Man On The Silver Mountain' and 'Stand Up And Shout' the highlights. There's nothing the dedicated collector won't have, but it's a nice package.

"The Last in Line" was the second Dio studio album and, for me, remains one of the best moments in Dio history. It sounded so much bigger and louder, and had two epics in the shape of the title track and ‘Egypt ( The Chains are On)’. It's a fantastic album, one that should be more lauded than it is, and is the best of the reissues by far. Over on the second disc, you get the B-sides to the three singles taken from the albums, all live numbers with 'Don't Talk To Strangers' the best of the bunch. There's also a rough and ready set recorded at the Pinkpop festival, which has a raw excitement to it, that takes me right back to punching the air in row A that year.

1985 saw the arrival of album number three, "Sacred Heart", which was the peak of Dio success in the UK, The album went Top 5, and there were even a couple of hits in the shape of ‘Rock N’ Roll Children’ (complete with spectacularly bad video) and ‘Hungry for Heaven’. The tour even saw the arrival of Denzil The Dragon! It wasn't a bad album, but there was a bit too much filler alongside the likes of the title track and the singles. However, the package as a whole is a winner, as it also includes the whole of "Intermission", the stopgap live album that came out a wee while after, as well as the single B-sides and the fabulous 'Hide In The Rainbow' from the Dio EP. It's a bonus disc that really outshines its parent.

So, what's that, 62 tracks across 6 discs, with more than enough Dio to keep his disciples very happy. You can finally get rid of a couple of dodgy bootlegs, and sit back with happy memories of the man and his music. "I learned of your goals through dreams: a sacred heart, a wizard, a golden door."

review: Stuart A Hamilton
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