Review by Paul Quinton
I don’t think anyone who’s a regular visitor to this website will need an introduction to the career and overall influence of the late Ronnie James Dio. Suffice it to say that he’s almost universally accepted as one of the greatest hard rock and metal vocalists of all time, and his contribution to three of the genre’s greatest albums, Heaven And Hell, Rainbow Rising and Holy Diver, is not only remarkable in itself, but the fact these monumental records are by three different bands must make this an almost unique achievement. His untimely death from cancer in 2010 came as Heaven and Hell, the project that resumed his time in Black Sabbath with Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, had released a cracking comeback album, The Devil You Know and were playing some breathtaking shows.
This release of Magica, the band’s 8th album, is part of Niji Entertainment Group’s thoughtful repackaging of the band’s catalogue begun in 2012 with Holy Diver and Last In Line. This particular album originally came out in 2000 and has been smartly remastered by Wyn Davis. It was a concept album based around the story of space travellers visiting a desolate, seemingly abandoned planet, and finding the story of an ancient civilisation destroyed by a battle between good magic and bad, with the individual songs linked by short spoken word or musical pieces, which creates a feeling of continuity. Musically, it’s good Dio, but not great Dio. It has its moments; ‘Fever Dreams’ comes over as a relative of ‘Man On The Silver Mountain’, and has a belting vocal; ‘Eriel’ reaches for epic status but just fails in its ambition; and the folky parts of ‘Losing My Insanity’ are also a standout. The man himself is on imperious form, giving us even more evidence – as if we needed it – of why he’s held in such reverence among rock vocalists. All his power is still there, and if this isn’t his best material, it’s still a Dio album, and that voice still has all its authority
One thing that’s distinguished this series of releases is the bonus material that’s padded out each album – and I use the word ‘padded’ in the best possible way. B-sides, extensive live material, it really has been an example for all labels to follow, and for ‘Magica’, there’s something quite unusual added to the package. The opening ‘track’ is a recording of Ronnie reading the short story around which this whole concept was based. In terms of literary merit, it has to be said, it wouldn’t have given Isaac Asimov or George R.R. Martin any sleepless nights, and Ronnie probably wouldn’t have made much of a living doing audiobooks, but that’s really not the point. It’s a unique companion to the album itself and as such is well worth having.
Elsewhere we have the Satriani-like instrumental ‘Annika’ (originally a bonus track for the Japanese release of the album), a selection of live versions of the album tracks recorded between 2000 and 2002, and best of all, a completely new Dio track. Called ‘Electra’, it was written for one of the two planned sequels to the original Magica album, and was recorded shortly before he died. In itself, it’s a solid Dio track with that unmistakeable epic feel, but more importantly, it’s one of the last things Ronnie ever recorded and, as guitarist Craig Goldy said, it’s a very poignant thing to listen to.
Niji Entertainment Group are doing Dio’s legacy proud with this series of re-releases, and in adding things we’ve never heard before, they’re giving fans of the great man something a little special. The album itself never reaches the heights of Holy Diver, but then very few albums do, and we still have the record of that voice and of one of heavy rock’s greatest artists. The word ‘legend’ is over-used these days, but in his case it’s completely justified.
Music: 7.5 out of 10
Package: 9 out of 10
- Lord Of The Last Day
- Fever Dreams
- Turn To Stone
- Feed My Head
- As Long As It’s Not About Love
- Losing My Insanity
- Magica (Reprise)
- The Magica Story (read by Ronnie James Dio)
- Annica (Japanese bonus track)
- Electra (previously unreleased
- Feed My Head (Hollywood House of Blues, 2000)
- Fever Dreams (Roseland Theatre, New York, 2002
- Lord of The Last Day (Roseland Theatre, New York, 2002
- As Long As it’s Not About Love (Irving Theatre, New York, 2000)
- Losing My Insanity (Irving Theatre, New York, 2000)