Ronnie James Dio has been a vital spirit in rock and roll since its birth out of soul, gospel and, of course, blues in the 1950s. Some of us who came to know him from his work in Black Sabbath, only to dig back in the archives, have become convinced, I'm sure, that he's not quite human, and although I know how old he is (not telling!), I like to imagine that Dio's been around in some form since music began.
Fantasy aside, which is exactly where the current album comes in, Dio returns to the hard rock mainstream of his mid-80s style, while at the same time incorporating some of the themes that began emerging around the time of the Dehumanizer album (his last with Sabbath), particularly the menacing prospect that digital technology may replace the soul of modern humans. From Angry Machines remains a sense of despair for the spirit of fantasy crushed from circuitry-laden hearts; yet, unlike "Black," the song which rejected Dio's sword and sorcery past for a new, fairly "realist" outlook, the magic that permeated his last album, the conceptual Magika, remains in place, tempered with more street-level concerns.
"Rock and Roll" redefines the standard by which Ronnie has made his career, and this dark, eerie composition stands right up there with anthems like "Stand Up and Shout" -- the legend may be bowed, but he's not broken. One minor cavil is warranted, however: granted that RDJ could evoke the latent horror in the "Sesame Street" song, his scary voice can't quite put over cryptic warnings like "Never cross the song police." Ronnie, what are you babbling about? This is a far cry from "Don't Talk To Strangers," which is still silly, but at least it's a watch-your-back, Stephen King kinda silly.
"Scream" is a killer track with some of his best lyrics and keenest, cunning changes. "Push" brings back old school Ronnie, recalling classics like "Straight Through the Heart" and "Hungry For Heaven"; "Before The Fall," with its first-rate electric organ break, summons up Rainbow's heydey, while painting a cautionary tale for aspiring rockers"; ditto "Along Comes A Spider". The truly poignant lament for runaway teens, "Throwaway Children," shines a searchlight into the dark side of Hollywood's fantasy factory and features a real children's chorus. "Cold Feet," an old-fashioned rocker, brings Dio's career full-circle with its evocation of Elf.
Dio's current lineup includes Doug Aldrich on guitars, and it's Aldrich's six-string touches that add the finishing sheen to the whole package, shredding fingers akin to Tony Iommi's yet less doomy and full of ripples. In summary: full of great cuts, Killing the Dragon makes beautiful new memories. Long Live Rock and Roll.