LAST IN LINE 'Heavy Crown'
(Frontiers Records Srl)
Release date: 19th February 2016
When the original musicians from the classic Dio albums, plus vocalist Andrew Freeman, announced last year that they were delivering an album of brand new material, there was a lot of anticipation from those who had seen Last In Line live.
Initially formed as a way of keeping the music of Ronnie James Dio on the road and to recreate the classic sound of the early 80s albums they have now become a band in their own right.
Still, they are absolutely entwined with Dio's name and catalogue, so the association will always remain but they have shown that they are another branch of the family tree, not merely bringing in a replacement vocalist.
In a very sad twist to the tale, with bassist and songwriter Jimmy Bain passing away on the Def Leppard's 'Hysteria On The High Seas' Cruise last month, the promotional period for 'Heavy Crown' ought to have been loaded with anticipation for the future, but instead it's serving as his epitaph.
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'Heavy Crown is written jointly by all band members and is a real corker of an album - majestic, hard, heavy and melodic. From the classic leanings of traditional Metal in 'Orange Glow' and 'Martyr', to the powerful 'Starmaker' to the anthemic 'The Sickness' and all points in between this is well-crafted and played by a band with obvious chemistry.
'Blame It On Me' is the perfect example of this, with a driving hook reminiscent of one of the key figures from Jesus Christ Superstar, it showcases every member brilliantly using open spaces to great effect.
Throughout, Viv Campbell's guitar playing is as classy ever, always finding a corner to throw in an inventive phrase and the rhythm section of Vinnie Appice and Jimmy Bain is a hard-hitting profusion of joy, albeit a poignant one under the circumstances.
Freeman also does an excellent job here full stop – no "as a replacement" or "considering the shoes he's stepped into". He's an excellent vocalist working with excellent material whose vocals are strong and rich and do the music perfect justice.
Even with hindsight it's a stretch to think that the lyrics foretold Bain's death and that the album contains a Bowie-like message of farewell, but there are times when they do pull you up – moments like the spoken "though we may die – today we live" at the end of 'Revolution', and there's a whole track called 'Already Dead' - and more besides.
Of course death and related themes are no strangers to rock and Metal music and there are many more layers and aspects to this album which are revealed on repeated listening.
'Heavy Crown' is classic and timeless, the band and producer Jeff Pilson have done themselves proud. It will appeal to Dio fans but it is not stuck in the past – it is in the spirit of Dio but also a natural evolution.
At the time of writing the expected tour is not happening, but Last in Line will honour the headline slot at Frontiers Rock Festival in Italy in April, with a bassist yet to be announced. I hope that these songs continue to find an outlet as they are far too good to be lost in time.