Recording information: Metro Mobile US, Hamburg, Europe; Office Studios, Van Nuys, CA; Total Access Recording, Redondo Beach, CA.
Photographers: Mark Weiss; John Harrell; Michael Butler; Gene Kirkland; Erica Pauley.
The Very Beast of Dio, Vol. 2 arrived two years after the beloved Ronnie James Dio's passing from stomach cancer, and 12 years after volume one, courtesy of the singer's estate's very own record label, Niji Entertainment. Conveniently (and to no one's surprise), the collection also picked up the historical thread precisely where its predecessor left off: with the expiration of Dio's lengthy contract with Warner Bros. following a string of decreasingly successful LPs and increasingly turbulent band lineups, as Ronnie vainly tried to use fresh blood to inject new life into his fading franchise. So it's notable that the great man chose to surround himself with veteran sidemen more often than not (e.g. Doug Aldrich, Jeff Pilson, Rudy Sarzo, Simon Wright, returning henchmen Craig Goldy, Jimmy Bain, and Vinnie Appice), throughout the subsequent, independent label-released efforts profiled here -- arguably for the betterment of the material. Said material dates as far back as 1996's Angry Machines, and carries on through 2000's Magica and 2002's Killing the Dragon before concluding with 2004's studio swan song Master of the Moon, taking in the odd rarity and live recording along the way. And, while it would be disingenuous to hold these tunes up against the monstrous hits of old (whether those released under the Dio banner proper, or past bands like Black Sabbath and Rainbow), their consistent head-banging quality showed a vast improvement over the comparable embarrassments of the late `80s and early `90s. Of course, it helps that last-ditch efforts to cross into the mainstream such as 2002's trite single "Rock and Roll" were wisely omitted (though a few, not quite as offensive attempts like "Push" and "One More for the Road" actually made the cut), and samples from the still somewhat confused Angry Machines (see the grunge-flavored "Black") kept to a bare minimum. This allows loyal fans to wax nostalgic over the much finer, certifiably metallic Dio hallmarks showcased on worthy career canon contenders such as "Along Came a Spider," "Lord of the Last Day," and the endearingly self-effacing "Killing the Dragon" (a reference to much mocked `80s stage prop, Denzel the Dragon). Rounding out the story are bonus tracks including the unreleased "Electra," which was abandoned along with parts two and three of the once planned Magica album trilogy (phew!), and Ronnie's good-time collaboration with cousin David "Rock" Feinstein (of the Rods, err, "fame") on "Metal Will Never Die." And in all seriousness, rose-tinted glasses removed, The Very Beast of Dio, Vol. 2 truly does Dio's formidable legacy surprisingly proud, by doing much to legitimize the underrated third and final act of his solo band's career, as it deserves. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia