[Review] Dio: Sacred Heart (1985)

How much does an album have to rock to make you forget there’s a smiling dragon on the cover? This much.

Kronomyth 3.0: Dragon Tales.

A crone’s hand holding a crystal ball holding a dragon holding a heart-shaped ruby? The 8th level half-elf cleric in me weeps for what was. I’m all for the devils & dragons imagery, don’t get me wrong, so long as the dragons aren’t telling me to follow my dreams. That, I believe, is the province of Dragon Tales.

This creeping cynicism isn’t something I felt on the first two albums. And let me be perfectly clear: Sacred Heart is just a notch below Holy Diver and The Last in Line in terms of heavy metal awesomeness. Ronnie James Dio is still a great songwriter. Vivian Campbell is still one of metal’s elite guitarists. Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice remain battle-sharpened stormtroopers. I’ve even got to give Claude Schnell props on this album. But there a few moments on Sacred Heart, albeit brief, where Dio feels like a band going through the motions.

Every Dio album starts out with a readymade concert favorite and King of Rock and Roll is no exception. It’s a great song; so great, in fact, that it doesn’t need the piped-in crowd noise to pump you up. The result feels contrived, and it’s one of several examples where Sacred Heart seems like manufactured (versus organic) evil. The epic title track is also a worthy classic, though I would have expected this as the album closer in keeping with their first two records. It’s on tracks like this where the keyboards are (finally) fully integrated into the arrangements. Another Lie and Rock ‘n’ Roll Children, both credited to Ronnie James Dio, are highly melodic for metal, which is a compliment and not a criticism. I don’t think Ronnie got enough credit for being a complete (and very talented) songwriter.

A few more cracks appear on the second side, all of which are ably filled by Vivian Campbell’s typically sterling guitar work. Hungry for Heaven is a highlight, and I’d nominate Like the Beat of a Heart for best guitar solo on the album. The closing Shoot Shoot, however, might be the worst Dio song to date, at least in terms of its message. (Remember, 1985 was the year that two teenagers shot themselves in the head, purportedly because of a Judas Priest song.) On the first two albums, Dio’s “rainbow in the dark” persona seemed more light than dark, but Sacred Heart can’t seem to decide whether it’s hopeful or hell-full. Much of the time, it feels like a dark record contending with its own conflicted heart.

As the last of the Vivian Campbell albums, Sacred Heart is still classic mid-eighties metal. That said, you won’t encounter it in any of the Top 500 metal album lists, mostly because Holy Diver and Last in Line are superior and earlier versions of the same formula. All of those lists are bunkum, though. If I ever find myself so bored, I’ll create a Top 500 or 1,000 somethings that represent a band’s best periods. So, instead of agonizing over whether Holy Diver or Last in Line is the better album (fool’s work for certain), I would combine the first three albums under the banner of “The Last Sacred Diver” and point listeners to those records, then let the numberers decide whether it deserves to be ranked higher or lower than “Blizzard of a Madman.”

Original elpee version

A1. King of Rock and Roll (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Jimmy Bain/Vivian Campbell) (3:49)
A2. Sacred Heart (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Jimmy Bain/Vivian Campbell) (6:27)
A3. Another Lie (Ronnie James Dio) (3:48)
A4. Rock ‘n’ Roll Children (Ronnie James Dio) (4:32)
B1. Hungry for Heaven (Ronnie James Dio/Jimmy Bain) (4:10)
B2. Like the Beat of a Heart (Ronnie James Dio/Jimmy Bain) (4:24)
B3. Just Another Day (Ronnie James Dio/Vivian Campbell) (3:23)
B4. Fallen Angels (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Jimmy Bain/Vivian Campbell) (3:57)
B5. Shoot Shoot (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Jimmy Bain/Vivian Campbell) (4:20)

2CD bonus disc
B1. Hide in the Rainbow
B2. We Rock (live)
B3. Last in Line (live)
B4. Like the Beat of a Heart (live)
Intermission (live tracks)
B5. King of Rock and Roll
B6. Rainbow in the Dark
B7. Sacred Heart
B8. Time to Burn
B9. Medley: Rock ‘n’ Roll Children / Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll / Man on the Silver Mountain
B10. We Rock

The Players

Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Vinny Appice (drums), Jimmy Bain (bass), Vivian Campbell (guitar), Claude Schnell (keyboards). Produced by Ronnie James Dio; engineered by Angelo Arcuri.

The Pictures

Illustration by Robert Florczak.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on August 13, 1985 in the US (Warner Bros., 25292-1/4), the UK (Vertigo, VERH/VERHC 30), Argentina (27272/67272), Canada (Warner Bros., 92 52921/4), Europe and Korea (Vertigo, 824 848) and Japan (Vertigo, 28PP-1008) with picture innersleeve. Reached #4 on the UK charts and #29 on the US charts (RIAA-certified gold record).

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in March 1988 in the US (Warner Bros., 25292).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the Netherlands (Vertigo, 824 848-2).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc on December 5, 1991 in Japan (Vertigo, PHCR-6041).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on November 6, 1994 in Japan (Phonogram, PHCR 4128).
  5. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 2002 in Japan (Vertigo, UICY-3729).
  6. Re-issued on compact disc in 2006 in Japan (Vertigo, UICY-6392).
  7. Re-issued on remastered compact disc in 2007 in Japan (Universal, UICY-93392).
  8. Re-packaged as Deluxe Expanded Edition on expanded 2CD in 2012 in Europe (2776762) with 4 bonus tracks + Intermission.
  9. Re-released as Deluxe Expanded Edition on expanded, super high material 2CD on December 23, 2020 in Japan (Universal, UICY-79358/9) with 4 bonus tracks + Intermission.
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