[Review] Dio: Strange Highways (1993)

Re-charged by his reunion with Sabbath, Ronnie hits the road with a new band for his best album in years.

Kronomyth 7.0: Deuxmanizer.

This is essentially Dehumanizer Part Deux, in which Ronnie and Vinny take a sabbathical from overwrought 80s metal and plunge into the no-nonsense, neometal 90s. Although Jeff Pilson (Dokken) on bass is a great addition, the real upgrade is Tracy Grijalva (WW III) on guitar. There have been some cringeworthy axe replacements in the annals of metal, most of them the result of wanky hair metal one-upmanship. Tracy G is a revelation. In an age when most metal riffage might as well be plugged in by protools, Tracy G is in a constant state of fresh creation. He rarely overplays, reserves the lightning leads for short bursts of energy, lays down the molten riffs but also twists them into unique shapes through interesting sound choices.

With such a stellar lineup behind him, Ronnie sounds recharged and takes more chances than usual with vocal effects. Let’s face it: Dio albums had run into a rut of late. The opening “Jesus, Mary & The Holy Ghost” shakes off the chains of sleep and enters a new era of metal without fear. Strange Highways is a darker album than Dio albums past; organized religion is rejected, but Dio doesn’t offer any alternatives. No rainbow in the dark this time, just bad things happening to bad people while Dio tries to save his own skin.

The closing track sums it up as follows: “You always seem to find the light / But this time, the light is a fire / Bring down the rain.” I had the good fortune to see the Strange Highways tour in New York, and “loud” doesn’t begin to describe it. Although it’s an atypical album and thus polarizing among fans, I’d put this next in line after his first two records.

The Songs

A1. Jesus, Mary & The Holy Ghost (Ronnie James Dio/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (4:13)
A2. Firehead (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (4:06)
A3. Strange Highways (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (6:54)
A4. Hollywood Black (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva) (5:10)
A5. Evilution (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (5:37)
A6. Pain (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva) (4:14)
A7. One Foot in the Grave (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (4:01)
A8. Give Her the Gun (Ronnie James Dio/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (5:58)
A9. Blood From a Stone (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (4:14)
A10. Here’s to You (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (3:24)
A11. Bring Down the Rain (Ronnie James Dio/Vinny Appice/Tracy Grijalva/Jeff Pilson) (5:45)

The Players

Vinny Appice (drums), Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Tracy G (guitars), Jeff Pilson (bass & keyboards). Produced, engineered & mixed by Mike Fraser.

The Pictures

Illustration by Wil Rees. Photography by John Harrell. Art direction by Janet Levinson.

The Plastic

Released on compact disc and cassette in 1993 in Germany and the Netherlands (Vertigo, 518 486-2/4) and Japan (Vertigo, PHCR-4298) and on February 1, 1994 in the US (Reprise, 45527-2/4). Reached #142 on the US charts.

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