If you said that Ronnie James Dio was the greatest vocalist in metal history I’d have a hard time arguing with you. This year, in honor of his birthday, we decided to sit down and revisit all ten Dio albums. Below is how we’d rank them.
10. Angry Machines (1996)
Keep in mind as we work through this list that my radio co-host, The Candyman, and I could agree on one thing right from the start – there are no “bad” Dio records. However, some Dio records have certainly stood the test of time better than others. This is the an album where you could argue that there was no one track that should have definitely been included on any type of greatest hits album. Besides RJD’s vocals one of the hallmarks of Dio is the guitar work. It’s always one of first things I gravitated to every time I sat down with a Dio album. I’ll go on record here that Tracy G is hands down my least favorite Dio guitarist and this album would be Example A.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 10. Angry Machines – Overall this album just fails to excite the way most of Dio’s work does, making it not just a disappointing follow up to Strange Highways, but a low point in Dio’s musical career.
9. Master of the Moon (2004)
I can remember the first time I listened to this album in full I wasn’t sure if there was enough to distinguish one track from another. There are some really solid offerings here and you don’t need to be a completionist to own it. However, when I sat down with this record to listen in full for the first time in who knows how long I was once again struck by the notion that there wasn’t a ton that separated each track from the others. In fact, at one point I started to zone while getting some work done and didn’t realize I had ripped through three or four songs. Luckily for Dio, if this is their AC/DC album (you know where every song sounds the same to some extent) at least they wrote a decent song.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 9. Master of the Moon – Considering how good so many of Dio’s albums are, if an album does not really pack a huge punch, then it has to go towards the bottom of the list in my opinion.
8. Killing The Dragon (2002)
I can remember telling my wife once that she should listen to Opeth, and her response was “Do they sing about dragons and all that crap?” No, but RJD loved to drop a good dragon reference throughout his career and I’m pretty sure she had this record top of mind when she made that comment. Doug Aldrich makes his lone appearance playing guitar on a Dio studio album. While his performance is solid he had some mighty shoes to fill after the second departure of Craig Goldy, and for my tastes fell just short. (Goldy is arguably the most underrated Dio member during their entire run, as we’ll see shortly.) Dio himself puts in a fantastic performance on this record, sounding wholly rejuvenated. Possibly more than on any later era Dio album RJD carries the band from song to song.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 8. Killing The Dragon – There are a few songs that could easily be seen on a “best of Dio” compilation, and overall I’d say there are no bad songs here, just a few which don’t pack as much of a punch as others. Ranking these albums is so difficult that even just one or two mediocre moments knocks it down a few places.
7. Sacred Heart (1985)
For me this is easily the weakest Dio album from the 1980s. You could argue that this album gets the shaft because it was sandwiched between two of the greatest Dio albums of all-time. However, I’d argue that’s only part of the issue. The cracks were clearly starting to show between band members, specifically RJD and Vivian Campbell. The whole album feels disjointed and frankly uninspired, especially when compared to what this line-up produced before it. Still, despite everything this album had working against it there’s a lot to love, and songs like the title track and “Like the Beat of a Heart” are worth having on your Dio shuffle.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 7. Lock Up The Wolves – On a normal Dio record there is a nice mix of faster, slower and mid tempo songs, but here the majority of the album is mid or slower tempo, with only one song really picking up speed. On some tracks this really works, giving a great bluesy, almost doomy vibe, on others though it just feels a bit sluggish.
6. Strange Highways (1993)
The 1990s were a weird time for metal’s legacy acts. While the underground was growing more extreme and more experimental, what was being peddled through the mainstream went from amazing to absolute trash faster than you can say Nu-Metal. By the time the decade came to a close it seemed every great band was trending downward – Maiden and Priest mostly because of their new vocalists, but bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer because they were trying too hard to keep up with the trends. While you could argue Dio laid an egg three years later, by 1993 they were still churning out quality traditional metal. Strange Highways was an album that felt like the band was doubling down on what made them great to begin with in an effort to thumb their noses at current music trends. While nowhere near their most original record, looking back on this album and the time it was released I found a new appreciation for the heaviness it emits.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 6. Sacred Heart – Dio’s Sacred Heart is the least talked about and loved of the first four Dio albums, which in my opinion is more disappointing than the album is. I do agree it is a slight step down from the masterpieces that are Holy Diver and The Last in Line, something many blame the album’s “poppier” approach for. But make no mistake, this album is still Dio’s classic brand of traditional metal at heart.
5. Magica (2000)
You honestly could not have asked for a better return to form after 1996’s Angry Machines than this album. It could have been very easy for Dio to continue down a dark path that would have lead this outfit to become a shell of themselves, instead Magica kicked off a new decade by returning to what made the classic Dio line-up so unstoppable – thick, crushing riffs, a steamroller rhythm section, and one of the best voices in metal history giving one of his most underrated performances. Please also note this album marked the return of the aforementioned Craig Goldy on guitars, his first album since 1987’s Dream Evil. It’s not a coincidence that this would be one of Dio’s best albums since that offering.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 5. Strange Highways – This is Dio’s angriest and doomiest album, and I can vibe with it. This album continues the slower pace of its predecessor Lock up the Wolves, to an extent, but does it better, due in part to replacing the bluesier elements in favor of straight up doom.
4. Lock Up The Wolves (1990)
This is going to be where The Candyman and I have our biggest disagreement on this list. I knew going into this exercise that I liked this record, but I think I had forgotten how much. (Or perhaps its just aged well over time.) Whatever the reason, I found myself really engaged with this record. The songs waver back and forth from catchy trad metal to thick, meaty songs that walk the line into doom territory. The title track alone is one of the heaviest songs that Dio produced in the ’90s. I’m all over this record and I’ll go on record as calling it the most underrated album of their entire discography.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 4. Magica – One of the things that made me fall in love with Dio when I was younger is the epic nature of his music. His ’80s output has synth for atmosphere, and speaks of epic tales, but his ’90s output lacked all of that (no synth really, and overall a slower, doomier pace). Don’t get me wrong, if you know me you know I love doom, but when it comes to Dio, the more epic the better.
3. Dream Evil (1987)
The toughest decision I had to make on this list was how to rank my #2 and #3 albums. I went back and forth several times until finally pulling the trigger. While the next album on this list has more truly classic songs, I would argue this album is more consistent. There isn’t a single song on this album I would think to skip, and it has grown stronger and stronger with each listen over the years. I remember reading somewhere that a lot of people felt that Vivian Campbell could never be properly replaced in Dio. That’s a straight cap as the kids like to say these days. Some of the finest guitar work from ’80s Dio appears on this record, courtesy of Craig Goldy once again.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 3. The Last In Line – With The Last in Line, Dio managed to make an album that stands as a worthy follow up to Holy Diver, which is an impressive feat in itself.
2. The Last In Line (1984)
Forget for a moment that the title track alone is undoubtedly one of the greatest songs in metal history. Actually, on second thought, don’t forget that because it’s literally the reason I bumped this album up to the #2 slot on this list. When this album is on – “We Rock”, “Breathless”, “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” – it is virtually unbeatable. While not as consistently good as its predecessor, and not as overall consistent as Dream Evil, there’s a reason that The Last In Line has long been considered a genre classic. The highs on this record are mountainous and overshadow any minor foibles you could uncover.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 2. Dream Evil – I think this is a perfect album, every track on it is perfect (same with The Last in Line though, which is what makes this a hard ranking), and it just has a really incredible vibe. Another masterpiece by one of the greatest figures in all of metal.
1. Holy Diver (1983)
What can be written about this record that hasn’t already been chronicled a hundred different ways? Honestly, not much. Whenever you stumble across one of these ‘greatest metal albums’ lists you can bet the farm that Holy Diver is going to be present, and with good reason. Obviously some of Dio’s most famous songs live here, but it’s not just the title track or “Rainbow In The Dark” that make this album so great. The entire record is inspired, and builds to this phenomenal crescendo, finishing with arguably the heaviest song Dio ever penned, “Shame on the Night”. (Which also happens to be my personal favorite Dio tune.) Any metal fan worth their salt should have this album on their short list of greats.
The Candyman’s Ranking: 1. Holy Diver – The whole album from front to back consistently delivers powerful, epic traditional metal (even “Rainbow in the Dark” which Dio hated and thought was too poppy is a good song in my opinion). The influence this album has had on metal, especially of the traditional and power varieties is easy to see to this day.