Last In Line: Heavy Crown (Frontiers) Vs Resurrection Kings: S/T (Frontiers)
For fans of traditional heavy metal, the arrival of Dio in 1983 was a pretty substantial event. The combination of a powerhouse of a band, a frontman who had already earned the status of legend and a stunning debut release that had critics foaming at the mouth. Sitting squarely in the same camp as Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest, Dio sat firmly in the centre, watching an array of evolving and existing genres shift all around them. On the one hand you had the burgeoning thrash movement, then the hair and glam metal of bands like Crue and Hanoi Rocks whilst the early shoots of more extreme outfits like Venom and Slayer pushed through. Meanwhile, long established (and slightly lumbering) rock outfits such as Kiss, Whitesnake and Rainbow continued to play whilst anxiously watching the new hungry upstarts like Def Leppard begin to make real waves.
Dio made their proper live debut at the 1983 Monsters of Rock at Castle Donington, second on the bill which also featured Diamond Head, Twisted Sister, ZZ Top, Meat Loaf and headliners Whitesnake. A full UK tour later that year saw the band roll into St David’s Hall on 4 November for the Holy Diver tour supported by Pete Way’s Waysted. A rabid Cardiff crowd witnessed the definitive Dio line up tear the place apart. Veterans Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice were accompanied by a rising star in hot-shot guitarist Vivian Campbell along with keyboardist Claude Schnell. A year later the band were back in South Wales promoting second album The Last in Line, along with a new American outfit called Queensryche in support.
Following RJD’s untimely passing in 2010, two main bands with Dio connections have been keeping the flame alive. Firstly there was the Dio Disciples, which featured former members Craig Goldy, Simon Wright and keyboard player Scott Warren amongst their number. Appice also played with the band during 2013-14. In 2012, the four remaining members of the classic Dio began gigging under the moniker Last In Line, with Andrew Freeman providing the vocals. As we now know, Jimmy Bain passed away early in 2016, just before the band released their debut album Heavy Crown. Around the same time, a separate project involving Appice and Goldy under the name Resurrection Kings also released their self-titled debut album. So in a change from the usual review method, let’s compare the two releases.
The first thing that struck me about Heavy Crown (8/10) was how clean the production sounds. Full marks to former Dokken and Dio bassist Jeff Pilson for the polished effort. Opener Devil In Me leaves you in little doubt of the Dio connection. Energetic riffs, a thumping solid rhythm section which sounds totally in synch and some scorching guitar work from Campbell all support Freeman’s classic rock delivery. The man has an astounding vocal range, incredibly powerful and melodic. You immediately think of singers such as Doogie White when you hear Freeman. Martyr is a faster paced track, short and sweet whilst Starmaker slows proceedings down and allows Freeman freedom to unleash the pipes. This might be the classic Dio type track on the album, with some superb guitar work from Campbell. Indeed, Campbell’s playing throughout the album is excellent, and you could be forgiven for wondering if a break from the day job has actually allowed him to really unleash. For a man who has been fighting cancer for the past two years, his energy is impressive; his soloing reminiscent of the sharp fluid guitar work of those two early Dio releases.
Resurrection Kings (7/10) also features Vinnie Appice on the drum stool; automatically guaranteeing a similar drum pattern and style to Last In Line. Campbell’s successor in Dio, Craig Goldy is the six string shooter whilst the bass is pounded by Sean McNab (Dokken, Great White). The voice of Resurrection Kings is provided by Chas West, who has time with Jake E Lee’s outfit Red Dragon Cartel amongst others. The self-titled release is produced by Alessandro Del Vecchio who has also managed to achieve a crisp big sound on this whooping 56 minute release.
Opener Distant Prayer sets the scene nicely; a stomping melodic rock track with a typically solid rhythm section supporting Goldy’s restrained yet technically flawless guitar work. Meanwhile some subtle keyboards help beef up the sound. Chad West is yet another vocalist who appears to have been around for a long time, and he has a voice which once again is suited to this type of music; clean, strong and powerful. Livin’ Out Loud is a generic rock track, and it is hear that you spot the difference. Resurrection Kings bears limited to no resemblance to the heritage of Dio. This is much lighter stuff and swings towards the AOR fluff of HEAT and FM with a pinch of Foreigner.
One of the most striking things about the original Dio line-up was the telepathic relationship between drummer Appice and bassist Jimmy Bain. That relationship is truly demonstrated again on Heavy Crown; just listen to the interplay on I Am Revolution which features some real steamroller drum action from Appice. The combination really allows Campbell to cut loose at every opportunity and he doesn’t miss the chance. Heavy Crown is a traditional heavy metal album. It’s not thrash, it’s often not that fast. It is drenched with melody and well-constructed songs in the style of Dio era Sabbath and the early Dio works. In Freeman, who has a notable CV including work with Lynch Mob, Last In Line has a particularly fine vocalist.
One of the most striking tracks on Heavy Crown is Already Dead, a runaway beat propelling the band forward with a Stand Up And Shout type riff and Dio style lyrics. Of course, just like many latter Dio releases, there are also a couple of fillers and Curse The Day is as stale as two-week old bread, Orange Glow is just ponderous and album closer The Sickness is weaker than a bag of newborn kittens. However, the band brings it home with the title track which is about as classic a heavy rock track as you’ll get.
The longest track on Resurrection Kings is Fallin’ For You, a six minute melodic rock stomp, sweet melody and vocal harmonies. West’s emotive voice really shines here. If you like your rock with a lighter touch then look no further; the layered synths really do smooth the edges. The more straightforward rockers which allow Goldy to show his chops are still saccharine laced; Don’t Have To Fight No More for example is straight out of latter day Whitesnake stable, with swathes of keyboards supporting rather than smothering the track.
Similar to Heavy Crown, a few of the tracks on Resurrection Kings are bland and generic; Path Of Love is tepid whilst Silent Wonder’s steady plod sits in the expected territory given the make-up of the band. Yes, think Dokken, Great White, Cinderella, Winger etc. and you’ll get the idea. If you get the bonus edition you also get the ghastly ballad Never Say Goodbye which is truly dire.
These releases have both similarities and vast differences. If you want your rock with a hard classic edge then plump for Last In Line stick. Resurrection Kings veer much more toward the AOR/melodic rock strata. In Campbell, Last In Line possess the more fluid guitarist whilst Goldy is just a little more restrained. Meanwhile Appice’s drum work is exemplary on both. He’s never been flash (unlike his big brother) but for steady no-nonsense stick work, he’s up there with the best of them. It appears unlikely that Last In Line will continue due to Bain’s death which is both understandable but also a shame. Resurrection Kings are likely to sit in with a huge swathe of other similar bands; solid but never really likely to set the world on fire.