The Studio Album Collection: 1996 - 2004
(BMG/Niji Entertainment Group)
When vocalist Ronnie James Dio was unceremoniously ousted or, depending on the veracity of the source, willingly departed from Black Sabbath following the arguably ill-advised Dehumanizer (1992) reunion and the demise of his tenure with Warner Brothers, many questioned what lay ahead for the erstwhile Mr. Padavona. The wait, however, would be brief as he would quickly re-emerge with the delightfully visceral Angry Machines (1996) via a new deal with now-defunct Mayhem Records. While the offerings that would follow in it's wake (i.e., Magica, 2000, Killing The Dragon, 2002 and Master Of The Moon, 2004) would indeed serve as his final solo releases, the impact of these recordings remain an important chapter in his sprawling legacies. Fortunately, Niji Entertainment and rights management behemoth BMG has at last compiled what can only be described as the definitive statements regarding the final era of his solo career via The Studio Album Collection: 1996 - 2004.
On the brilliant The Studio Album Collection: 1996 - 2004 (2020), an expertly assembled four disc (or, in this case, four LP), seventy-eight song collection of classic Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the often swaggering lament “Institutional Man” the pleading, groove-laden “Stay Out Of My Mind” the somber, piano and string-driven “This Is Your Life” and the relentlessly pummeling tome “Lord Of The Last Day”, instantly commands the rapt and undivided attention of all parties involved. Deftly chronicling nearly every aspect of the frontman's curiously-overlooked 'later-day' studio works, the resulting blend of his soaring, multi-octave vocals, razor-sharp fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms repeatedly drive home each key focal point. Serving as a much-welcomed reminder of his impact on the genre as a whole, the earliest of auditory excursions seethe with a sense of urgency that, even a decade (!) after his untimely passing, remains almost entirely incomparable.
Continuing with the delightfully theatrical 'riff fest' “Eriel” the fist-pumping tirade “Losing My Insanity” the galloping throwback (à la Holy Diver and The Last In Line) “Killing The Dragon” and the oft-crushing--albeit maddeningly infectious--“Better In The Dark”, the airtight combinations of ex-Black Sabbath, Elf and Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, guitarists Tracy Grijalva (a.k.a. Tracy G of Love/Hate, Swift Kick and WWIII), Doug Aldrich and Craig Goldy (13th Floor, Giuffria, Rough Cutt) bassists Jimmy Bain and Jeff Pilson (Dokken, Lynch/Pilson, Foreigner), keyboardist Scott Warren and drummers Vinny Appice and Simon Wright (AC/DC, Operation: Mindcrime, Rhino Bucket) steamrolls ahead with a dreadfully sickening ease. Wisely maintaining a detailed and intense focus on the minutia of the group's golden years, the re-visiting of lesser-known materials such as the bonus rarity “Electra” allows for a new appreciation for the magnitude of the frontman's solo métier.
Digitally Re-Mastered by the acclaimed Wyn Davis at his Total Access Recording (Black Flag, Great White, Unwritten Law), other standouts, including the thought-provoking call-to-arms “Cold Feet” the rumbling, hook-laden gem “One More For The Road” the emotionally-overwrought socioreligious commentary “The Man Who Would Be King” and the truly anthemic 'instant classic' “Death By Love”, only further re-enforce the frontman's legendarily well-deserved reputation as bona fide creative and commercial force not to be ignored. An exemplar befitting of his storied legacy, the end result(s) of this undoubtedly painstaking undertaking is nothing short of extraordinary. While obviously far too exhaustive in scope to accurately dissect within such an arguably limited forum, The Studio Album Collection: 1996 - 2004 ultimately offers both die-hard completists and the uninitiated alike the opportunity to wholeheartedly participate in this must-have for any genuine and sincere Dio enthusiast.
But is it really worth it? Absolutely! Serving as the ideal accompaniment to the equally ingenious A Decade Of Dio 1983 - 1993, the majority--if not all--of the woefully-underrated wares contained herein remain entirely deserving of the highest of critical accolades. Even if you somehow still find yourself less than enthralled with the perceived decline in quality with the group's post-Strange Highways (1993) offerings, one must, at the very least, sincerely admire the group's ability to boldly forge onward within what must be described as a less-than-hospitable commercial environment. Love 'em or loathe 'em, this is quite possibly as good as 'Old School' Metal gets. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a proverbial stroll down memory lane that doesn't involve embracing a morbidly obese expanse of hairspray and mascara-encrusted Velveeta, then this, my friends, might just be the high-octane counterirritant for whatever ails you. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.
The Studio Album Collection: 1996 - 2004 (2020)
A Decade Of Dio 1983 - 1993 (2016)
Live In London, Hammersmith Apollo 1993 (2014)
Finding The Sacred Heart: Live In Philly 1986 (2013)
Holy Diver: Live (2006)
Master Of The Moon (2004)
Killing The Dragon (2002)
Inferno: Last In Live (1998)
Angry Machines (1996)
Strange Highways (1993)
Lock Up The Wolves (1990)
Dream Evil (1987)
Intermission (EP) (1986)
Sacred Heart (1985)
The Last In Line (1984)
Holy Diver (1983)
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