Our Top 10 Ronnie James Dio albums list looks at the solo albums of one of the most legendary heavy metal voices of all time. He may only have stood 5’4″ in his bare feet, but Ronnie James Dio’s vocal performances always towered above the competition. His work ethic, meanwhile, was enough to leave them for dust. As if his high-profile stints with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Elf, and Heaven and Hell weren’t enough to keep him out of mischief, he also managed to whip out 10 albums with his self-named band. Not every Dio album was a roaring success, but those that were set the template for every metal record that followed. Here’s the proof.
#10 – Lock Up The Wolves
In 1990, Ronnie James Dio embraced the new decade with a complete shake-up of Dio’s lineup. Teenage guitarist Rowan Robertson was recruited, along with former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright, bassist Teddy Cook and keyboardist Jens Johansson. The intentions may have been good, but the result wasn’t. Slow, meandering, and too far removed from the quintessential Dio sound to be wise, Lock Up The Wolves sounded like a band that had lost their way. Unsurprisingly, it failed to launch, becoming Dio’s lowest charting studio effort.
#9 – Angry Machines
By the mid-1990s, grunge was the new god. In an effort to stay relevant, Ronnie James Dio broke away from Dio’s tried and tested approach to try something new. The result, Angry Machines, simply doesn’t work. Rather than sounding innovative, the change in direction whiffs of desperation. There’s a scattering of gems (the piano-driven “This Is Your Life” is particularly beautiful) but there’s too much emphasis on big riffs and pounding rhythms and not enough on songwriting and melody. It’s not necessarily a bad listen, but it’s a far cry from a memorable one.
#8 – Master Of The Moon
Dio’s 10th and last studio album, Master Of The Moon, opens with the magnificent “One More for the Road,” a song that could easily compete with anything in Dio’s impressive back catalog. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. It’s not that all the songs are terrible (the complex “The Man Who Would Be King” easily ranks among his best), but there’s simply not enough of them to save the album from sliding into forgettable mediocrity.
#7 – Sacred Heart
Maybe it was the pressure of releasing three albums in as many years that did it. Maybe it was trying too hard to repeat the success of the first two. Whatever it was, Dio’s third album, Sacred Heart, failed to live up to expectations. The newly commercial hard rock angle may have attracted a new brand of fan, but for the old ones, it was a massive turn-off. There are a few nice moments (the epic opener “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the made-for MTV “Rock ‘n’ Roll Children”), but overall, there’s too much filler and not enough killer.
#6 – Strange Highways
After the Black Sabbath Dehumanizer reunion shuddered to a controversial end, Ronnie resurrected Dio alongside Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson, guitarist Tracy G, and long-time cohort, Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice. The dramas of the previous year seem to have taken their toll on Appice, who lacks his usual energy, but overall, Strange Highways is a solid effort. Ronnie is in fine voice (particularly on the powerful opener “Jesus, Mary & the Holy Ghost”), there’s plenty of killer riffs, and the band pulls together well as a unit. Key highlights include the blazing “Bring Down the Rain” and explosive “Give Her the Gun. ”
#5 – Killing The Dragon
After putting the disappointments of the 1990s behind them with their 2000 comeback album Magica, Dio continued their winning streak with 2002’s Killing The Dragon. There’s no attempt to reinvent the wheel, but predictability is never a bad thing when you’re dealing with a formula as powerful as Dio’s. On tracks like “Along Comes a Spider,” “Before the Fall,” and “Push”, the classic Dio sound is as heady as ever. Not every song is a success (the intentions of “Throw Away Children” might be good, but they don’t come to fruition) but there are enough gems to make it essential listening for die-hard Dio fans.
#4 – Dream Evil
Dio may have replaced original member Vivian Campbell with former Rough Cutt guitarist Craig Goldy for 1987’s Dream Evil, but everything else that made their previous albums so successful is intact. That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s just more of the same. Rather than rely solely on the usual combo of big riffs and pounding rhythms, Ronnie taps into his melodious side, even venturing into power ballad territory at times. A winning combination of traditional metal and radio-friendly pop-metal, it was their most approachable album to date.
#3 – Magica
Concept albums have the power to bring even the mightiest band to its knees. Magica, on the other hand, is a minor masterpiece. Released in 2000 as the band’s first album since the disappointing Angry Machines, it was rightly hailed as a comeback. Sales weren’t spectacular, but the songs were, moving from the punchy rock of “Fever Dreams” to the devastating doom of “Lord of the Last Day” and the potent emotion of “As Long as It’s Not About Love” with more energy than the band had shown in years. There are zero nods to what was happening elsewhere on the music scene at the time, but for fans of Dio’s trademark sound, it’s irresistible.
#2 – The Last In Line
Dio tackled the problem of the ‘difficult second album’ with The Last In Line, their first million-seller and an outstanding follow-up to Holy Diver. The classic lineup of Ronnie, guitarist Vivian Campbell, bassist Jimmy Bain, drummer Vinny Appice, and keyboardist Claude Schnell are on spectacular form, burning through classic cuts like “Mystery,” “We Rock” and the deliciously bombastic “Egypt (The Chains Are On)” like men on fire. Their signature sound wouldn’t always strike the right tone in the future, but this is where they perfect it.
#1 – Holy Diver
After his massive success with Rainbow and Black Sabbath, expectations for Ronnie’s first project as a headliner were running high. Suffice to say, Dio’s seminal debut, Holy Diver, didn’t disappoint. With the support of a couple of old buddies (ex Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain, ex-Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice) and the super talented Irish guitarist Vivian Campbell, Dio pulled out all the stops to create the perfect metal album. It’s got the hooks, the pyrotechnics, the crunchy production, the bravado, the bombast… and, of course, it’s got “Holy Diver” and “Rainbow in the Dark,” two of the finest metal songs of the decade. Stunning.