Let's face it; when iconic former Black Sabbath/Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio released what would ultimately become his final solo studio offering Master Of The Moon (2004), the essence of the group's classic origins (i.e. Holy Diver, The Last In Line and Sacred Heart) had been irreparably lost. However, when guitarist Vivian Campbell, bassist Jimmy Bain and drummer Vinny Appice informally reconvened in 2012 with vocalist Andrew Freeman, the quasi-magical sparks of yore was again entirely palpable. Subsequently issuing their full-length debut Heavy Crown in 2016 to near-universal praise, the group would perform a series of sporadic tour dates before the untimely passing of Bain. Now, with the recruitment of bassist Phil Soussan (Ozzy Osbourne) and the release of the highly-anticipated--and aptly-titled--II officially upon us, the newly-rejuvenated 'Super Group' once again appears destined to carry on with the oft-storied legacies and spirits of their prototypical past.
On the stellar II (2019), an expertly assembled twelve song collection of ingeniously-executed Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, each track, beginning with the delightfully swaggering, hook-laden “Blackout The Sun” and the fist-pumping initial single “Landslide”, immediately commands the rapt and undivided attention of even the most jaded and unimaginative of listeners. Effortlessly delivering a seamless, primarily mid-tempo barrage of soaring, multi-octave vocals, blistering fretwork and imaginatively punishing rhythms, the group fires on all cylinders early and often. Deftly eradicating those still doubtful of their ability to persevere amid the less-than-friendly confines of the genre, they quickly distinguish themselves from their few legitimate contemporaries. Initially satiated throughout with stark elements of originality (most notably via Campbell, who shines with an arguably long-forgotten ferociousness), the group stomps and twists through each new 'quasi-retro' composition.
Continuing with the rumbling, histrionics-laden “Give Up The Ghost” and the Bluesy--albeit maddeningly infectious--“Sword from The Stone”, the airtight combination of vocalist Andrew Freeman (Hurricane, Lynch Mob, Thirty Stones), guitarist Vivian Campbell (Def Leppard, Shadow King, Whitesnake), ex-Billy Idol, Ozzy Osbourne and Vince Neil bassist Phil Soussan ('replacing' the irreplaceable Jimmy Bain) and drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio, Kill Devil Hill) steamroll ahead with a well-rehearsed ease. Wisely accentuating their already much-celebrated lyrical and compositional proficiency without burying the average listener amid an avalanche of virtuosic idiocies, the group effortlessly drives home each key focal point. Capitalizing on the wealth of their more-than-considerable pasts, particularly with the addition of Soussan, they improve upon the overall flow of Heavy Crown without sacrificing any elements of the ingeniousness Dio had been worshiped for.
Co-Produced and Mixed by the acclaimed Jeff Pilson (Dio, Dokken and Foreigner, to name only a few), other standouts, including the emotionally-overwrought gem “Love And War” and the equally impressive closer “The Light”, find the group reaching their full potential without, believe it or not, overly focusing on any particular era of Campbell and Appice's prototypical past. While one might effectively argue that nostalgia is one of the primary catalysts at the epicenter of the group's initial formation and success, the fruits of their labors remain a carefully-crafted overture to the often imitated but never duplicated bombast. Easily exceeding both Lock Up The Wolves (1990) and Angry Machines (1996) by essentially 'out-Dio-ing' the group's tepid later-day offerings (love 'em or loathe 'em, the Rowan Robertson and Tracy Grijalva eras left a great deal to be desired), their distilled, Hard Rock adaptations of the previously-mentioned holy trilogy is nothing short of extraordinary.
But why should you really care? Ultimately, that depends almost entirely on your particular point of view. With the majority--if not all--of the decidedly memorable wares contained herein further showcasing the legacy of the late Mr. Padavona, the group's still-burgeoning reputation(s) as a genuine and sincere creative force not to be ignored make the oft-mighty II a veritable instant classic. Even if you still somehow find yourself lest than enthralled with the group opting to forge ahead in the absence of the legendary Bain, they succeed by doing what they have always done best: repeatedly 'delivering' the proverbial 'goods'. Needless to say, if you've once again found yourself in search of a quasi-Old School reprieve from the painfully mindless din and clatter that is so often force fed en mass (i.e. Five Finger Death Punch and their like-minded brethren), then this, my friends, might just be the high octane counter-irritants for what it is that ails you. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.
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