There's a lot of unfairness about the passing of Ronnie James Dio, but what's particularly criminal is that "Fever Dreams" from 2000's "Magica" wasn't the automatic hit it should've been.
There's something extra special about "Magica" that ranks it in succession behind "Holy Diver", "The Last in Line" and "Dream Evil". The return of guitarist Craig Goldy on "Magica" provided an auspicious spark, as did the inclusion of drummer Simon Wright and bassist Jimmy Bain. Universally, they're recognized as one of the DIO band's most formidable lineups.
"Magica" features some of Dio's most layered and passionate vocals, organized as a full-on concept album under the musical variations of RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH and his early solo work. "Magica" was a genuinely inspired outing if a bit bleak in translating Dio's fantastical good versus evil epic, which we've now come to learn since his death, was but one segment of a master plan trilogy. We're unlikely to ever hear the other intended "Magica" installments, that is, unless there's enough footage stashed away in the man's estate to assemble at a later date.
Thirteen years since its release, "Magica" returns in a two-disc deluxe edition with a handful of bootleg tracks, a Japanese-released single, "Annica" and the posthumous new addition to the "Magica" chronicles, "Electra", previously released last year on "The Very Beast of Vol. 2".
Ronnie and his "Magica" troupe left the metal world a score of gems including the champing stamper "Fever Dreams", which has long deserved airplay on FM rock, if only American radio would play something by him other than "Rainbow in the Dark". The clouting yet complex "Feed My Head" likewise should've received a better showcase despite its downbeat theme of eternal abandon. The "Eriel" and "Challis" couplet couldn't be more apposite in structure despite lyrically representing Dio's father and son figures within the fable of "Magica". "Eriel" plods and flogs like "Egypt (The Chains Are On)", while "Challis" busts out like a Ted Nugent type of wild child. The subtleties behind the oppressive feel to the former and the carefree rock-rambling of the latter is brilliant and intuitive on Ronnie's behalf, posited even with the threat of human extinction on the line in his story.
The album's most tender moment (along with "Otherworld") comes on "As Long As It's Not About Love", Dio's anti-ballad that reaches beyond superficiality for a higher meaning to human bonding. Far more romantic than your prototype love ode, the gorgeous intro from Craig Goldy sets up a yearning search for something transcendental, and this song remains one of Dio's most powerful performances on record.
The live bootleg tracks appearing on this expanded version of "Magica" are mostly for diehards, while the winding and mystical "Electra" insinuates a self-intended swan song or a preview of something bigger yet-to-be-released down the road. Naturally, the consummate moment of the album is the reading of "The Magica Story" by the man himself. Yes, it feels like a goulash of "The Lord of the Rings" and TOR pulp novels wrapped inside a heavy metal icon's construal. As if the medieval jaunt planted inside "Losing My Sanity" and the Gregorian chant linking "Lord of the Last Day" to "Fever Dreams" didn't give the same effect in audile form.
Nonetheless, fans will sidle up once more with a greater sense of appreciation now that "Magica"'s conjurer has faded into the ether along with Eriel, Challis, Annica and Shadowcast, along with a few mythical demons and dragons. From where he's ventured to next, it wouldn't be a surprise if Ronnie James Dio is looking upon his admirers with full intent of delivering the salvation chant "Sanasha Gorath Sollis Arcanna", would that he could cross the boundary between life and death.