"The Very Beast of Vol. 2"

(Niji Entertainment Group)

01. Killing the Dragon
02. Push
03. The Eyes
04. Along Comes A Spider
05. Better In The Dark
06. Fever Dreams
07. Black
08. Feed My Head
09. Shivers
10. Hunter Of The Heart (live)
11. One More For The Road
12. Lord Of The Last Day
13. Electra (bonus track)
14. As Long As It's Not About Love
15. This Is Your Life
16. Metal Will Never Die (bonus track)
17. Prisoner Of Paradise (bonus track)

RATING: 9/10

No doubt the Westboro Baptists have their calendars marked for the release date of this one.

It's been more than two years already since Ronnie James Dio left us and while metal continues on, there's a void left behind from his passing that's only filled by playing his music. The comfort we can take from Ronnie's death is that he went out kicking to an exodus of horn-tossed obligation. HEAVEN & HELL was more than a fine curtain call to an exalted career and Ronnie Dio's wherewithal to re-ignite his BLACK SABBATH mates was more than heroic. It was cathartic.

You'll hardly hear anyone argue against the greatness of RAINBOW and SABBATH with RJD at the helm, while his solo career can only be recounted as prolific. There are so many other heavy metal vocalists who've transitioned from band to band and can hardly make the same claims Ronnie has.

While the DIO band's post-"Dream Evil" albums may not have reaped the same generous support as the first four albums, they're not just for diehards only. "Magica" ranks high amongst Ronnie James Dio's faithful, while "Killing the Dragon" and "Master of the Moon" have more than a few moments of metal mojo in their own right. Even "Angry Machines" is an underappreciated album that began a cycle of mid-Nineties critical disfavor, albeit one might argue the music writers of the day had likewise written off "Strange Highways" and even "Lock Up the Wolves" beforehand.

Strange how time and circumstance alters points-of-view. To speak out against Ronnie James Dio since his death is considered heresy. Those Westboro Baptists screwed up royally by targeting one of the most embraced, authentically classy human beings who ever set foot on a stage. If you've spoken with or met Ronnie, you'll testify to his genuine kindness and humanity. Thus it's fitting a second retrospective of his recorded career hits us for re-examination, "The Very Beast of Vol. 2".

This compilation is one of the few that succeeds with its intentions by grabbing some of the choicest cuts of "Magica", "Angry Machines", "Killing the Dragon" and "Master of the Moon" and it includes two bonus songs recorded by Ronnie prior to his death plus an outtake from the "Master of the Moon" sessions. No, you're not going to find "Rainbow in the Dark", "We Rock", "The Last Line" or "Holy Diver". If you don't already own DIO's first four albums, then correct your unholy mistake and get them now, you heathen scum.

On "The Very Beast of Vol. 2" you'll get some hefty tracks that Ronnie's devout already own but will easily be consumed by newbies. "Fever Dreams" and "Feed My Head" from "Magica", "Shivers" and "The Eyes" from "Master of the Moon" the title track from "Killing the Dragon" and the meaty sonic stew of "Black" from "Angry Machines" cover a full range of dynamics from DIO that were criminally dismissed by many the first time around. Set in succession, they come off as more than a worthy survey of DIO's career.

"Push" from "Killing the Dragon" is reminiscent of the "Sacred Heart" era and its commercial drive could've made a case for another eighties movie soundtrack inclusion as "Hungry For Heaven" did for "Vision Quest" in 1985. The live version of "Hunter of the Heart" is brought over from the "Dio's Inferno: The Last in Live" and it serves as reminder what a dynamo Ronnie was in concert, a true king of the arena if there ever was one.

The three bonus cuts are "Electra" from his proposed "Magica II" album, "Metal Will Never Die", Dio's duet with David "Rock" Feinstein and THE RODS, and "The Prisoner of Paradise". You can hear traces of the weathering effects of the cancer that took Ronnie from us on "Electra" and "Metal Will Never Die", but he hits his high altos beautifully on "Electra" and the track is much a "Dream Evil" spirited monster with swirling synths and a righteous guitar solo by Doug Aldrich. No argument this one will be embraced by the metal community.

"The Prisoner of Paradise", recorded during the "Master of the Moon" cycle, is a nifty, straightforward closing number which slinks along without pretense. Ronnie might have thought it didn't have enough muscle to make the final cut on "Master of the Moon", yet its unassuming restraint serves the purposes of "The Very Beast of Vol. 2" perfectly. "The Prisoner of Paradise" trails away unexpectedly but with dignity, much like the man did himself. It's a shame Dio didn't get to finish his planned "Magica" trilogy but at least "Electra" gives us a taste of his mindset and we can take joy he was well in creative spirits with this sparkling swan song.

Don't dismiss "The Very Beast of Vol. 2" as a post-death cash cow. If that was this project's objective, then it would've had at the very least live cuts of Ronnie James Dio's most well-known selections. All the better this one doesn't. It's for Ronnie's true fans, his purists and those who wish to remember the legend at his prime, a prime that never ceased even in the face of death.


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