In 2011, the classic lineup that supported Ronnie James Dio on his epochal recordings “Holy Diver”, “Last in Line” and “Sacred Heart” had a jam reunion for fun. No doubt with the intent to heal from their leader’s passing the year prior. Magic obviously sparked inside that studio, for Vivian Campbell, Vinny Appice and the recently departed Jimmy Bain turned what could’ve been a mere tribute into a viable new band with new songs to share. “Heavy Crown” thus comes with a heavy heart as the metal world not only continues to vicariously mourn Ronnie through this project, it must directly grieve for Jimmy Bain, who left us only a short time ago.
This is truly a shame, because LAST IN LINE proved that it had the mojo again, as well as a lead singer with a promising future ahead, Andrew Freeman. They also had Jeff Pilson in league to help assemble the album’s songs, which sound not so much like any one band, but an encapsulation of early-to-mid-eighties power rock and heavy metal. Thus, “Heavy Crown” is a definite success on its own merits.
“Devil in Me” is a slow-moving monster that leads off what will be an emotional listen for most people. Jimmy Bain‘s winding bass lines hum solemnly behind the crashing slog in front of him. Andrew Freeman establishes right away he has the chops to hang with these legends. Though the chord patterns are fairly reminiscent of DIO, this track rings as its own beast with Vivian Campbell snaking his riffs and solos as exclamation points to the unhurried rhythm. Afterwards, Vinny Appice launches the fast-moving “Martyr” and later, “I Am Revolution” while the band builds a solid base from which Andrew Freeman can soar. Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice remain glued to one another as unyieldingly as they were back in the day, no matter the tempo. Yet set on speed, their continued effectiveness is impressive—accenting why Bain‘s death cuts so deep.
“Starmaker” feels like a classic DIO track, not just in title, but in its skulking yet melodic cavalcade of distortion and whumping rolls. As with the prior songs, “Starmaker” feels like a legit 1984 power metal blast, right down to a brisk pickup on the bridge and its super sharp choruses. For diehards, “Starmaker” will become an instant fan favorite. “Burn This House Down” doesn’t light it up tempo-wise, but it smacks hard enough. Vivian Campbell‘s solos are unquestioningly dirty and fiery on the song as they are on “The Sickness”, the stellar power ballad “Curse the Day” and the unfortunately titled “Already Dead”.
“Blame it On Me”, clocking in at 6:33, is one of the heaviest numbers on the album with Vivian Campbell and Jimmy Bain dropping some meaty and menacing chords. Andrew Freeman seizes the opportunity here to really dig deep and belt out to his fullest extent. When you hear his chant, “it’s a goddamn shame,” the bitter sentiment cuts deeper with the loss of Bain. The tough, stealthy grooves on “Orange Glow” could’ve readily sat on “Sacred Heart” or even an early DOKKEN album, which exhibits the fostering presence Jeff Pilson brought toward the manifesting of these songs. Likewise, “The Sickness” feels like it could’ve been married off to DOKKEN‘s “Back for the Attack”.
While listening to “Heavy Crown”, keep a fist in the air reserved each for Ronnie James Dio and Jimmy Bain. More importantly, observe just how strong these tunes are. LAST IN LINE stands for more than homage, even with one of its own now joining Dio in the great rock life beyond. Bain, Appice, Campbell and Freeman were met with a difficult challenge and they came through in a big way. We’re especially fortunate to have Bain‘s mark captured one last time.