DIO - Angry Machines (1996) Jun 27, 2010 20:39:58 GMT -5
Post by Erik Rupp on Jun 27, 2010 20:39:58 GMT -5
The 1990's were a tough time for most traditional Heavy Metal bands. They had to drop from major labels to independents and had to scale back from playing arenas to theaters and large clubs.
DIO was no exception. After the disappointing (but predictable) sales results for Strange Highways (a good album) Warner Brothers dropped them. Enter new indie Mayhem Records, and, voila! DIO's got a new recording contract!
Working with an indie, though, meant a scaled back budget for recording the new album, something that can be heard only to a small degree on Angry Machines. Produced by Ronnie James Dio himself (along with engineer Wyn Davis), the album sounds raw, but not low budget. Tracy G's guitar tone is excellent, and the drums are well recorded and mixed.
And it's the drums which are the first things you hear on Angry Machines. Vinnie Appice's slow, almost plodding beat is a startling surprise. DIO albums always open with a fast song, right? Not this time. "Institutional Man," is a prime piece of Sabbath-esque sludge (and I mean that in a good way), with the only thing lacking being a memorable chorus melody. The riffs are strong, as is the vocal melody in the verse. "Institutional Man," is far better than almost anything on the Sabbath album out around the same time (Forbidden).
From a slow, sludgy, doomy song to an uptempo song with a near Thrash verse - that's the transition from, "Institutional Man," to, "Don't Tell the Kids." "Don't Tell," is a high energy song with a nice change of pace from verse to chorus (from frantic and almost out of control to merely uptempo). The verse is good, but the chorus is great. The really fast part of the song (the verse/solo) is moves along with such momentum that it almost trips over itself - almost but not quite. It's kind of like a driver taking a corner too fast in his car, but not quite fast enough to flip over. The chorus, on the other hand, is controlled and features one hell of a great riff and a really good vocal melody. Good stuff, to be sure.
"Black," is something of a tip of the hat to the Grunge scene. No, it's not a Grunge or Alternative song, but the chords used in the verse are very much in line with that kind of music. It's DIO, the band, moving forward again much like they did with the Strange Highways album. Ronnie was always a musician who liked taking on new styles and techniques. "Black," is another very good song, and is one that features Ronnie's trademark vocal melodies among some fairly odd chords in the verse, and an interesting chord progression/riff in the chorus.
Jeff Pilson played bass on Angry Machines, and his contributions are actually very good and quite unlike his playing with Dokken. The bass intro to, "Hunter of the Heart," is a great example. Slightly distorted and plucked like something out of a Metallica intro you'd have no idea that it was Pilson if you didn't read the credits. The song that follows is an angry, aggressive mid tempo song with some more fantastic vocal melodies from Ronnie. This is very much a product of the mid 90's, but not in a sell-out way. It reflects the darker, more dischordant styles that were popular in Rock at the time without imitating them. And it's just a great song.
I still don't quite know what to make of, "Stay Out of My Mind," even 14 years later. It's slow, almost disjointed, and very odd for DIO. It's also one of DIO's longest songs ever at over seven minutes in length. The chorus is the most derivative thing on the album as it sounds very Soundgarden-y (think, "Black Hole Sun"), but the verse is very much in line with Dehumanizer-era Black Sabbath. The bridge/pre-chorus part is exactly that - a bridge between the two styles. Ultimately, the song is too long (with a really odd middle section played by keyboard player Scott Warren doing the synth string thing, not unlike the similar part in the song, "No More Tears,"), and it's just a little too quirky to work on a DIO album. It's not a bad song, but it's just doesn't really fit in with the DIO style as well as the rest of the songs on the album do.
Another song showing the influence of the Alternative and Grunge styles is, "Big Sister," and again it's the verse that shows those influences the most. The chorus is again something that sounds like a progression from Dehumanizer. It's not a great song, but it is good. If the previous song had been an uptempo track with a more straightforward style then, "Big Sister," would have been much more effective.
One of the album's unquestioned highlights is, "Double Monday," which has a verse that sounds very much like classic DIO, and this time it's the chorus that's a little more odd - but this time in a more quirky, off time riff kind of way. There is even an acoustic guitar part in the middle - and this is a short song (under three minutes). Really, this is an EPIC song crammed into two minutes and fifty-five seconds. Where, "Stay Out of My Mind," should have been shorter, "Double Monday," should have been longer. It's not only one of the best tracks on the album, it's one of the best songs in the DIO catalog.
It's a good thing, then, that DIO follows it up with another album highlight in, "Golden Rules." It starts out as a twisted child's lullabye before becoming a great upper mid tempo track. More great riffing and great vocal melodies highlight this one. The musical marriage of Ronnie James Dio and Tracy G was actually a very successful one artistically. The fans' gripe about Tracy's seeming inability to play the old songs the way they were, "Supposed to be played," overshadowed his great contributions to the new DIO material on Strange Highways and Angry Machines. His rhythm guitar style was fresh and original, and the riffs he contributed to the DIO albums were, more often than not, really, really good. He worked well with Ronnie.
The last hard edged song on Angry Machines was, "Dying in America," which is an interesting, melodic, and thought provoking track. Yet again there are some 1990's sounding Grungy or Alternative sounding chords being used, but they are used here in a very straightforward, traditional way. This is a really good song, one that is fairly contemplative and moody at the same time that it is both heavy and melodic. It could have been a great closing track, but Dio had other ideas.
What other ideas? How about a mellow, moody, song? "This Is Your Life," is a dark version of the kind of ballad that Frank Sinatra might have sung in the late 50's or early 60's? Featuring Scott Warren and Ronnie James Dio - and only those two - it is a song that many have come to associate with Ronnie's passing and a fitting epitaph for the man. While the lyrics may not be a perfect fit for that kind of thing, they are close and it is easy to hear why so many fans get a little choked up while listening to it after his death. It's a great song.
Angry Machines is an album that is often derided as the worst in the DIO catalog, and while it isn't as good as Holy Diver or The Last In Line, or even Dream Evil it is a good album with a couple great tracks. It is well worth owning if you are a DIO fan.