The hugely talented and sadly missed Ronnie James Dio (1942-2010) surely needs no introduction as the majority of hard rock and heavy metal fans out there are familiar with his name if not his actual music or the legendary bands that he participated in over the years, namely Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and Heaven and Hell (with the latter being Black Sabbath in all but name). When discussing the great man’s work and revered discography, most fans and listeners tend to favor the all-time classics and benchmark records such as Rising (1976) by Rainbow, Heaven and Hell (1980) by Black Sabbath, and the wildly creative debut offering by the DIO band entitled Holy Diver (1983). Others love and cherish the melodic flair of the near-flawless Dream Evil (1987) or the dark, evocative vibe of Sabbath’s The Mob Rules (1981). However, there is one relatively modern work of his that deserves both more praise and closer analysis, more specifically the concept album that is Magica, which was released by Spitfire Records back in March 2000.
The 90s were hard on a lot of heavy metal bands and that included DIO, which is a shame in that they released two of their very best albums during this time (Lock Up the Wolves from 1990 and Strange Highways from 1993), and following the lackluster and uninspired Angry Machines (1996), DIO kept touring for a couple of years before shuffling the line-up and getting down to the business of writing and arranging Ronnie’s first proper concept album as we were approaching the new millennium.
By 1999 the line-up consisted of two returning members, namely guitarist Craig Goldy and ex-Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain (R.I.P.), along with former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright and of course, Ronnie himself. The keyboards would be handled by Craig and Ronnie this time around. What eventually emerged in 2000 was stunning to behold. Simply put, Magica was a musical revelation when it came out and it generally garnered favorable reviews and heaps of praise from the fans. Many saw it as a return to form, but it was much more than that; it was an engaging and at times gripping (dark) fantasy narrative that was beautifully conveyed by means of epic riffs, soaring vocals, sweeping melodies, and a subtle sense of melancholy. Did I mention that the album artwork is exceptionally wicked too? By looking at it you can just tell that you are in for a breathtaking musical adventure.
Magica is truly steeped in a wonderfully strange and misty atmosphere and immersing oneself in it its glorious compositions is akin to embarking on a thrilling journey to unknown dimensions and otherworldly spheres. The confidence that is on display and the sheer power and bombast of the tracks are positively overwhelming and everything flows together seamlessly with the only miniscule flaw being that it could do with one more fast-paced track in order to add slightly more variety to the proceedings. The tender and heartfelt ballad ‘As Long as It’s Not About Love’ defies words and needs to be experienced while ‘Challis’ possesses a fantastic drive and an abundance of killer riffs. The final track is the actual narration of the storyline, which means that Ronnie is essentially doing a spoken-word piece with a moody ambient texture moving and floating in the background. It seems a fitting conclusion to the affair and wraps everything up nicely. In the words of author Mick Wall,
In 2000, [Ronnie James Dio] came back with one of the most extraordinary albums of his career: Magica. A concept album based on one of his own short stories, which he narrates, it combined all the most potent elements of his classic writing style – portents of doom; sigils from other worlds; dream interpretation and otherworldly nightscapes – with his more contemporary take on a world that barely deserves saving, but individuals that definitely deserve a second chance . . . Magica became his first significant independent hit in America, and his biggest European success for years. (334)
Yours truly had the pleasure of attending two DIO performances in Copenhagen in less than a year (September 2002 and July 2003) and the first one included ‘Fever Dreams’ and ‘Lord of the Last Day’ in the setlist whereas the latter contained only ‘Lord of the Last Day’ – two of the best and most memorable cuts from the album. They sounded phenomenal in a live setting, which is also evidenced by the superb live album from the Killing the Dragon tour entitled Evil or Divine, which was captured on tape in New York. The deluxe edition of Magica that is out there contains a handful of live renditions of the Magica studio material, so I suggest you look for a copy of that one.
Ronnie James Dio was incredibly proud of Magica and he often discussed his plans for two follow-up LPs, but sadly, that never happened. However, the majestic single named ‘Electra’ surfaced in 2010 and was intended to be a part of Magica parts II and III. So far, that the is the only material from the sequels to the Magica record that has surfaced, but whether or not there are other properly recorded tracks or perhaps even some cool-sounding demo versions from those sessions lying in the vault remains to be seen.
Magica stands tall and proud as one of the most accomplished, captivating, and melodically rich works by both DIO (the band) and Ronnie James Dio, which is saying something. Join me and celebrate its 20th anniversary this year by cranking up the volume, closing your eyes, and letting your mind and soul wander among the shadows of Blessing, the netherworld in the Magica saga.
Ronnie James Dio – Vocals/Keyboards
Jimmy Bain – Bass
Craig Goldy – Guitars/Keyboards
Simon Wright – Drums
Produced by Ronnie James Dio
Recorded and mixed at Total Access, Redondo Beach, California
- Magica Theme
- Lord of the Last Day
- Fever Dreams
- Turn to Stone
- Feed My Head
- As Long as It’s Not About Love
- Losing My Insanity
- Magica – Reprise
- Lord of the Last Day – Reprise
- Magica Story
Wall, Mick. Black Sabbath: Symptom of the Universe. Orion, 2014