Although Ronnie James Dio was a very vivid songwriter, he only made one true concept album. Magica was intended as a trilogy, but only the first part was completed before Dio’s death in 2010. Magica was released in 2000 as a story of aliens, heroes, villains and magic. Dio’s new band consisted of returning champions Craig Goldy (from the Dream Evil album) on guitar, drummer Simon Wright (Lock Up the Wolves), and original bassist Jimmy Bain. The album, co-written by Dio and Goldy, was considered a triumph in its time. It is a strong return to old-style quality metal after 1996’s questionable Angry Machines CD. This deluxe edition collects the album and all related tracks together in one place.
Without getting into too much story detail, “Discovery” introduces aliens that serve as a framing story. Alien explorers have found the ancient planet of Blessing, but are confused by the written records they find. “Flesh can NOT be mutated into stone, and re-morphed back to the body once again. Continue the investigation with special attention given to one word: MAGICA.”
“Lord of the Last Days” is a dramatic and metallic start. Dio’s slow grooves bring the melody and power of the riff to the fore. “I love the night, so many shadows,” he sings as the villain character Shadowcast. A segue brings us to the single “Fever Dreams”, a song so good that it was performed live in 2001 by Deep Purple with Ronnie as guest. Goldy’s choppy riff is the stuff of metal dreams. Fans who thought Dio strayed too far from the old school before were very pleased.
The music speeds up and becomes more menacing on “Turn to Stone”. Evil has made its move! “Turn to Stone” is classic Dio music, very much in line with Dream Evil (1987). Goldy turns in some killer solo work here, before we move on to the robotic “Feed My Head”. The album loses momentum on the long “Eriel”, and the truth is that the story gets too hard to follow without reading along with the liner notes.
Some smoking soloing introduces “Challis”, a memorable rocker that brings the album back on track. The songs work best when backed by good old riffs. “Challis” is quintessential hard rock Dio, but Dio also has a tender side. The album’s ballad “As Long as it’s Not About Love” is long but exemplary. Then it’s a celtic sounding jig on “Losing My Insanity”, before it transforms into something heavier and almost Sabbathy.
The deluxe edition of Magica contains the original Japanese bonus track, an instrumental called “Annica”. This is on CD 2, but for the most authentic listening experience, you should move it back to where it belongs, on the first disc between “Losing My Insanity” and “Otherworld”. This guitar piece really shows off Craig Goldy’s style and tone. Then “Otherworld” is the climax of the story, good triumphing over evil, and a nice dramatically heavy track.
The alien framing story returns with a reprise of “Lord of the Last Days”, indicating that the tale is not over. Far from it.
The final track on the original album has been moved to CD 2: Dio reading “The Magica Story”, also included inside as text. This is 18 minutes of some of the dullest narration you’ve ever heard. Finishing it once is a challenge, listening to it regularly as a part of the album is madness. Instead, skip to “Electra”, the only song they finished for Magica 2 (or 3). “Electra” was the last single that Dio released in his lifetime, as part of a box set called Tournado. It sounds like a part of Magica, perhaps indicating the next album would have been darker. It’s sad but gratifying to know that the last song Dio put out was a good one.*
Five rare live tracks round out the set, all songs from Magica never released on anything else. Live, the band featured Alice Cooper bassist Chuck Garric in Jimmy Bain’s place. “Fever Dreams” is particularly good, a little bit faster than the original. “As Long as it’s Not About Love” has more passion in the live setting. Most fans have not had the chance to hear live versions of the Magica songs before this package came out.
When Magica was originally released, I was lucky enough to get the Japanese version right away. I was hoping for something more like old Dio, and less like Angry Machines. Judging from my time in the Record Store, I think many Dio fans lost interest in the band after Angry Machines. One of my old customers, Glen, was turned around by Magica. I recommended it to him, and he loved it. Now, I’m recommending it to you.
* Former Dio guitarist Doug Aldrich recently stated that he is in possession of a complete demo with vocals of another Magica 2 song. He has offered it to Wendy Dio to release.