Released on March 21st, 2000, Dio released what is considered to be his first official concept album. After a little slump in the ’90s after his exit from Black Sabbath in 1992 (Though I absolutely LOVE Strange Highways), Dio came raging into the 21st century with an effort that displayed a fire that was missing for a good number of years. Magica brings back guitarist Craig Goldy who first played on the album Dream Evil (1987), long-time bassist and friend Jimmy Bain, and Simon Wright, who first played on Lock Up The Wolves (1990). Though it seems that this reunion of previous personnel from varying different eras would scratch some heads, the output of the quartet, however, proved to be one that was worthwhile.
I’m not going to go into huge detail on the whole entire concept or story behind Magica, which is best explained by the closing track “The Magica Story,” a spoken-word track talking about the concept behind the album in great detail by Ronnie Dio himself. What I will talk about here is the songs themselves. I’m going to mainly focus on the individual full album tracks and less about the interlude tracks and reprise tracks towards the end.
The album starts off on a humongous stomp of a number in “Lord of the Last Day,” which shows some of Craig Goldy’s heaviest riffing, and a hell of a way to re-introduce himself into the band again. I find this song to be one of Dio’s best tracks in general. His vocal delivery is on point as well.
Magica forges on with following songs in the key of F# that groove like no other in “Fever Dreams” (Another personal fav) and “Turn To Stone.” The latter sounds like it could be something that would find its home in an early Rainbow album.
That also brings up an interesting point. This is the beginning of Dio in his solo albums later on starting to go back to his roots and what he’s best known for with Rainbow and some of his earlier records like Holy Diver (1983), Last In Line (1984), Sacred Heart (1985) and Dream Evil. This would be even more the case on the follow-up album to this one Killing The Dragon (2002). That being said, one thing to note about this album is that the pace overall is pretty slow. There are not too many fast tracks on it. Some may be put off by that, but I feel like that’s more of a symptom that was left over from Dio’s 90’s output, where he was chasing a slower/doomier sound. The interesting thing is, I have always found that as Dio aged, it was like his desire to go slower and heavier increased. Especially after singing on Black Sabbath’s Dehumanizer (1992). Pretty much from that album onward, he was primarily putting out albums that were relatively slow in pace. That isn’t a bad thing. Ultimately, what Magica and any of the post-2000 records have in common is the mending between Dio’s desire for slower and heavier mixed with his interest, maybe pressurized by fans at the time to go back to his roots.
Anyway, back to the music of Magica. The band ventures into epic territory with “Feed My Head” and “Eriel.” They sport a gallop that gives the feeling of riding through the storm on a Viking ship at sea. Traditional heavy metal purists will find refuge in such and puts the album to great heights in terms of ambition.
After that, the band dials it back a little with a more straight-ahead rock song “Challis,” almost with a “Cat Scratch Fever” groove and inspired riff. Not entirely sure if that was the intent, but ultimately it serves as a nice break from the epic numbers. This eventually leads into the sole power ballad on the album “As Long As It’s Not About Love.” When I was younger, this track didn’t quite hit as much, but now revisiting it, I find it to actually be one of the stronger tracks. The composition is really well crafted, much like a classical piece. Dio’s vocal is incredibly compelling. It does repeat a bit towards the outro, but the variation in the vocal helps keep it from being too redundant.
…And now for something completely different! “Losing My Insanity” is a different track for Dio. While some may find it to be a little cheesy, I like the fair bit of cheese, and the riff is an absolute earworm you can’t help but hum along to when it comes on. Listening back to it, the vibe is very reminiscent of Iron Maiden, especially latter-day Iron Maiden with the introduction of the strings and basically the overall waltz of the song. However, Dio and Co. impressively manage to make it possible with the four piece lineup.
“Otherworld” starts with a drum intro and brings it back to the vibe of “Eriel” to close out the album, which eventually leads into “Magica – Reprise”. A concept album would be nothing without an epic closing track. I reckon that I like this track much more than I did when I was younger. Often times, I would find myself skipping this track for some reason. It’s got some pretty cool moments laid out here and there. Relatively short, it doesn’t give too much room for being bloated.
For a concept album, Magica is surprisingly lean. Often with concept albums, they tend to get bloated over time, and the story probably could’ve ended 2-3 tracks ago, but that’s not the case here. I’d wager that any Dio fan should be able to find a track they like, even if it’s only one. A good way to look at Dio’s post-2000’s output is simply stated like this. I often think about what my fellow Vault writer and bandmate Chris Latta says in regards to legendary bands releasing albums later in their career that are actually classics in and of themselves. He’s been often cited saying that Iron Maiden’s output from Brave New World (2000) and onward is considered to be “his” Iron Maiden, similar to how the previous generation feels about Iron Maiden’s output throughout the ’80s. In the case of Dio, it could very well be said that from Magica onward is “My” Dio or “Our” Dio, more rather. In other words, this album and the albums that came after are the ones that my generation will look back on and see as our own collection of classics, because we lived through the times when they were being put out, much like how the classic era fans were there to see the releases of Dio’s 80’s solo albums, and even his output during Black Sabbath. Magica overall is an album I feel that at first, it might not catch on, but with repeated listens, it’ll pull you in slowly but surely. It’s certainly an album that as more time went on, I began to appreciate more and more, and I believe that would be the case for any Dio fan, old and new.