Dio: Ronnie James Dio (vocals); Craig Goldy (guitar, keyboards); Scott Warren (keyboards); Jeff Pilson (bass instrument); Simon Wright (drums).
There's something about a post-millennium album cover that features a giant blue-horned minion of Satan in pre-pounce with an illuminated crystal ball in its leathery hand that simply warms the soul, and the fact that it adorns a record called Master of the Moon can mean only one thing: Dio. Unlike many in the aging metal community, Ronnie James Dio still possesses the same powerful voice that fueled the genre through its late-'70s and '80s heydays, and the reigning dark prince of Elfdom and two-time Black Sabbath frontman is still capable of writing a killer song or two. MOTM resembles earlier works like Last in Line and Sacred Heart in its ability to buffer those one or two great tracks with seven or eight forgettable ones. Luckily, it's the first one out of the gate, "One More for the Road," that packs the biggest wallop. Similar in attack to classics like "We Rock" and "Stand Up and Shout," it sets a breakneck pace for a record that gives up just minutes after the firing of the start gun. What follows is a series of midtempo rockers outfitted with RJD's generic fantasy lyrics about dreams, evil, and being "stronger than the wind," which flirt with creative arrangements and forward-thinking key changes, only to concede to the dark lord of banality. There are moments that inspire, like the snaky Brian May-like riff that weaves through the title track, and the surprisingly political, melodic, and complex "The Man Who Would Be King" -- in true RJD fashion he references the Middle Eastern community as "the people of the sand" -- is among his most satisfying since 1987's "All the Fools Sailed Away," but Dio's on autopilot for the record's majority, resulting in a mediocre romp through the ruins of a land and a time that hath been long forgotten. ~ James Christopher Monger