Ronnie James Dio brought dignity and dragons to metal since the dawn of time (just about) — here are the five mandatory albums in his distinguished discography.
After chasing his British Invasion rock dream in myriad early bands, upstate New York bassist and singer Ronald Padavona (Dio's real name) finally found a powerful patron of the arts in producer Roger Glover of Deep Purple. But Elf's plinky piano and beerhall boogie-woogie bass lines have little to do with metal.
With ex-Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, Dio first harnessed the power of fantasy literature and unleashed his inner vocal diva. On "Tarot Woman" and the wizard saga "Stargazer"/"A Light in the Black," an awesome heavy metal band brought to life the craggy cliffs and characters of JRR Tolkien.
Burnt out by the end of the 1970s, Sabbath recruited Dio, who helped lift the band out of the ashes. The vehement "Neon Knights" and the poetic title track take a literate approach to metal, perhaps captured most poignantly on the eco-masterpiece "Children of the Sea." Original Sabbath drummer Bill Ward appears on the album, but Vinny Appice arrived on tour to complete the lineup waggishly known as "Geezer Butler and the three Italians" — now better known as Heaven & Hell.
His reputation established, Dio shook loose the chains of the British overlords and set about adapting sword-and- sorcery metal for a nation of kids charged on MTV and Dungeons & Dragons. By now, Dio's trademark ornamented singing was also versatile, and he belts out both ballads and ragers.
Resurrecting the Dio Sabbath years for the second time (the band's '90s attempt proved short-lived), the elder statesmen of metal delivered this muscular epic that captured them in a gracious New York City setting before a reverent audience. The verdict: "Sign of the Southern Cross" is heavier than "War Pigs," especially when slowed way down and ground into the Earth.