Has there been a more anticipated release among metal fans of a certain age in recent times? And sadly, has there been a release so ultimately wreathed in tragedy? For my part, I’d probably concur with both those statements, for Last in Line, the band formed by three quarters of the lineup that recorded Dio’s Holy Diver – still to my mind one of the top five heavy metal records ever released – and their album Heavy Crown, have certainly piqued my interest rather heavily in the runup to the release of this ill-fated record.

Ill-fated, of course, because on the eve of the record’s release bassist Jimmy Bain expired, leaving the band’s touring plans up in the air but, of course more importantly, casting a pall of tragedy over the whole project.

However, thinking positively, it has to be said that, whilst Heavy Crown wouldn’t rank in the top five releases Bain was involved with over the years, its still a fine epitaph to the life of a man who gave his life to heavy rock over five decades in the game. Bain’s characteristic grinding bass sound roves all over the record, most notably in excellent opening cut Devil in Me and the Holy Diveresque Orange Glow; but evidence of the man is everywhere, most notably in the superior songwriting exhibited throughout the record.

And what of Andrew Freeman, the man tasked with filling the unfillable shoes of Ronnie James Dio? Of course he doesn’t come close (indeed LiL guitarist Vivian Campbell stated that the band weren’t looking for a Dio copyist – they certainly got their wish there), though his voice, a serviceable if slightly generic hard rock bellow (sometimes resonant of Lynch Mob stalwart Oni Logan) does the job as required here. The material really does carry the Holy Diver/Last in Line hallmark throughout, and so Freeman was on a hiding to nothing here – and it’s a tribute to the man that he comes out of proceeding largely unscathed.

The brooding, slow burning Starmaker is an early highlight, drummer Vinnie Appice delivering a trademark ‘Appiceesque’ performance that really does give rise to fleeting remembrance of Dio at their very best and, of course, Heaven and Hell-era Black Sabbath (the uptempo I Am Revolution also brings to mind far-off Sabbathian daze), whilst the hard-hitting duo of Orange Glow and the superb title track at the end of the album would have given rise to high hopes for this band as an ongoing project, such is the strength and conviction of the performances on both tracks. Even Campbell, a man long considered as having turned his back on the ‘stunt guitar’ antics of his formative years seems genuinely engaged in the project, delivering stinging solos and crunching riffage wherever required.

So there you have it. It’s still unclear as to whether the band intends to carry on in the shadow of Bain’s death; if they do not, they leave us at least with a fine slab of old-fashioned heavy rock to remember him by. Well worth a listen.

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Heavy Crown is out now on Frontiers Music