So here we are with a second album from the Dio offshoot band with the most cred, Last In Line. I’m mighty glad we are at this point, as the band’s debut, Heavy Crown, was one of my fave albums when it came out in 2016 and has maintained a regular spot on the stereo chez Strickmann ever since.

Can II live up the standards set down by it’s predecessor?

Well, for starters it’s a very different record. The band have made a decision to go for a heavier, darker sound on this new album, which means the songs take longer to give up their secrets than they did on the debut. There’s nothing here as immediately rousing, say, as Starmaker or the title track of that first record, but as a listener you get the sense that there’s a little more substance here in terms of song longevity. Tracks like the excellent Give Up The Ghost – coincidentally the most Dioesque track on the album? – weave a serpentine spell on the ears, Vinny Appice’s comfortingly familiar drum fills providing a solid bedrock over which Vivian Campbell solos like the God we always knew him to be. You won’t get tired of hearing this music for a long time to come.

The band seem to be stretching themselves a little harder on II; This no longer feels like a band brought together merely by a shared past and an interest in a shared but uncertain future; II sounds like the work of a fully functioning – and bloody good – band. A band that’s here to stay. The Unknown, for instance, sheds pretty much any association with the Dio brand as the band throw themselves into a psyche metal number that is as likely to bring King’s X to mind as it is King Ronnie. And that has to be a good thing.

Similarly Andrew Freeman now stands as the vocalist in Last in Line, as opposed to Ronnie James Dio’s lucky-to-be-there replacement. He gives another fine performance throughout, but particularly on the epic Sword From The Stone, wherein he summons the tone of Glenn Hughes, the power of Sammy Hagar and the craft of Dave Meniketti into one superlative, match winning performance.

I was apprehensive as to which way the band were going to go before listening to this album, but really I needn’t have wasted my time fretting. These men are professionals, after all, and they know the right feel for this band as it moves ahead. And by God, this album certainly feels right.

II is out now.