Review: Last In Line – 'Heavy Crown'

The oracle of all things cool and “street”, otherwise known as The Urban Dictionary defines ‘Old School’ as…”Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect“, which basically sums up the debut album from Last In Line, an unashamedly old school Heavy Rock album, which could have been spawned in the golden era of the early eighties. Considering that Last In Line are made up of three quarters of the band that produced the classic Dio album ‘Holy Diver’ back in 1983, it’s hardly surprising that ‘Heavy Crown’ continues in the same vein, with some more modern sounding tracks also thrown into the mix.

Consisting of current Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell, the rhythm section of Jimmy Bain and Vinny Appice (on bass and drums respectively) along with ex Hurricane and Lynch Mob vocalist Andrew Freeman, Last in Line are attempting to move away from the “tribute band” tag by releasing an album of all new tracks. Similar to Black Star Riders, Campbell & Co have felt enthused enough, by playing live, that momentum has carried over into the recording studio.

Resisting the urge to kick off the album with an uptempo banger, Last In Line instead opt to open up with lead-off single ‘Devil In Me’, a fine slab of slow burning (plodding seems too rude of a description) and crushing Heavy Rock. If you have ever witnessed Appice live in concert, then you will no doubt realize how hard hitting the man is, and even now he still totally crushes. Campbell was never really a shredder, more of a melodic player, able to peel off classy riff after riff with ease, and freed from the Def Leppard restraints, he seems to relish his guitar playing. Keyboard warriors and naysayers who point out that Andrew Freeman is not Ronnie James Dio miss the point. Of course he isn’t RJD, no-one could replicate THAT voice. He was unique, so let’s put that grumble to bed, and instead celebrate the fact that Freeman possesses a very strong voice, perfect for Last In Line. Anyway, had Campbell et al merely recruited a Dio copycat they surely would have been pilloried for not thinking outside the box.

The tempo ramps up a notch or two with ‘Martyr’, shorter, faster, and leaner, with a sweet (savage) solo from Campbell. There’s a bit of a Neon Knights feel to this one, with Appice and Bain laying down some meaty foundations for Campbell to play over. Freeman is suited more to the faster tracks, and excels. Old school, with a twist of modern Metal. Also,how great is it to hear one of the most underrated bassists in Heavy Rock playing again? It’s awesome to have Jimmy Bain back.

‘Heavy Crown’ is made up of a mixture of slower, gutsy tracks, not too dissimilar to Dio gems like ‘Holy Diver’ and ‘Last In Line’, along with a few uptempo belters like the aforementioned ‘Martyr’, ‘I Am Revolution’, and ‘Already Dead’. Perhaps a few more pedal-to-the-floor moments on album number two, chaps? Campbell must have been first in the studio every morning, as he his clearly loving playing more guitar orientated material, and his playing sounds as fresh as it did way back in the Dio days. With song titles like ‘Already Dead’, ‘Curse The Day’, and ‘The Sickness’, plus ‘Blame It On Me’ mentioning the bastard that is cancer, a strange sense of foreboding looms, but the quality of the material means any hints of doom quickly evaporates.

‘Curse The Day’ is perhaps the stand-out track on the album. Slow and sludgy, with some killer guitar licks from Campbell, the song has a real modern feel to it, thanks mostly to an understated vocal performance from Freeman, especially when he is singing….

“I…I…Well I curse the day that you were born..”

‘Orange Glow’ has an almost Celtic/Thin Lizzy feel to the opening bars, a tip of the hat perhaps to the time that Campbell joined Scott Gorham and Brian Downey for a Thin Lizzy tour during some Leppard downtime. The title track, along with ‘The Sickness’ rounds off the album in fine style, with the title track especially impressing. Equally impressive are the production duties, handled by ex Dio & Dokken (and current Foreigner) bassist Jeff Pilson, who keeps it simple without resorting to battering the listener into submission with the volume levels set to stun like every other album released these days.

‘Heavy Crown’ is a good, solid debut album from a bunch of guys who clearly have chemistry, and enjoy feeding off of each other. With tour dates planned for Spring 2016, let’s hope that it is a long and fruitful reunion. Welcome back Vivian Campbell!

‘Heavy Crown’ is released through Frontiers records on February 19th 2016 and you can pre order HERE.

Review by Dave Stott

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