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Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


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4.07 | 661 ratings

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4 stars Sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised to find that my snooty, know-it-all assumptions about a classic band are unfounded. For decades I brushed off Black Sabbath as being nothing more than a one trick pony that made a name for themselves by merely being loud, brash and controversial. I didn't give them much credit for being all that talented because all I ever heard on the radio was 'Iron Man' and 'Paranoia' and neither song did anything for me. (Ironically, when I finally got around to listening to the LP those tracks are part of I realized there was a lot more going on than I anticipated hearing and I felt obligated to give it a favorable review. Who'd a thunk it?) While my taste in prog still leans heavily toward the symphonic and jazz fusion ends of the spectrum and always will, there's a part of me that enjoys high-quality hard rock quite a bit. Especially when there's plenty of creativity and imagination tossed into the mix. 'Heaven and Hell' fits that description to a tee.

According to what I've read, the boys in Black Sabbath (despite their own share of destructive hang-ups) got their fill of Ozzy Osborne's dreadful habits after making eight albums with him commandeering the mike and kicked him out the door. It just so happened that singer Ronnie James Dio was unemployed and pleased as punch to step in when the invitation was received. Within the first few seconds of the opening cut, 'Neon Nights', one can tell it was a near-perfect, serendipitous match made in, well, heaven. The tune features a driving Deep Purple-ish, Highway Star-like motivating riff that doesn't waste time making a bold statement of purpose. When Dio opens his mouth it's a done deal. He pours uncompromised energy and excitement into the song that announces the group's timely resurrection from the doldrums of burn out mediocrity. But what shocked me most was Tony Iommi's guitar solos. They sizzle and pop like wet bacon on a hot skillet. I wasn't expecting that at all. 'Children of the Sea' is next. Its subtle opening leads to a weighty progression that might've grown tiresome if not for Ronnie's awesome vocal tour de force. And, once again, I was knocked silly by Tony's blazing guitar lead. They also display admirable arrangement skills by letting the track die down a tad in order to set up a power-packed ending. 'Lady Evil' sports a more traditional, straight-ahead rock & roll vibe that does a fine job of keeping the momentum ball rolling at this juncture. The lyrics are pretty lame but who cares? This foursome sounds like a band that's firing on all cylinders. 'Heaven and Hell' follows and, while it starts off like a throwback to their earlier minimalist productions, Ronnie jumps into the fray and gooses it with a freshness and vitality that can't be denied. They rev up into speed metal mode for a spell and then finish with an unanticipated Spanish guitar segment that I found delightful. Overall, this terrific number shows off a great deal of maturation in their songwriting acumen.

'Wishing Well' is a tight rocker from the get go. I get the feeling Mr. Dio brought some of what he learned from fronting Rainbow into the sessions as far as how to structure tunes like this one in a way that isn't overly predictable or patronizing. 'Die Young' benefits from sideman Geoff Nichols' dreamy keyboard contributions and the contrast they add keeps the proceedings from turning stale. (I'm a big fan of variety so the fact that each cut has its own character is a major plus in my book.) The middle section is nice and proggy, too. Gotta say it's hard not to be constantly blown away by Ronnie's incredible range and intensity. The man was one of a kind. 'Walk Away' is next and Iommi's switch to a slicker guitar tone comes at just the right time. It distinguishes this tune from the others right off the bat. It erects a much more radio-friendly aura yet it doesn't detract from the album's central mojo at all. Instead it demonstrates efficiently the versatility that helped keep them relevant in that era. They conclude with 'Lonely is the Word'. Tony, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward combine to present a knock-down-the-walls, bang-your-head arena rock riff that could satisfy any crowd of rowdies anywhere and Dio's voice slices through the din without any difficulty whatsoever. I really like that they tossed in a brief jazzy interlude along the way. Humbly I find it necessary to reiterate that, to my amazement, Iommi had by this time turned into a monster guitarist that I would've bragged about to my friends had I been paying attention. A little late now.

Black Sabbath was either fortunate beyond belief or extremely wise to recruit Ronnie James Dio when they did because together they made a damned good record. The musical landscape was changing rapidly as the 70s came to a close and a lot of their contemporaries were deteriorating into starving dinosaurs as Punk and New Wave were fast becoming the rage. By bringing new blood into their band and letting him contribute and blend his unique artistry into their foundational sound they were able to give their reputation a huge boost as they entered the 80s decade. 'Heaven and Hell' reached #9 in the UK and a respectable #28 in the States, no small feat for an established-but-aging rock outfit in that uncertain era. Sadly, the Dio/Black Sabbath marriage didn't survive past their follow-up LP together but they can be super proud of this one. I can't find a darn thing wrong with it so I give it a solid four-star rating. This is how sledgehammer rock is supposed to sound, kids.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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