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Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


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4.07 | 660 ratings

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4 stars Ronnie James Dio breathed new life into what was becoming a falling star. After the lackluster Technical Ecstasy and the experimental-but-widely-panned Never Say Die the band really needed some sort of boost. Original vocalist and front-man Ozzy Osbourne had been kicked out due to excessive intake of alcohol and controlled substances. In fact, he said that after the deaths of Keith Moon and John Bonham he thought he was going to be the next one to go. I don't think it was that Ozzie indulged more than the rest of the band, but rather that he could not maintain his career as well as the others. So out he went, perhaps as a scapegoat, perhaps as the weakest link (which I always thought he was), and in came Dio, straight from Rainbow. The loss to one band was the gain of another.

The album opens with what had by now become a typical rocker, Neon Nights. Immediately we hear a freshness, a revitalization we haven't heard from Sabbath in years. Iommi delivers some blistering guitar leads here. This is followed by Children of the Sea, a mid-tempo powerhouse. Listen especially to Geezer Butler's bass on this ? it is some of his best. His bass also stands out for Lady Evil. The bridge on this one provides a nice surprise. What was originally side one ends with Heaven and Hell, one of Sabbath's best songs ever. It features what has now become a typical Dio crunchy drive, but this is the first time I have heard it. Both Iommi and Butler sound great on this one. The riff is powerful, the lead is exceptional and dramatic, and the bass is a force to be reckoned with. This song plows on with both dynamics and bridges. The majority is mid-tempo, but it leads to a fit of Sabbath fury to a blistering climax, and fades out with some classical guitar. The song also has one of my favorite lines by Dio, one that is printed on the back cover (at least on the lp): "The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams. It's Heaven and Hell." So true. This parallels American James Branch Cabell's motto for a fantasy series of his: Mundus Vult Decipi. The world wants to be deceived. I played this album for a girl who I knew in college who was a major Led Zeppelin fan but had not heard much Sabbath. She even named a plant of hers Robert. Bad pun, but good for a few laughs. After hearing the first side, especially the title song, she was speechless, even stunned. She said she had never heard anything like that, not even from Zeppelin.

If second half of the album were as good as the first, this one would be a contender for Sabbath's best album ever, but alas, it was not to be. This is not to say the second half is not good, it is, but it is not quite at the same level. Close, but not quite. The energy of the album remains the same, however, and these songs will rock your socks off, yet there is nothing that reaches the same heights of the first half. The only one I will mention is the closer, Lonely Is the Word, which provides and anthemic ending greatly enhanced by Iommi's send-off of a solo and Geoff Nicholls keyboards. I have named every band member so far, except for Bill Ward. The music on this album is not as complex as much of what they had done in the past, so Ward is not given the opportunity to help the band shift gears and play his crazy fills. He does, however, get the opportunity to pound those drums and he does so with an almost reckless abandon. His playing is rock solid throughout. The song structures are not simple, though. This is not punk, nor is it the new wave of British heavy metal (although there may be some influence from that movement here). No, this is old school metal by the godfathers of the genre. They do not disappoint.

A friend of mine had seen this line-up in concert on tour promoting the album. When I asked him how it was he said, "I love Ozzie, but Dio makes him look like a fool." Now, it is not my purpose to diss Ozzy, but as I said before, I always regarded him as the weak link of the band. Dio is a much better vocalist, what with his greater range, pitch, and power. And Dio delivers here in spades. Heck, everybody delivers here. This is the album that put Sabbath back on track and back on the map. This rocks, oh man, how it rocks.

Progosopher | 4/5 |


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