One of the most exciting reunions of the new millennium took place when Ronnie James Dio announced his return to Black Sabbath last year. Although to calm the angered Ozzy-fans the group named themselves Heaven & Hell (very appropriate) this new compilation and the new songs still naturally come under the legendary Sabbath-title – as they should. For RJD and drummer Vinnie Appice this is the third time lucky, their last spelling with the band ended 15 years ago. As Heaven & Hell plan to spend most of 2007 on the road, you never know how far this will go. The group themselves also seem to take it step by step – no doubt a wise decision.
For those people who think Black Sabbath started and ended with Ozzy Osbourne, this compilation featuring only material recorded with Ronnie James Dio on vocals might be an eye-opener. And certainly for new fans, it is an essential purchase. While most of the records created by the original line-up are rightfully regarded as classics in the genre, and with their first album Sabbath arguably invented heavy metal, it should not cloud the fact that the band accomplished hell of a lot during the later years as well. Of course the mid-1980’s saw more people stepping in and out of Sabbath than the seasonal supermarket gatherings. Yet even those albums had their moments and especially later on with Tony Martin, the level of song writing was at all time high. If you still doubt my words, listen to 1989’s “Headless Cross” – one of the finest metal albums of that era. Unfortunately the buying public couldn’t care less and Tony Iommi was forced to shut the band down in 1996 when the concert halls were emptying by a minute.
Somewhat inevitably, Ozzy returned in 1997 and Sabbath has since then toured all around the world with massive success. A new studio album was hugely awaited, promised and then backed out of for one reason or another. All members recorded solo albums with varying results, Tony Iommi teamed up with another former Sabs-singer Glenn Hughes and released a top notch effort with “Fused” and Geezer Butler continued his nu-metal experiments with GZR. By 2006 Black Sabbath, the band had been inactive for some time and it seemed it would stay that way when suddenly discussions with Dio kicked the ball rolling.
But let’s take a look back at 1979 when it all began. The last five years with Ozzy on vocals, Sabbath was badly stuck in a rut. The quality of albums had declined to a point where the “Never Say Die” album was recorded in a seriously damaged atmosphere. Ozzy had already departed once, then returned and refused to sing the material already written without him. Thus writing sessions were arranged in the studio simultaneously with recording and result was disastrous. The newcomers Van Halen blew Sabbath off stage every night on their European tour. It was obvious a change had to come and Ozzy was let go in 1979. For a while it seemed Black Sabbath had reached an end too, but slowly guitarist Tony Iommi picked up the pieces and assembled a new line-up with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Eventually bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward also returned and Sabbath was raised from the dead. The resurrection became apparent as the “Heaven And Hell” album was unleashed in the spring of 1980.
It was still clearly Black Sabbath, but Sabbath unlike anything that had gone on before; there was a new touch of elegance in the arrangements and lyrics. It was big, grandiose and yet beautiful at the same time. And it was heavy, the opening track “Neon Knights” charges along while the forgotten gem “Lonely Is The Word” features some of the finest lead work Iommi has ever laid down on tape. The title song featured the mystic lyric writing of RJD and earned quickly its place as one of the milestones in heavy metal. The chemistry of the band worked on all levels and did so even better on the follow-up “Mob Rules” released in 1981.
Vinnie Appice had replaced Bill Ward on the H&H-tour and Sabbath added more groove and colour to their sound. “Mob Rules” is sometimes left out of the list of people’s favourite Sab-albums, but this is just as good if not better effort than “Heaven And Hell”. The guitar riff coming mid-way on its best song “Falling Off The Edge Of The World” is immortal, and when Ronnie sings “I’ve seen the faces of doom and I’m only a man” it brings positive chills down the spine. The epic “The Sign Of The Southern Cross” on the other hand, remains a headstone for plenty of newer bands to build their own songs around to.
Recorded during the “Mob Rules” – tour “Live Evil” was released the following year and is among this writer’s favourite live albums. The live version of “Children Of The Sea” included here displays the magnificent musicianship and power of Black Sabbath at this point. During live record’s mixing internal problems caught up with the band leading to Dio and Appice’s departure in 1983. Both parties carried on, Dio successfully with his solo band and Sabbath less so with Ian Gillan visiting briefly on the mike.
10 years later old wounds had healed enough for Dio-Butler-Iommi-Appice combo to reunite for “Dehumanizer” album and tour. This record remains probably the most underrated one in the whole Sabbath-discography. It is heavy, doom-like and grinding with thoughtful lyrics by Dio reflecting the politics and issues of society. This style was already used on the “Heaven And Hell” and “Mob Rules,” just done in a more subdued way. It wasn’t all about dragons and castles the first time around either. The crushing “I” and “After All” were very much keeping Black Sabbath within the modern times, as grunge and other extreme types of metal were spreading around the globe. Again the momentum was not to last, by 1993 Dio was back fronting his own group taking the sound of “Dehumanizer” with him while Sabbath recruited Tony Martin back and went on to release couple of decent albums before the Ozzman finally returned.
This leaves us three new songs, recorded exclusively for this album and fruits from recent Dio/Iommi-collaboration: “The Devil Cried,” “Shadow Of The Wind” and “Ear In The Wall.” They are as heavy as everyone can expect from Black Sabbath, Iommi delivering killer riffs and solos one after another, Butler laying down his instantly recognisable bass lines, Appice pounding the drums and on top of it all the legendary voice of Ronnie James Dio soaring as powerful as ever. Pushing 70, RJD has become an institution by which most of other metal vocalists are judged. We’ll see if they can sing as well as he does in that age. Best of the bunch is “Ear In The Wall,” an up-tempo rocker with great hypnotic drive and excellent lyrics and delivery from Dio. The other two songs are not much behind, both slower and oozing menace. They are easily the best new material Sabbath has written and recorded in 15 years since – well, the last album with Dio.
As the music of this album fade away, one is left longing for one more Black Sabbath studio album. With this line-up and these few tunes as solid proof, that would be nothing less than amazing. This is definitely time to catch these legends on stage; you never know when the next time comes.
In short words, with nearly 80 minutes of running time this is a perfect compilation. In all honesty, you could have done a box set with all three Dio-era albums as was originally planned to achieve completeness. However, there are always one or two tracks that people will miss and at least with one record you don’t have to pay large amounts of money to get the new tunes. Personally I would have added “The Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Computer God” to track listing but then again, that would have meant a double album. So no complaints from here.
Bottom line is these are songs that still sound incredibly fresh in the year 2007 and are perfectly embellished with three outstanding new studio recordings. It is a revelation to hear some of these tracks and be – once again – touched by the sheer brilliance of it all. Simply awesome, classic stuff. Nothing more needs to be said.
3.Heaven And Hell
5.Lonely Is The Word
7.Turn Up The Night
9.Falling Off The Edge Of The World
10.After All (The Dead)
13.Children Of The Sea
14.The Devil Cried
15.Shadow Of The Wind
16.Ear In The Wall