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Dehumanizer reminds me of a really, really fat man. When the fat guy is walking, running even, it’s immensely entertaining to watch because you get the sense of all this weight moving, swinging plunging and indeed rippling in ways God never intended. However, when said fat guy just sits there though, he just wallows and bores the hell out of whoever is watching because their ain’t nothing to do except to watch with morbid fascination and try to guess when it’ll collapse under it’s own weight. Dehumanizer is like that fat man friends, because it is an album possessing ridiculous density and weight (but not true doom) but a lack of drive and inspiration.
The word ‘ponderous’ was coined for albums like this. On every Sabbath album there are slow songs (“Black Sabbath”, “Heaven and Hell”), mid-tempo songs (“Into the Void”, “Fairies Wear Boots”), and songs that do some pretty brisk business (“The Mob Rules”, “Symptom of the Universe”), but here the album seems shrouded in a hazy fog in which a bunch of immovable objects reside with no hope of an unstoppable force to upset their mouldering and slow petrifaction. There are islands of hope in this sea of muck, including one track I consider a classic, but even amongst these few measure up to even mid-rangers from Sabbath’s early catalogue (both the Ozzy and Dio years, hell even the first two Martins) and so Dehumanizer is little more than a footnote, a good anecdote when telling the whole sordid Black Sabbath story to a newcomer to this massive coven.
Dehumanizer, along with the other two studio records, really suggests that Dio is really in charge of the band to a degree most wouldn’t guess. Consider that Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules are much more Rainbow/Dio than Black Sabbath records, the HaH tracks particularly being of a make and model that wouldn’t be out of place on either a fictional Dio-fronted post-Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll Rainbow project, or a long lost pre-Holy Diver Dio record. Dehumanizer apes the Dio records that bookend it in the same way, the change in sound from Lock up the Wolves through Dehumanizer to Strange Highways not being particularly jarring.
The similarities of this trio of records are not hard to see, big wallowing riffs and Ronnie trying to focus on more ‘mature’ themes, as well as using the same (or very similar) vocal melodies on every damn song. Listen close to “After All (The Dead)” (or “Strange Highways” even) and you’ve got the idea, a thickening up of the song “Dream Evil” stretched over a whole album, Ronnie crooking his finger at you and snarling in a more snarly fashion than usual. One or two of these songs per album are good, an infusion of vein-coagulating red meat, but it gets to the point where you just lay there and let this roll off you back and mostly can’t remember a damn thing about what just happened.
However, there are some breaks in the mediocrity. “Master of Insanity” starts out like a Sound of Perseverance-era Death track, some very tricky-sounding rhythm-section fireworks before launching into a great stomping mid-tempo crunch with an unconventional and aurally pleasing chorus, Dio leaving the “to eleven!” growl behind for a few minutes. It’s great how the solo actually has some build-up too, restrained wankery if you will. There is a ballad (“Too Late”) that isn’t going to give “Falling Off the Edge of the World” a run for it’s money, but at least it gives your mind a break from the sludgy non-event “Time Machine” and the back half of “Sins of the Father”. “Computer God”, like the best tracks from Dio’s other ‘heavier-than-thou’ records, manages to make the wallowing work by making it only a small part of the song, slowly creaking open the door to a labyrinthine power drumfest and some really nice guitar work throughout that belies Tony’s age. The best track in my opinion is among the more conventional, “I” a great rebellious fist pumper that pounds the floor and gives one of the albums very few shout along chorus opportunities, and also the giggle-factor of Dio proclaiming “I’m a whore” in his most metallic call-to-arms style.
However these highlights (in the case of “Too Late”, minor breaks in the monotony) are tempered by the sheer suffocating boredom songs like “After All (The Dead)”, “Letters from Earth”, and “Time Machine” (twice!), songs that remind you that Dio, Butler (the G//Z/R project), Appice (WWIII with Tracy G), and Iommi were all in one of the most sludgy reactionary ‘more metal than metal’ phases of their careers, like one giant shared mid-life crisis from hell that further buried their collective reputations (arguably Dio’s uber-heavy records are an exception) under a surge of fat riffs and subterranean (when existent) grooves. So yeah, Dehumanizer has highlights (“I”, “TV Crimes”, “Master of Insanity”, and “Computer God”) but a few songs don’t make a record, they can only heroically attempt to salvage it, and this album is lurching , battery-drained proof of that.
Highlights: “I”, “Master of Insanity”, “Computer God”