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This is the creative apex of both Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath as a unit. Yup, this is even better than Heaven & Hell and Mob Rules, mostly because it doesn't suffer from "goofy filler song" syndrome that plagued Sabbath from Day One. And who knew Dio could be this fucking menacing? Just listen to I and After All.
There's not a weak moment on this album (Buried Alive is average, but far from bad), and this is pretty much the standard for heavy fucking metal. You have the obligatory speed metal number (TV Crimes, with one of Iommi's most killer riffs), great mid-tempo rockers (Time Machine and Master Of Insanity), and of course, soul crushing monsters (After All and I...never mind the fact that the little lick in the intro and break is Purple Haze, it's probably the best song Sabbath has ever done!). Oh sure, this is pretty much a "metal by numbers" album (not that it's bad...but it's incredibly straightforward and there are no random changes), but if you want a straight-up traditional metal up, this is as good as it gets.
Special notice has to be given to Dio's performance here. While he's never had a bad performance on an album, he's never been this amazing. He nails the necessary "evil" vibe that the lyrics are going for, especially in After All and I (which happen to be the best songs here). Just listen to the first verse of After All ("Wonderful day for a killing...IT'S KILLING ME!") or the last verse of I ("I'll smash your face in, BUT WITH A SMILE!" And to think, that predates American Psycho by 8 years!). Oh sure, Dio's solo albums to this point were amazing, but they were all uplifting (not that that's a bad thing), and suddenly he just breaks out and starts spitting acidic lyrics with a passion! A total must-own.
Oh yeah, this is also the only Sabbath album cover that actually makes sense AND doesn't suck!