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After the less than favorable reception given to the Black Sabbath line-up fronted by the underrated Tony Martin, guitarist/bandleader Tony Iommi decided to bring back a few figures from his more prominent past and resurrect the line-up led by vocalist Ronnie James Dio on 1981’s "Mob Rules." The resulting album remains one of Sabbath’s most punishing and overlooked efforts to date.
Despite possessing the same line-up, this album’s music has very little in common with the material found on the first two installments of the Dio era. Songs such as "After All (The Dead)" and "Letters from Earth" provide powerful doom metal dirges while songs like "TV Crimes" and "Time Machine" show off faster riffs and energetic vocals and a ballad track manifests by means of the depressing "Too Late." Of course, there are also tracks like "Computer God" and "Master of Insanity" that feature elements of all three styles. The band’s chemistry is also worth noting with Dio in particular delivering one of his angriest vocal performances to date.
Just as Dio’s solo band had done a few years prior to the reunion, the album’s lyrics have also changed to meet the more morose tendencies of the music. While previous albums showed the singer being pre-occupied with the fantasy metaphors that have given him both fans and detractors, this album seems to completely throw them out the window in favor of more realistic themes. Nearly every song is packed with pessimistic themes relating to misuse of technology ("Computer God"), questions of the afterlife ("After All (The Dead)"), televangelists ("TV Crimes"), social commentary ("Letters from Earth," "Master of Insanity"), and a few personal musings in between. The song "I" provides the album’s only glimmer of hope with messages of individualism and self-empowerment. Of course, it also provides some of the silliest lines that Dio has ever come up with (“I’m a virgin/I’m a whore”)...
For the most part, the album’s flaws are relatively few and far between. Listeners that are expecting to hear "Heaven and Hell" part 2 will certainly be in for a shock when they hear the slower songs and equally crushing lyrics. Other than that, it’s a pretty safe to purchase to make.
All in all, it's a very underrated effort and perhaps the best Sabbath album since 1983’s "Born Again" (Yes, I'm one of those weird people that loves that album).
1) Excellent band performance with crushing riffs and angry vocals
2) Intelligent lyrics with even darker themes
3) Great songwriting and song structures
1) May be a little too slow for more mainstream Sabbath listeners
My Current Favorites:
"Computer God," "After All (the Dead)," "TV Crimes," "Letters from Earth," and "Master of Insanity"