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I am emotionally attached to this album; it’s the first Black Sabbath album I ever purchased in the early ‘80s. Earlier I had only listened to a few tapes with some “greatest hits” of Ozzy’s era and I was familiarized enough with the early Sabbath sound.
In my humble opinion there are actually two heavy metal genres: the slow one and the fast one. The slow (today labeled as doom metal) has been pioneered by Sabbath, whilst the fast one has been popularized by Judas Priest. The artistic and commercial success of the latter inspired the great NWOBHM in the late ‘70s – early ‘80s. Although Black Sabbath have given us unforgettable pieces of the “fast” genre (remember “Paranoid”, “Children of the Grave” etc.), they are generally admired for their heavy, pondering, doomy works (“Black Sabbath”, “Iron Man”, “Hand of Doom” and others). But with Dio as their frontman, whatever remained from their early doominess is gone! “Heaven and Hell” is fast, melodic, elaborated and - occasionally – even poppy (“Wishing Well” and “Walk Away”)! In other words - it’s NWOBHM!
Nonetheless “Heaven & Hell” is not merely Sabbath’s attempt to succeed in the genre they invented; it is a great album itself. Iommi performs magnificently – the guitar work is probably the best he ever produced. The guitar intro to the “Children of the Sea” is recognized by listeners with no particular interests in Metal. In fact it’s their most recognizable song, coming second only to Paranoid. Yet, the album is rightly credited to Ronnie James Dio. Not only is he a singer (technically speaking, by far superior to Ozzy and arguably the best male Heavy Metal voice), but also an unusually talented songwriter. His literature interests are of course different than Geezer’s, therefore the lyrical themes of Heaven & Hell are equally different that Sabbath’s early works. The “Children of the Sea” is a superb poetic metaphor (obviously my favorite song), but the album is not beyond criticism: “Lady Evil” is apparently the opposite of Rainbow’s “Lady of the Lake”; “Neon Knights” is also supposed to be a metaphor, but it is practically meaningless. And talking about “Heaven & Hell” (the track), what the hell is the “dancer”? Apparently a random word to make a rime with the “answer”? Pity, for otherwise the track justifies its reputation and popularity.
Let me conclude this short article with a few words about Sabbath’s cover art. The “Heaven and Hell” cover art has been created by some Lynn Curlee; the painting was not originally purposed to be a cover, yet it fits perfectly and it continues a Sabbath tradition. There are various dreadful Sabbath covers (“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Black Sabbath”, “Mob Rules” and “Born Again”), but this one is humorous, without lightening the seriousness of the content. Black Sabbath are also well reputed for the names and covers of their live albums – but let me come to this subject when reviewing “Live Evil”!
I am glad that this album also appeals to my teenager son. I let him pick from the store today’s trends, i.e. weird Scandinavian bands with similar names, covers, lyrics and sounds. But take a piece of advice from a veteran: if you really want to enjoy and understand the genre, buy Black Sabbath (up to and including “Born Again”), Judas Priest and Iron Maiden (their first four albums). Very little has been added since then (I recognize the originality and inspiration of thrash metal, though it’s not my preference).