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I first discovered Sabbath in 1983 with the Born Again album, strange for someone who listened to metal as far back as 1975. Immediately I got into the band and the first album I ever purchased by them after BA was this one, in 1984, before ever hearing an Ozzy era song/album.
I validate that this is a great way to be introduced to the band, they're loud, hard, heavy, fast, demonic and crushing, all the elements that give heavy metal it's identity, and who better than to start the 1980's decade than a rejuvenated Sabbath. After 1975's masterpiece, and only Ozzy era Sabbath album to deserve a perfect rating, the band pondered through two good but confusing albums, before Ozzy left/got fired. Instead of running into the night Sabbath got veteran vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who in his own right, had just got done rewriting the face of metal two years earlier while in Rainbow. So it comes as no surprise that a vocalist of Ronnie's caliber teaming up with Sabbath. a splendid album was in store.
Neon Knights, the albums lead off track, surpasses all expectations and reveals right off the bat, this is not the same Sabbath. This is not the same band of middle aged men with a vocalist who's vocals were becoming more and more embarrassing with every passing album. No this was a band of middle aged men playing half their age and a vocalist who's vocals soared higher than his height and slapped in the face all those critics who had written the band off as dead. This was Sabbath refusing to break to the pressures of the business, instead grabbing it by the balls and laughing as the critics groaned in agony at the sheer bliss for which the album offers.
Neon Knights could have been the one and only track here and it would still deserve a rating higher than at least five-thousand other metal bands. Just listen to how Dio sings, "Bloodied angels, fast descending. Moving on a never-bending light". That entire section, beginning at 1:28 and ending with a demonic NEON KNIGHTS at 1:48, is beyond description, and gives the album fifty points simply by itself. Throw in the kick ass solo and an appropriate time length, no overkill here, and you got simply one of the bands all time best tracks.
Children Of The Sea is a bit slower, beginning acoustically and with Dio singing softly about mysticism. The song becomes heavy but never truly gets fast, instead remaining melodic and even returning the opening sequence a few times, it's amazing how many different styles Dio uses to perfection here. So while not as fast as the opener, it shows Sabbath did not lose it's versatility with Ozzy's departure, instead broadening all those otherwise untouched ideas.
Lady Evil is a good song with a good bass-driving rhythm, but due to it's placing, that being before the title track, it pales in comparison. The title track begins with the thunderous tone of the opener with a speed similar to the sophomore track, before leading into a grueling bass line. Right off the bat you know an epic has started and you have no choice but listen to Dio's voice, it works so well in tandem that it's authoritative. A ton of riffs and sharp guitar licks are thrown in with some ethereal keyboards for good measure, forcing the song deeper into your psyche. The previous uncharted territory begins two minutes in when a slow gradual build-up sends the song into the next phase, never getting old, instead being pleasurable to the ear every second. The tempo increases as does the dark swelling atmosphere, never taking away from Dio's haunting reverberated voice. After this awesome verse everything quiets down and you know what is coming, God himself to make sure you remember who invented all of this. The first two notes drag on with a purpose few songs can describe, waving and interweaving through the stratosphere you are cast in by the never ending bass line. Blissful licks all played with extreme amount of taste and phrasing sends the song into the next section, drums begin the build up before Tony returns with another solo. Then out of nowhere the final phase kicks in with more kick ass lyrics delivered by a passionate voice Ozzy could never touch.
Because Wishing Well follows the title track, it suffers the same thing Lady Evil does. In fact some could argue that the entire second half falters because of this, especially since the two weakest songs, in the form of Wishing Well and Walk Away, are located here. But that thinking would be false as while the aforementioned songs do take up the second side, so does another superb track and the best song on the entire album, Die Young and Lonely Is The Word respectively.
Die Young is a mixture of the first two tracks, Neon Knights tone and heaviness with Children Of The Sea's grace, melodic and progressive elements. A ton of fine synthetic are thrown throughout, each with a purpose, that purpose is to give the song an extra dimension of emotion. Dio's vocals continue to be in top notch form, just listen to the second time he sings, "Gather the wind, though the wind wont help you fly at all" for proof of this.
Now we come to the closer of such an extraordinary album, the bluesy reflective piece otherwise known as Lonely Is The Word. There is so many styles of music here, with a touch of waltz and country & western in the percussive patterns, though you don't notice. Your too captivated by Tony's crushing yet soothing guitar, Dio's evasive yet strangely relate able lyrics, Bill and Geezer's off-balance rhythm. If you do not feel your heart bleed, your eyes water and your deepest, darkest and saddest emotions come to the surface when Tony begins his first solo just shy of the two minute mark, then you never will. Close your eyes, let him and the deep atmosphere consume your spirit and comfort your most depressing moments, Tony certainly was when he did this. Another verse comes in at the three and a half minute mark and while still evasive, they seem to make so much sense, with Tony's breath-taking fills and Bill's heavy drumming completing the purpose. The next two minutes Tony plays in such a dramatic fashion you could accuse him of just showing off, but you'd be a snot nosed newbie to metal. Each and every note played means something, another attack on emotions, crushing defeat, financial burden, lonely night. Every possible demon comes to the surface here and he just destroys them all, leading you to a much happier place, at least for almost six minutes of the songs duration.
It's no surprise that the band who, in 1970, laid the blueprint for all metal to follow, and forged ahead throughout the entire decade. Would come down and write another chapter not only in their own history book but Metal's in general. I should not have to recommend this album to you, for you certainly must have it, if not you do not deserve the title of a 'Metal Fan'