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Black Sabbath is and always shall be one of those truly legendary bands, not just in metal, but in music all together. It's hard to believe that at one point in time they were about to fall off the map completely. After the late 70's misfires of "Technical Ecstasy" and "Never Say Die", the group went into hibernation for a couple years, ultimately culminating in the removal of the one and only Ozzy Osbourne from the ranks. But in 1980, a little man from over the rainbow took the ozzman's place, and the result is one of the most talked about "rejuvenation" albums in heavy metal's history. Me personally I don't think it's that fantastic, but we do have a pretty good album here.
The two top dogs on "Heaven And Hell", as with on pretty much any Sabbath record, are Geezer Butler on bass and riff god Tony Iommi taking on guitars as always. Geezer's bass is fuzzy and prominent, making for a nice balance/counter-balance to Iommi's rhythm riffage. Some of Iommi's finest leads are found on this particular album, while the separate riffage, while strong, are not as great on here as many of his numerous earlier efforts on the Sabbath classics. Bill Ward's usually spiffy and energetic drumming sounds on here rather mundane and pentatonic. The man was beginning to suffer from alcoholism at this time, and since this is what was most likely affecting his work, I guess I can cut him some slack, even though I personally hold little sympathy towards alcoholics. But the big name here, the big change to Black Sabbath's sound, is the only and only late great Ronnie James Dio at the mic. Dio's replacement of Ozzy is one of the great examples of a band's new singer being massively superior; Dio's booming mid range, sweeping howls and emotional clean vocals wipe out memories of Ozzy's tuneless, whiny squawking with little difficulty.
Iommi and Dio worked side by side during the creation of "Heaven And Hell"; with Dio's vastly different vocal style they didn't even bother to hide that fact, and instead began composing work more suited to the new vocalist's style. The final result is cleaner, less doomy and drugged out heavy meal more comparable to the power metal movement later in the decade. My main gripe with this album though is that even though this is Sabbath, and not only that but Sabbath without useless interludes and PCP musical progressions, there isn't as much as one would hope for in the way of big, memorable riffs. I mean there is, but there should be more. Plus I always thought a lot of the songs on here just went on and on or when they didn't they still weren't very interesting. Plus, not nearly enough faster material either.
At least things start off with a bang. Opener "Neon Knights", ironically the last song composed for the album, is pure starter fuel metal. Dio's righteous vocals, Iommi's charging rhythms and the boisterous bass of Butler make this a killer starter. The more balladic "Children of the Sea" follows, a slowish, melancholic rocker with nice, fuzzy guitars and a series of great riffs, particularly the moody acoustic moments. The rather bland and forgettable "Lady Evil" gives way the the titanic title track; a bit overrated ( I think the following album's "Sign of the Southern Cross" is far superior), but it's still pretty damn good anyway I guess with the crawling mood and unforgettable main riff (one of Iommi's finest). "Wishing Well" is also kinda forgettable but gets a pass from me for being a but catchy. The aggressive "Die Young" with its ballady middle part is pretty worthwhile but doesn't stick to long after the initial listen. I find the following song, the rocking "Walk Away" with many a catchy guitar lines, to be superior. "Lonely Is The Word" closes the album on a solid enough note.
Overall, I think "Heaven And Hell" is a little overrated. Many of the songs don't stick as well as one would hope, and there really should be more attitude and riffage than what we got here. But the work and still effortless energy of Iommi and Butler are still to behold, as is the raging and always dependable vocal work of Mr. Dio. Incredible for the musicianship, decent on the actual music. Worth a few listens but keep your expectations in check.