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After releasing some rather weak records and losing Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath surprised everyone, releasing the very good“Heaven and Hell”, an album featuring the amazing Ronnie James Dio on vocals. The first thing you got to know about this album is that it isn't a traditional Black Sabbath album. If you are expecting “Heaven and Hell” to be a skull-crushing, heavy and doomy record, better search for other things. “Heaven and Hell” is different than “Paranoid” and different than, say, “Master of Reality”.
First of all, while the guitar riffs are still heavy, they are played faster, giving to the album a more true heavy metal sound. Check out riffs like the main one on “Neon Knights” or “Lady Evil” and you will understand it. The drumming is simple, even giving to this album a strange AC/DC flavour, since Bill Ward seriously overuses the “kick-snare-kick-snare” beat. The bass is audible and provides an extra groove to the majority of the songs.
About the vocals... Dio is the main responsible for the drastic change of the band's sound, first of all because he is a singer that can do almost everything with his voice (Ozzy isn't, you know), delivering some beautiful vocals on “Children of Sea” and, most of all, on the beginning of “Die Young” and sounding pretty aggressive on songs like “Neon Knights”. He also wrote the majority of the lyrics, so they are also extremely different from the traditional Sabbath ones (the ones dealing with evil, Satan, etc). This time, they mainly deal with fantasy, even giving to this album a strange proto-power metal sound, since the bands of that genre generally write all their lyrics about fantasy and such.
The opener “Neon Knights” represents the new sound of Sabbath perfectly, being a relatively fast song, filled with an unforgettable chorus and some simple yet effective, straight-forward drumming. In fact, this isn't the only song that carries a catchy chorus; the catchiness is, indeed, one of the main characteristics of “Heaven and Hell”, which is a very varied record too. Even though the majority of the songs is straight forward, there are two “ballads”/calmer songs here to be found: “Children of the Sea” and “Lonely is the Word”.
Anyways, highlights? The afore mentioned “Neon Knights” is a clear winner, of course. “Children of the Sea”, a song that resulted from the first jam Black Sabbath ever made with Ronnie Dio, is another great song, the “green” lyrics fantastically interpreted by an inspired Dio. Got to love that ending too (“look out!!”). “Die Young” is the best track of the album though, that keyboard beginning (even reminiscent of Pink Floyd's “Shine on you Crazy Diamond”) accompanied by the fantastic Dio... Awesome! Then the song explodes and Iommi unleashes one of his crushing riffs, ahhh, perfect! “Lady Evil” is another song that I like, especially because of the goofy lyrics, apparently Lady Evil is a “magical woman, the queen of the night, who can freeze where you stand!”. Hell yeah, cheesy power metal lyrics + Black Sabbath = win!
However, one of the mysteries of metal, at least for me, is how the title track is so praised out there. It surely is a classic, a kick-ass song, but it isn't the “magnificient, amazing, awesome, beautiful, masterpiece of a tune” that many people say it is. A strong song, nevertheless.
The only songs that harm the whole listening experience are the last two, at least they sound a bit uninspired for me. Without them, I would give this album some more points, but meh, I'll have to remove some because of them. I like the long guitar solo of “Lonely is the Word” though.
So, a catchy and heavy album by the metal godfathers. That's right, Dio really brought a fresh sound to this band, it's a shame that he had to left the band after “Mob Rules” (a pretty good record too). The good thing is that he is right now reunited with Black Sabbath and they are planning to release an album this year (at least that's what Dio said).
Best moments of the CD:
-the last part of “Heaven and Hell”.
-the beginning of “Die Young”.