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...and here is where Sabbath pulls off the greatest trick in their grim metal existence, (seemingly) effortlessly switching singers without skipping a beat, in fact vastly improving themselves when all is said and done and dragging themselves from the mire of Technical Ecstasy (essentially the overblown logical conclusion to the train of thought proposed by Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and Sabotage) and Never Say Die (uninspired wastrel of a record) to a new metal plateau once more at the forefront of the genre.
This is a totally new Sabbath, nimble and forceful to a degree that belies their years, this looming maturity and new-found zest for life leaving virtually everything else released in the year 1980 in the dust, smoking the NWOBHM, steamrolling the new simplified Priest, really only AC/DC's landmark "Back in Black" and Ozzy's "Blizzard of Ozz" (honourable mention: the first Maiden) matching it's longevity and quality.
It's also a Sabbath tired of experimentation, more concerned with making a shiny, rock-solid album that will bring them back to prominence and succeeding unreservedly.
Heaven and Hell hits the back of the net at least five times on this one, and though one song could be called a stumble ("Walk Away") it's engulfed in the sheer brilliance of the rest. "Die Young", "Lonely is the Word", "Children of the Sea", "Neon Knights", and high upon high title track "Heaven and Hell" are in that rarified class of pure musical genius, all five easily finding their way into the top one or two hundred rock songs ever released in my book.
This album is great for many reasons, all of which are centered on the band. Tony Iommi is writing light-years away from Sabbath and ahead in time, pre-power metal derived more from Purple and Rainbow than anything else and also with a real epic feeling that Sabbath had never had, even on their considerable epics like "The Writ" and "War Pigs", a feel of cinematic scope that was the realm of basically Priest, Rainbow, and a burgeoning Maiden alone and screaming in the night (okay, Purple, Heep, and particularly Zeppelin did contribute quite a bit to this field as well) that this is the way metal SHOULD feel. Ward is tight as a drum (ironically) despite his horribly wasted state, more of a standard time-keeping player than the progressive drumming monster last seen on Sabotage. Bill Ward is as dynamic as ever sporadically, like Ward more inside the box (probably something to do with Ronnie's writing) but just amazing within the confines of a normal band. Last but not least, the short little feller filling in for the Ozz is a breath of fresh air, Dio being an obviously more talented singer and a writer and a half, his usual magic making this band more Rainbow than Sabbath, more modern than retro, more brilliant than ever.
This album would be worth it for the title track alone, probably my favourite song ever, out of all styles and all times. There's no use talking about the thespian grandeur of it all, the incredible slow-build and the level of BAM!-connection that is instantaneous and unshakeable. In short, it's the crowning classic of both the Sabbath catalogue and the rock genre entirely, that's how much I fucking love the song.
"Lonely is the Word" is the most insistently metallic track on the album, otherworldly soloing powerful vocals, and most pertinently a raw scraping guitar tone that cuts the ear and wrings the neck. "Die Young" is emotional and unconventional speed metal, the soulful (!) vocals of RJD in the slow break and the passion of Iommi's playing lifting this soaring and piercing speedster into the pantheon and above the whole wallowing power metal genre struggling to reach this high and be this damn good. "Neon Knights" is like a cleaned up "Symptom of the Universe" or "Kill the King" (Rainbow) part 2, hyper and clean with some amazing soloing from Tony and catchier-than-thou melodies up the wazoo.
Okay enough, I don't want to repeat the obvious. If you want more (and why wouldn't you...), e-mail me or something and I'll talk your ear off about this or any other album I've reviewed and a good many I've yet to. Suffice to say, Heaven and Hell is the last Sabbath classic (there are a few more good ones to go though) and maybe just shy of being the best damn thing they or anyone else ever recorded. Just buy the damned thing, it's essential Dio, Dio at his best, and also Dio in the middle of quite possibly the greatest hot-streak in metal history.