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After a run of five classic studio albums, one patchy but still quite good piece (Sabotage) and a couple of albums best forgotten, the Ozzy-fronted incarnation of Black Sabbath finally disintegrated for good. Luckily, Iommi, Ward and Butler had been having a good time jamming with Dio of late, and took him on as their new vocalist - a crucial moment for the careers of both Dio and the band as a whole.
Wisely, Sabbath do not try to mimic the sound of the Ozzy-era albums, instead taking the opportunity of their new lead singer to update and rejuvenate their sound and show those NWOBHM whippersnappers how it's done. The result is a confident and capable album which might not be as starkly original and groundbreaking as their first releases, but still represents a striking return to form after a fallow patch in the band's fortunes and a refreshingly new sound for the group.
Particularly striking is the way Iommi is able to weave guitar solos in his own classic style into fast-paced tunes like Neon Knights, which in their pounding rhythms and Dio's dramatic delivery rank compare favourably to the sort of material produced by Iron Maiden or Judas Priest at around the same time. Meanwhile, Dio proves he's capable of handling slower, doomier material like the title track, Lonely Is the Word, or Children of the Sea. These slower tracks take on a more operatic tone than the sledgehammer-heavy dirges of early Sabbath, but this is only appropriate for Dio's vocal style - which is on top form this time around.
On the whole, this album is probably more closely aligned to Dio's early solo style than the classic early 1970s Black Sabbath sound, so if you're fond of the former but aren't so keen on the latter, don't be put off from giving it a try, while if you love the early Ozzy sound don't expect more of the same with a different vocalist here. Of course, if you love both early Sabbath and solo Dio, you'll probably end up giving this album heavy rotation anyway.