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After about 4 years of meandering about musically, odd experimentation resulting in dead ends, and a rather lackluster pair of albums in "Technical Ecstacy" and "Never Say Die", Sabbath emerged with a new singer and the recaptured spirit that originally made them great. The new singer, Ronnie Dio (who has since become a household name with his own solo band) delivers the performance of his life on this fine gem.
Many of today's Traditional, Power and Progressive Metal acts site "Heaven and Hell" as a pivotal influence in their work. Axel Rudi Pell is probably the most blatant of this albums enthusiasts, as underscored by his equally long hommage "Disciples of Hell" off of his 2004 album Kings and Queens. Furthere back in the mix, Iron Maiden's 1988 album "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" also can not escape sounding similar to this album on many tracks. In addition, Queensryche's 1984 release "Warning" has several similar elements, particularly on the closing track "Road to Madness". Other more recent Power Metal bands sounding similar to this release at times include Gamma Ray, Iron Savior, Gaia Epicus, and Iron Fire. Meanwhile, Progressive and Symphonic acts such as Symphony X and Rhapsody take more influence from the lyrics.
The sheer amount of variety in the songs is reminiscent of Dio's work with Rainbow before he signed on with Sabbath, in addition to some spooky lyrics that fit well with the original theme of the band. Such fantasy driven songs as "Neon Knights", "Wishing Well", and the poetic "Heaven and Hell represent the new injection of Rainbow's rather progressive rock/metal. Meanwhile, slower tunes such as "Lady Evil", "Lonely is the Word", and "Walk Away" are a bit more bluesy and reminiscent of classic Ozzy era Sabbath (though with very different vocals).
The production of this album, especially considering the year, is quite stellar. The guitars in particular have the right amount of crunch to them to stand out from the more traditional rock acts of the time such as AC/DC and Deep Purple. The bass is highly present and always active, something that has always been the exception and not the rule with older metal acts such as Judas Priest and Riot. The drums are probably the least raunchy sounding of the bunch, though Bill Ward does make a decent racket on "Heaven and Hell" and "Children of the Sea". But the true strength of this album are the vocal tracks, which are perfectly clean, and blend together perfectly during the harmony sections.
Tony Iommi's soloing on this album is nothing short of amazing. He delivers a killer thrill ride with the solo to "Die Young". His long-winded improvisation on "Lonely is the Word" rivals the insanity heard on such extended Jam sessions as Free Bird and some of Jimi Hendrix's live material. There are strong elements of story telling found in his solo work on "Children of the Sea", "Heaven and Hell", and "Wishing Well". And the leads he provides on "Lady Evil" take me back to the glory days of such tracks as "Fairies Wear Boots".
In conclusion, there are no weak links on this album, there are no avenues that are left unexplored. This album functions not only as an early pioneer effort that injected more power into the NWOBHM, but as a manifesto by which today's current Metal faithful continue to wage their war for the greatness of the genre. I can't recommend this album more strongly, if you haven't heard it, get yourself to your local CD store or onto Amazon.com and get yourself a copy quick.