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There seems to be an inevitable occurrence in music regarding truly great bands – before they break up they start to make crap, and after they break up they continue to make crap. Well, that’s what happened to Sabbath during the last few years of the original lineup. Here were four tired, bored, spoiled asses producing what asses produce. Crap. With the exception of a few great songs here and there, the incredible, powerful and magical band that had struck fear and wonder across the land just five years earlier was completely gone. So Ozzy left and the remaining trio recruited a new singer. Here is where it gets interesting.
Against all expectations, both Ozzy and Black Sabbath, after going their separate ways, managed to rejuvenate their music and make some of the most memorable, classic recordings of all time, each in their own unique way, capturing the essence of heavy metal. Such is the case with Sabbath and their singer Ronnie James Dio, who produced an opus for the ages, “Heaven and Hell”.
Like the first four classic Sabbath albums with Ozzy, this is not just a record. It’s a friend.
The first track, the universally acknowledged metal classic “Neon Knights”, showed the band at its finest: tight, fast, powerful, energetic and bonding beautifully with their new singer. Old Sabbath fans were introduced to a new sound. And it was good. I wholeheartedly agree with an earlier review by ChildOfTheSea who describes this record as NWOBHM. It is not old school Sabbath. It is metal for (what was then) a new decade, a new era. And although metal very rapidly evolved into heavier, faster and more aggressive sounds, the root of all evil can be found here.
The band sounds amazing! All of them. Bill Ward never sounded better, no bullshit, tight and bright and strong. Geezer Butler was brilliant, a great musician, probably the most underrated bass player in all of metal. Listen to those elegant lines in “Wishing Well”. Absolutely beautiful. As for Tony Iommi, he is the undisputed riffmeister. Personally I have always been critical of his soloing, which I found rather amateurish, but here he matured a great deal, and his playing never sounded better. As for Dio? Well, yes old Sabbath rules and Ozzy rules, that charismatic lovable lunatic went on to bigger and better things himself. But after all is said and done and all the heads have been counted, Ronnie James Dio is arguably the best heavy metal vocalist of all time.
There is nothing bad on this album. The songwriting is mature and refined, while managing to retain the aesthetic appeal and the essence of what we love as heavy metal. Many new bands could, and should, go to school with this disc. My favourite track is “Children of the Sea”. I could listen to this song over and over until I puke, and while I puke I would turn up the volume so I could still listen without missing anything.
If you’re from the older generation of fans you love this. If you’re among the younger metal fans, make an effort to understand and appreciate this record. Once you do, you will be forever grateful.