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This had all the necessary ingredients to be the live album to end all live albums. The four musicians that made up this era of Black Sabbath are of the highest order, even and including Vinnie Appice who was quite green at this point in his career. All of the songs on here, both of the Dio and Ozzy era, are the picks of the litter if you want a solid concert experience from the first 12 years of Sabbath’s existence. So what went wrong? What keeps this from being the staple by which all metal live albums ought to be compared to?
Although the legendary status of some albums making or breaking a band is often inflated, in the case of “Live Evil” the tall tale is of equal height to the reality. When considering the stellar sound quality of most live albums that have been put out by Ronnie Dio during his post-Sabbath days, the extremity of his reaction to the horrid mixing job on this album was probably justified, although I doubt this could be blamed on Tony Iommi or Geezer Butler. Whether the mixing guy they hired was a novice or if he mixed this while choking down some fumes from the almighty ganja while chanting praises to it with “Sweet Leaf” blasting in the background, the results speak for themselves.
Every story you’ve heard about this album is true: the drums are hardly audible, the bass is overpowering, the guitar sounds too muddy during the heavy riffs, and Ronnie Dio sounds like he’s singing from backstage on several of these songs. It gets so bad that on “Children of the Grave” it gets difficult to hear the separation of the notes and instead of the classic shuffle riff that first personified heaviness, we get something that sounds like an elongated note so muddy that it doesn’t sound like it’s even being muted. Poor Geoff Nichols, who is the sort of un-credited 5th man in Sabbath, is denied any kind of real impact on the atmosphere and sounds even more distant than the drums; you can hear him a little bit during the guitar solos when the muddy rhythm riffs go away, but otherwise forget it.
The songs themselves are performed flawlessly, despite the large sound level issues. I can picture myself being at this concert and being in a total state of euphoria as I’m sure most that saw this tour probably were, assuming that the sound quality at the concert was not exactly the same as this recording of it is. In some cases like “Black Sabbath”, “Children of the Sea” and “Heaven and Hell” the production issues are not as overwhelming as in others and I can really get into what I’m listening to. Ronnie performs the Ozzy era stuff far better than Ozzy ever has either with this band or solo with Randy Rhoades. I have yet to hear a live rendition of either “N.I.B.” or “Children of the Grave” sung with this much power and passion. The only poor vocal performance on here is “Paranoid”, where Ronnie gets carried away and sounds almost like he’s singing with a muddled Indian accent. Every time he sings this song it sounds bad, and his high vocal range doesn’t cut it as an excuse since Tony Martin has pulled this song off far better than this.
As far as recommendations go, if you can get past the extremely poor sound levels on here, this would be worth getting. It has historical value for Sabbath fan mainstays, both young and old, just don’t expect to be wowed by it. You’d probably get more enjoyment out of hearing the live material from the Heaven and Hell 2007 tour. 25 years after this famous tour Ronnie Dio can still sing with this level of intensity, which is more than I can say for many of his contemporaries who are trying to make comebacks right now. It’s a rather good constellation considering the disappointment I had when I first heard this.