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Sabbath's "Heaven And Hell" not only brought their music into a new decade, it also saved them from an inevitable death. The two final albums of the Ozzy era were a sharp boot in the face to the six albums prior that had built the band up as one of the most respected in hard rock and heavy metal. With a new singer and more upbeat sound, Black Sabbath were reinvigorated, and "Heaven And Hell" enjoyed the first sounds of inspiration Black Sabbath had felt in a couple of years. "Mob Rules" doesn't necessarily push this new sound any further, but it proves that "Heaven And Hell" was not a fluke. Although not quite as consistent as its predecessor, "Mob Rules" is a great way to wrap up the first Dio era.
As was the case on "Heaven And Hell", the addition of vocalist Ronnie James Padavona changes the band's sound more than I would have expected. Although Sabbath's style had fluctuated a bit during the Ozzy era, the songwriting had generally been based around thick, heavy riffs, courtesy of Tony Iommi and his distinct approach to the guitar. Although Iommi's trademark doom did peek its head up occasionally, it sounded more like Dio's future solo career than anything the band had done in the past. "Mob Rules" does not deviate much from this course, but a little more of the traditional Sabbath cracks through. "Country Girl" is fueled by an incendiary Iommi riff that wouldn't have sounded out of place on "Master of Reality". "The Sign of the Southern Cross" is another song where Sabbath harken back to their more downtempo roots. For the most part however, Sabbath go for faster-paced metal tunes; "Turn Up The NIght" and the title track "The Mob Rules" are both memorable exercises in fire and brimstone.
Although I would have thought Black Sabbath were defined by the riffs, it's remarkable how much the music has changed with replacement vocalist Ronnie James Dio. While I thought Ozzy Osbourne had some great pipes on some of their earlier albums, Dio's voice is notably more powerful, effortlessly pulling off operatic belts that would have made Ozzy cower. With that being said, I think Ozzy's drug-addled charm could have added something to these songs that Dio's flamboyant delivery does not. As far as skill is concerned, Sabbath have certainly benefited from the vocal replacement, but Sabbath sound less distinctive than they used to, and a little more like the horde of their contemporary metal bands.
"Mob Rules" is not the remarkable statement that "Heaven And Hell" was, if only for the fact that "Heaven" did it first. Although it does sound as if Sabbath are trying to recall a little of their past sound here, it is for the most part a recreation of the previous album, albeit less consistent and powerful. Suffice to say, Ronnie James Dio brings a very different angle to Black Sabbath, and though I do not find this material to be as memorable as the Ozzy material, this era is a refreshing new sound for one of heavy metal's greatest bands.