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Black Sabbath have an unusual career arc compared to other long-lived metal institutions, releasing consistently great albums over their extensive career but almost never consecutively. Every other album tends to be a dip (though relatively in many cases, like Vol. 4) between classics and, if we count each era separately and consider Heaven and Hell’s The Devil You Know as an official release, this holds true for all twenty of their studio albums. My preference tends to lie with the odd numbered releases, so following that logic, the second Dio-fronted Sabbath album is weaker than the first, relying mostly on earlier momentum and adding little but a few more likable metal anthems without achieving the same sublimity.
Peering behind the rather disturbing, occultic imagery splattered across the cover, we find a very worthy companion piece to Sabbath’s earlier achievement Heaven and Hell, with fresh drummer Vinnie Appice filling Bill Ward’s shoes in quite the respectable manner given the less ambitious, relatively straightforward nature of this era’s sonic delights. There are a few analogues to the last album that are pretty transparent; for instance, “Turn up the Night” is the cheerier second coming of “Neon Knights.” But there’s a lot of different takes on the metal formula on display. The title track is a more aggressive galloper and an obvious highlight, while “Country Girl” has an irresistibly heavy groove and dynamic counterpoint comparable to that of the classic “Die Young.” “Slipping Away” is more rock-oriented, and almost Zeppelin-esque save the unequaled heavy it brings, while “Over and Over” resurrects the forlorn bluesy pace that made “Lonely is the Word” such an enjoyable finale. As you can see, it’s far too easy to draw parallels to their previous album, leading Mob Rules to look like a little brother than a standalone effort.
New elements include increased synthesizer integration, resulting in skippable tomfoolery like “E5150” but also adding gravitas to the album’s grand, atmospheric diversions “The Sign of the Southern Cross” and the first half of “Falling Off the Edge of the World.” It’s debatable whether or not the former piece outstays its welcome, but I’m hard pressed to find a more emotive vocal performance from RJD than on either of these pieces. As always, despite the obvious quality of their proto speed metal works, Sabbath excels at the slowest tempos. And though Dio’s performance is the highlight of this album, both Iommi and Butler tend to be at their most poignant during the slow ones too.
Dio’s earliest achievements are so colossal, so monumental, that most all of his later works pale by comparison. Each Sabbath album he led is worthy of owning and playing at high volumes, but each loses some magic that its predecessor possessed and is therefore a clear descent. Mob Rules is an excellent melodic heavy metal record, but outside of a few brilliant moments and a general appreciation for the songcraft, it cannot compare to Heaven and Hell and will not get nearly as many replays.