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The Dio line-up is less famous than the Ozzy-fronted band, but amongst the metal community it is beloved like little else. Although they only released two albums, both of them were undeniably highlights of the catalogue, stomping flat everything that came after and a good deal of what came before.
While I hold Heaven and Hell in the highest esteem, it really didn't feel like a Black Sabbath record, Ronnie really bringing a whole Rainbow vibe to the proceedings to wonderful results. On album number two though, the band decided to fuse the classic Sabbath stomp with the gothic tones of Rainbow, and for the most part they succeeded.
Opener "Turn Up the Night" is spiritual brethren to "Neon Knights", but where that song is nimble and quick TUTN is slow and moody. Seriously, rhythm section is all mud and the riff is a real earthshaker. Ronnie is rather subdued, the song actually one of my least favourites on the record because it occasionally feels mechanical. But man, those solos are seriously unique in the Sabbath cannon, Iommi going all musical and light in the midst of the titanic murk.
"Voodoo" is a mid-paced cruiser not unlike say, "Wishing Well" from the last album, only much better than that sour note. Still, one of Ronnie's less coherent lyrics is carried off by his performance alone, much more angry and growly this time around, a persona he would neglect until Lock Up the Wolves a decade hence. A nice diddler of a solo, solid again. It seems Sabbath inverted the Heaven and Hell formula and stuffed the front end with weaker tracks while powering up the back end.
"E5150" is like an electric "Fluff" or a second "F/X", both of little purpose except to get us from one track to another. Appropriate then that Sabbath used them to bookend their quasi-legendary Live Evil release. Not much to say, just squealing electronics.
I have trouble calling "Sign of the Southern Cross" one of the great Sabbath songs as some would have you believe. It's a song I like very much, but when you compare it to "Heaven and Hell", it's blown out of the water. And those lyrics are atrocious. When I hear "Southern Cross" I expect the KKK burning crosses, not some besotted ramblings about yet another crystal ball. And there are so many spaces...but hot damn if Ronnie doesn't make you forget it's inadequacies with that wizardry of his, and Iommi's silent death-from-above riff that just gives the chorus the feeling of a roiling cauldron ready to overspill. Bloody brilliant soloing too. And let us not forget the master, Vinnie Apice, ably filling in for Bill Ward with some truly "War Pigs"-worthy fills acrobatically shoving this song along when it might have simply dragged without him. I think this song is just Sabbath doing an epic for the sake of doing an epic, sort of checking off the required epic portion of the record in a hurry to move along to something a little more fun to do.
Now, here's the only track any non-metal traditionalist might have heard of, and deservedly so. "The Mob Rules" is a hot slab of "Kill the King"-y speed metal. Ronnie is top-flight, Geez and Tony metal incarnate, and Vinnie is Vinnie, i.e. a percussion machine. This also has to rank amongst the top Ronnie lyrics, another of his "people be dumb" songs, but at least based on a reality that does not include spell-casting warlocks or dumbass blues light. An unabashed but bashed out classic.
"Country Girl" has all the makings of a terrible song like a notable two songs on Heaven and Hell, but despite it's Elf-ed lyric it becomes reminiscent of "Lady Evil" from Heaven and Hell, one of my fav tracks from that album despite it's insipid blues-gone-wrong lyric. Anyway, "Country Girl" harkens back to classic Sabbath, those iron-y (no pun intended) riffs pummelling the ear and Ronnie doing an Ozzily simple vocal melody that simply follows the riff in a near monotone. And that breakdown is heavenly, or perhaps hell-worthy.
I consider "Slippin' Away" to be the unheralded classic of this record, by hook or by crook sticking in your head, the band tight as a drum, the riff supreme, the singer on top of his game. No chorus to speak of, only a refrain that screams crowd participation. A shame this never really got the respect it deserved.
You may have noticed a pattern of comparison to the last album here, and one of the most direct is "Children of the Sea" and "Falling Off the Edge of the World". However, it's such a great formula that deserves to be repeated (see "Fade to Black"/"Sanitarium", "Hallowed be thy Name"/"Infinite Dreams"/"Mother Russia"/the rest of the catalogue really). Ronnie going back to his grab-bag of tricks to a very "Beyond the Realms of Death" lyric, Ronnie all tragedy and pathos (bathos?) as he details the fate of the isolated and ignored. And damn if this isn't one of the highpoints of this incarnation of the band(really, the last period save for selected Tony Martin moments, that didn't suck).
"Over and Over", well, "Lonely is the Word" smacks this runt and around and tosses it aside handily. It's dull and uninspired, definitely not something to listen to over and over.
Stand-Outs: "Slippin' Away", "Falling Off the Edge of the World", "The Mob Rules"