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Neon Nostalgia - 94%

marktheviktor, March 26th, 2010

There it stood on the display shelf. Monumental. Flanked and almost camouflaged by other gaudy but less maverick looking records. If I was describing something this lucid and capturing during adulthood, it would probably be about that one glowing femme fatale in a gin joint guarded by two girlfriends each of strategically polarizing physical qualities for balanced protection. But no, in this encounter I was not be inhibited by the lame games of later life. Sure, this album whispered something but not of the devious sort of chatter that a woman in a bar would to her two social sentries about you looking her way "..so if a stranger sees you, don't look into his eyes 'cause it's Voodoo.." I had no idea what the album was or who it was by. All I knew was, it was diabolical looking and heavy; a herd of executioners regarding me with baleful persecution through their bloody robes with no heads. Did this album find me? As a child, going to the record store was among the most enjoyably fascinating experiences. Perusing through all those exotic looking album covers of some newfangled movement in music alien to me after only after having access to whatever hackneyed feminist singer-songwriter or once-on-the-fringe of revolution(yeah whatever) rock albums my mother kept in the armoire . But the record shop was the armory when it came it to checking out the real booty. Well, one Friday night my father took me to the mall "..turn up the night, it feels so right!.." This was around early 1982 and I was just a scrawny six year old with a stringy mop cut wearing Lacoste polo shirts so I am retroactively exempt from any undue accusations of encountering metal in a shopping mall. Anyway, if going off alone under the album's seductive trance potentially put me in danger of becoming the next Adam Walsh, then so be it I was enthralled; helpless to its charms of danger and depiction of bedlam.

Welcome to Mob Rules: Black Sabbath's second best album after Master of Reality. Does my nostalgic value color my opinion of it? Yes, but so what? Most hardcore metal fans strike me as the drippy crowds for yesteryear anyway which is why newer metal material isn't as respected. And besides, it's got tremendous songs and fervor when you get right down to it. I agree with most everyone that this album is back to the classic doom metal sound but still die cut from the Heaven and Hell record which explains why most each track feels like it's a sequel of sorts to a respective song from that 1980 album. But this is a formula that works very well. It's a better album. It's an upgrade. I'll never agree with the many who think Heaven and Hell is better than this "..you're all fools, the mob rules!.." While their previous album was quite good, it sounded too much like a hybridization of Rainbow and Black Sabbath. And really, I had no problem with even that for a first get together. Mob Rules is a more confident and consolidated piece of work. The band drew from their strengths from Heaven and Hell and improved on it here with more aggressiveness and bite.

You got the first song of Turn Up the Night with a thickset and chunky exuberance. Tony Iommi's riffs are pretty feisty on the song going into a colorful and spin happy wah peddle. The band seems to be playing in good cheer for the start of this new release. Voodoo slows things down a little. It was a song that reminded me of Hell’s Bells since the beats and riffs resemble it. With this song, I noticed Geezer Butler goes back to the style of trailing Tony’s guitar. I like how Dio sings this song. Wailing and howling the simple chorus with energy. It was this song that made me pretty sure this was album was going to be even better. There’s no filler on this record. There should be at least one but I can’t say there is. That is not mean all the tracks are equally good but it sure is close packed and alas, the sum equals the whole. I enjoy it as a whole album taken altogether and at the same time it’s packed with a couple very strong tracks to anchor it all together.

Another reason why I find it amazing that Mob Rules is underrated compared next to Heaven and Hell is because with this lineup on this very album, Black Sabbath brings back the doom metal sound but yet still manages to retool it as their own unique style and even bring influence to other doom bands who used Mob Rules as their calling card influence of doom; most prominently Candlemass. Listening to that Swedish doom band, I am always reminded of this album with the songs The Sign of the Southern Cross, Country Girl and Falling Off the Edge of the World in particular. Heaven and Hell was sort of doom-y but more in line with the power metal genre while Mob Rules is influential to epic doom as again Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus “..You know I've seen the faces of doom..”

The little instrumental interlude has returned. I know E5150 might be one of the band’s more disposable items of the sort but I thought it was a quite cool and heavy bridge between Sign of the Southern Cross and the title track. You hear that high pitched electronic sound creeping in at the end of Sign of the Southern Cross’s fadeout and it only enhances the feeling of impending doom coming right at you. Just to give you an idea of how well this works, my friend had this album ripped onto his mp3. He was playing the album through one day but with the way the entire record was uploaded, there would be a noticeable gap of like one second off between the songs as though it was loaded track by track with no discernable continuity for the actual master spacing. So when Sign of the Southern Cross was fading out you could hear just a little bit of the E5150 at the very end of the track but then it there was that second or maybe even only half second gap cutoff into the next song proper. It totally threw everything off. I was pissed. The effect was ruined. Even though E5150 does not seep into the title track, there the timing was still thrown off again for it because the song The Mob Rules actually comes in very suddenly and sooner than expected so then for that one there is yet another delay.

Speaking of the title track, The Mob Rules is one of Black Sabbath’s best head banging songs. How could anyone not enjoy such a rambunctious and energetic track like this? I like the title tracks for heavy metal albums like these to standout and be among the most memorable and this is one of those glaring examples. E5150 and this title track are featured at the beginning of the Taarna segment of the 1981 film Heavy Metal and that was the best part of the movie. Falling Off the Edge of the World is another splendid epic doom song with Dio’s gentle singing for lament to start it off until it comes back up full throttle into aggressive tritone goodness. When the song ends, Over and Over cuts in almost as fast as the title track did with E5150 which is a detail in of itself that almost makes me think it’s a better end song than Lonely is the Word was for Heaven and Hell. I know one of Ronnie’s influences as an aspiring singer growing up was Sam Cooke and on this last cut, he uses a lot of that Philly soul influence when he sings on Over and Over. If I had to decide though I would say this song is not better than the very similarly styled end song from the previous time out only because Iommi’s solo on Over and Over is nothing special. I will say however, that this song is one of the tracks that showed Vinnie Appice’s drumming to be a very good replacement for Bill Ward on the album. I thought he sounded a lot like Ward’s style and to top it off, he did a better job here than Bill did on Heaven and Hell.

As I stared at the record (or was it staring at me?), some rock music was blaring very loudly on the store’s speakers. They were not playing anything from this sinister album. I would not hear the album until many years later but the seed of what heavy metal was was planted in my mind at that moment even though at the time I did not know it. My first encounter was a visual one but even if I did not get to hear what was inside it, I didn’t have to at that time for this is one of those albums that just speak to you and it was no leap of faith “..there's a message inside as we build a new life from the past..” If I stared long enough at it, a burning smoke would rise out from all around the album. A crackle and a cloud forming an image of a skeletal hand forming what looks like devil’s horns…