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The Dio-fronted incarnations of Sabbath, one with Bill Ward and one without, took until 2007 to be recognized for their collective significance. Dio's tenure in Sabbath was previously fragmented across two decades. His return to Sabbath in 1992 saw the band merging the attitude of the previous two Dio-fronted albums with the heaviness Ronnie would retain for his solo project. Although this meant that the potential the Martin-fronted line-up was showing on Tyr was abandoned (and that may be a tragedy in its own right) it reinforces the strength of the three Dio-fronted albums as a defined and cohesive era in Black Sabbath history when combined onto one disc.
Despite a bewildering array of Sabbath compilations featuring predominantly or exclusively the Ozzy-fronted line-up (except the hurried The Sabbath Stones compilation), the only compilation of this kind was a sort of embryonic version of The Dio Years that is hard to find and featured a severely lacking tracklist. The selection here has been chosen with far more attention to the important moments of this line-up. With 16 tracks, there is plenty of space for each of the albums to be represented.
Noticeably, 'Children Of The Sea' is not included amongst the tracks from the Heaven & Hell album. Although the version from Live Evil is an excellent live track, and works well as lip service to what may well have been the ultimate Sabbath live album, it means that this classic track is compromised slightly. Another omission is 'The Sign Of The Southern Cross', which means that the album’s quota of solemn and reflective epics is diminished a little. 'Voodoo' and 'Lonely Is The Word' seem odd choices in place of say, 'Walk Away' and 'Country Girl' which epitomised the rockier side of Dio's years with the band.
Overall, however, there is little to complain about. Although nothing can capture the feel of those original albums like owning them in their entirety, The Dio Years runs together reasonably well. While the omitted tracks raise eyebrows, the inclusion of 'Neon Knights', 'Heaven & Hell', 'The Mob Rules' and several others help raise it to definitive status. The morbid 'After All (The Dead)' and the stomping 'I' provide two huge Doom Metal songs that lead the album smoothly towards the final three tracks, and the main draw of the album: the first new Black Sabbath recordings since 1998.
With 'Psycho Man' and 'Selling My Soul', Iommi only managed to produce forgettable riffs, and Ozzy seemed to be putting in only the effort of someone who had a reality TV show to tape after lunch. The spirit of Black Sabbath had been dormant, but was ready to rise in all its sludgy splendour when the time came. 'The Devil Cried' is nothing short of thrilling; apart from containing the catchiest Iommi riff in over a decade, the solos are incredibly elaborate and complex, full of showmanship and confidence. 'Shadow Of The Wind' is a whole lot more solemn; crushing Doom Metal chords dominating the track. A gentle break halfway through moves into an emotional climax, Dio roaring "every day is an inquisition/ who are you, what are you, why?" Dio seems to express in this moment of impassioned philosophizing all the raw power of mind and music that is Heavy Metal, and his delivery of this part of the song never fails to set my hairs on end. 'Ear In The Wall' is not as jaw-dropping as the previous two, but still contains some memorable riffing from Iommi and a solid performance by Appice.
By its nature, a compilation of music from a 37-year old band cannot be perfect. Without a doubt though, this is an unmissable curio for the Sabbath devotee. It is also the best compilation of any kind the uninitiated listener could invest in from the band, as any Ozzy-dominated compilation inevitably includes a schizophrenic mix of obscurities and crowd pleasers. This disc contains more classics than the entire discography of most other bands, actually plays well as an album, and will act as a gateway to Sabbath's Dio era, to Dio's own solo project and to the band born out of this album, Heaven & Hell.
There are basically no instances that I can recall where I’ve felt any sort of anticipation for the release of a compilation, save for this one. Being someone who has made it a point to own everything with RJD and Sabbath’s names on it, there would naturally be little reason for me to bother spending anything more than a few dollars on a best of album unless I was able to get some rarities to go with it. But in the case of this album, I was in the unique position to witness something that I had hoped would happen for the better part of 10 years, the resurrection of Black Sabbath as a creative force.
There are basically two ways in which to judge this compilation, the first of which is as an EP carrying 3 brand new songs from a lineup that had been on hiatus for 15 years. In this respect, “The Dio Years” is a perfect release, as the new songs contained within are nothing short of amazing. Essentially all of the best modern elements of “Dehumanizer” have been merged with the simplicity of the band’s earlier efforts with Dio. “The Devil Cried” is cut a little bit closer to the standard slow grooving yet rocking nature of songs off the “Heaven And Hell” album such as “Lady Evil” and “Lonely Is The Word”. “Shadow Of The Wind” represents the punishingly slow aspect of the band that was really emphasized on slower songs present on “Dehumanizer”, though in a bit more of a spooky character as heard on the Tony Martin fronted album “Cross Purposes”. “Ear In The Wall” is where the band sort of steps away from the modern character of their 90s sound, except in terms of production, and presents a catchy up tempo riff monster that sounds a bit closer to Dio’s work in the past few albums since “Magica”, but with a darker character. Basically each of them have a uniqueness that sets them apart from past works, yet retains the familiarity necessary to be immediately associated with this franchise.
Insofar as the second way that this album is to be judged, which is as a greatest songs collection, a slightly flawed picture emerges. Although there was never really a weak song to be heard out of any of the albums in congress on here, this does suffer for the lack of inclusion of several, making one wonder how this would listen with a couple of substitutions. As fun as “Lonely Is The Word” is for those of us who long drawn out guitar solos, this compilation was a missed opportunity to include one of this band’s most underrated and definitely essential songs “Wishing Well”, which would showcase the band in a much more animated and varied light. Likewise, although “Voodoo” has a really fun main riff, the absence of the classic slow paced epic “Sign Of The Southern Cross” is felt, in spite of the near equally great and lesser known rival of said song “Falling Off The Edge Of The World” has made it onto here, which was quite surprising. And as far as the “Dehumanizer” collection is concerned, my favorite song “Computer God” was passed up in favor of the slower and slightly less interesting “After All (The Dead)”, missing an opportunity once again to offer an epic alternative to what largely appears as a modern yet bare bones collection of songs from a very multifaceted album.
In spite of these slight disappointments that sort of bring down the power of the whole release, this is a well put together compilation. The approach to track ordering and pacing is well realized, avoiding the abrupt jolts in style that often occur in grab-bag oriented collections of pre-released material. This is basically what Megadeth’s “Capitol Punishment” could have been if that band had been as stylistically consistent as their older forefathers here have been and had put more effort into writing the accompanying new material. This is the only Dio era Sabbath compilation that is essential, if for no other reason in that the new songs on here blow everything that this band has done since 1994 completely out of the water.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 8, 2009.
It's about time that they came out with a Dio-years greatest hits package; since they have 385 compilations of the Ozzy Osbourne years (give or take). I was nervous when I first heard that they were putting one out, as many greatest hits CD's of bands that didn't really have hit singles typically do a poor job of selecting the band's "best" tracks.
Thankfully "The Dio Years" is nearly perfect in its selection of songs, they even included a song that I figured was one of their lesser-known songs, "Falling Off the Edge of the World." Despite not being as widely publicized as "Iron Man," or even Black Sabbath with Dio's "Children of the Sea," this is probably one of the best songs that the band has ever written, with Dio, Ozzy, or any other singer. Of course, that's not to say that this album is made up of all sleeper songs, and it's kind of hard to screw this up, considering that this basic lineup only did three albums together, but I digress. Classics from all three albums like "Heaven and Hell," "Voodoo," and "I" are incorperated; including a live-version of "Children of the Sea" from the amazing "Live Evil."
The only two glaring omissions are "Sign of the Southern Cross" and "Computer God." The former isn't even such a bad thing because the album it came off of, "The Mob Rules," is so good that any self-respecting metalhead should own it, even if they get this best-of album. The exclusion of "Computer God" isn't so forgivable, however, because not only is it the opener off of "Dehumanizer," it's arguably the best song and by far one of the most diverse. Since "After All (The Dead)" and "I" were also included, "Computer God" would have made the purchase of "Dehumanizer" senseless, as the only worthwhile songs on that album would have been included here. Replacing "Computer God" is the throwaway "Time Machine," most likely added solely because it was a single off of the album.
The new songs are fantastic. They were all recorded with the "Mob Rules" and "Dehumanizer" lineup, minus keyboardist Geoff Nichols. Actually, there aren't any keyboards at all, which makes Tony Iommi's heavy-as-fuck guitar sound all the more potent. "The Devil Cried" and "Shadow of the Wind" are slow and bludgeoning tracks with several classic riffs and some of Iommi's better leads. "Ear in the Wall" is more up-tempo, yet is just as memorable as its two slower counterparts, once again the leads are tremendous.
Tony Iommi seemed to be leaning more towards a hard-rock direction with his last solo album with Glenn Hughes, but here he shows he can still destroy any modern guitarist. Compare the quality and heaviness of these riffs with anything Lamb of God or Chimaira are putting out and it is obvious that Tony Iommi, however many albums and countless riffs later, can still destroy any frauds out there with one smooth stroke on his guitar.
What we have here is one of those rare instances where the greatest hits album is actually worth purchasing even if you own all of the studio albums from which most of the songs on here are taken from. Get it as something to pop into your car stereo when you want to impress your friends or something to put in your boom box when you're washing your car. Just get it, dammit.