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Don't listen to fools... Hell rules! - 95%

Ribos, February 15th, 2010

The reuniting of Dio and Vinnie Appice into Black Sab-I mean the forming of Heaven & Hell has, of course, sparked interest in the Dio years of Sabbath. Completely understandable, since everyone in the mainstream was being told of this semi-reunion and was basically confused, because they always thought Ozzy was the only vocalist Black Sabbath ever had. I mean, after all, Dio certainly didn’t sing Iron Man, War Pigs, or Paranoid, so where did that guy who did Rainbow in the Dark come in? In response to said confusion, not only did Sabbath release the Dio Years compilation, but they released this more comprehensive box set as well. Yeah, the single disc compilation is cheaper and has three new songs, but you’re doing yourself a huge disservice by not owning the original full-length albums.

So buy this.

I know there’s a rather large group of metalheads who hate the word “remaster” attached to anything they deem “classic,” but trust me, this is a case where the hatred is unjustified. These remasters, if anything, are superior to the originals in terms of clarity and dynamic power. This Heaven and Hell is not blasphemous, this Mob Rules did not listen to fools, and this Dehumanizer’s reflection turned to steel right before its eyes with just as much viciousness as before.

And that leaves Live Evil. If you weren’t sold on the inclusion of those three demi-classics in one place, you need to hear the double live album. The original was a mixing/mastering disaster. No one doubts that, not even the band. Well, Dan Hersch, the man behind the remastering, should be deemed a metallic patron saint for his work here. It’s difficult to turn lead into gold, and nigh impossible to turn raw shit into platinum, but Hersch makes a valiant effort. It’s not just listenable, it actually sounds damn good. The drums are clear enough in the mix, Geezer doesn’t dominate Tony, and Dio is neither uncomfortably close to screaming in your face nor huddling in a corner behind Vinnie.

That isn’t to say Live Evil now sounds like Unleashed in the East or Made In Japan. There was obviously a LOT of knob-twiddling involved in this work, and so sound levels vary here and there to help separate the different voices from each other. There’s also very little natural dynamic range in the guitar and bass parts, so they don’t quite crush you as hard as they do on the studio albums. To a large degree, though, I don’t think you can blame Dan for this: if the tapes came to him all smushed as the first release indicates, he didn’t have much choice. Again, given the original mastering job, it’s amazing he was able to do so much.

As for the quality of the albums in terms of the music… just go read the reviews. I’m not going to write complete reviews for four whole albums in one sitting. I don’t want to write that, and you don’t want to read the wall of text. So instead, let’s talk about what’s specific about this box set, specifically the presentation.

The albums come in jewel cases inside a black cardboard box. It’s high quality cardboard, though. It’s very thick and tough, so don’t worry too much about scratching or damaging it. The picture on this release’s MA page does a good job of showing the design on the cover, but in real life only the text is in silver. The devil cross image is actually embossed in glossy black paint, providing for a black-on-black look. Pretty spiffy, and very much in the understated, elegant, and majestic line of aesthetics the band has carried.

The individual albums retain their original artwork, but the part of the jewel case that holds the disc in place is a smooth glossy black instead of the usual/original charcoal with vertical grooves. It’s a nice little visual cue to differentiate the remastered cases from the originals. That said, the disc art has been completely redone. I had only owned Heaven and Hell before buying this, so I can’t say anything about the others, but at least in that case… you’re not missing anything. There wasn’t any real design on the old discs, just the names and information generally required. The new ones… are similar, but with a nice little pattern around the outer edges, and they maintain that “black on black” look.

Again, it’s hard to speak of whether liner notes were retained or not, especially since Heaven and Hell originally did not come with any to speak of. However, these come with some rather interesting stories regarding each release. These include interview-esque quotes from the band members. It’s nothing a die-hard fan of the band wouldn’t already know, but again, when your target demographic is people who aren’t familiar enough with the releases to own them, it’s a very good touch. Certainly better than empty booklets, at any rate. Still, I’d prefer to have some lyrics sheets included.

I haven’t been inside a mainstream record store lately, but at least at the time that I bought this box, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules were the only Dio-era albums that were in print. Thus, this box set is at least worth it for easy-access versions of Live Evil and Dehumanizer (I’m with the band on that one: hugely underrated). Hell, it’s worth it just for the remastered Live Evil, since I haven’t seen these remasters outside of the box set. And if you happen to not own Mob Rules, or god forbid, Heaven and Hell, well… you live a sad and meaningless life until you correct that. Seriously, what’s wrong with you? You’ve got nothing to say. No need to shop around, your forgiveness is right here.