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After reviewing Black Sabbath's brand new CD "13" and not being very impressed I decided to dust off this 2009 CD released under the moniker "Heaven And Hell". It had been awhile since I played it. I always felt it was very very good but the least of the four Sabbath albums Ronnie James Dio sang on. I still feel that way but in no way suggests it's a subpar release since the other three are all near perfect.
As I mentioned I had just reviewed and listened to "13" so when I popped this in I was immediately reminded (already knew) what a difference there is between Ozzy Osbourne and Dio. Even on the slow, sludgy opener "Atom And Evil" Dio's voice makes the song alive, especially compared to the crushingly dull performance of Ozzy on "13. That album would have been 10x better with Dio at the mic.
The production sound reminds me of "Dehumanizer" more than the other two Dio-fronted Sabbath LPs ("Heaven And Hell", "Mob Rules"). Several of the songs are slow and creepy but there's also uptempo pounders like "Breaking Into Heaven" and “Eating The Cannibals”. While the presence of Dio always completely ferments anything he sings on this album feels like all three are equally present at all times. Iommi is as always a brilliant creator of riffs and Geezer Butler's menacing bass sets the tone. especially on for the crunchy “Double The Pain”. It's one of the best basslines I've heard since Queen's "Under Pressure"
A little studio compression but not irritatingly meticulous like Rick Rubin's habit of ruining rock albums (think Metallica's "St Anger"). "The Devil You Know" benefits from a little sludginess rather than overly separated instruments typical of Rubin, evidenced on '13'. "TDYK" was produced by Dio, Tony Iommi and Butler and resembles a Dio album to me.
I recall the album was preceded by the absolutely monstrous single, "Bible Black". Everything about this track is spot on. The arrangement is vintage Dio. Slow, often acoustic intro and then the hammer comes crashing down full strength. That's what happens here. It reminds me of Dio's "The Last In Line". On that song the groove kicks in with the word "home" from the line "we are coming hooooooome!" but "Bible Black" hits harder with Iommi introducing a killer riff when Dio delivers a throaty "black!" from the line "Don't go on/Put it back/You're reading from the Bible Black!".
Butler is usually the band's word man but when Dio comes to town the elfin one gets the job. When one thinks of Dio images of dungeons, dragons, rainbows, etc but with Sabbath he tends to explore tales of good vs evil and moreso his belief that the life one lives now can be 'heaven or hell'. Songs like "Double The Pain", "Fear", "The Turn Of The Screw" and especially "Follow The Tears" are Dio's way of singing the 'blues', albeit with a fighting spirit.
Ten tracks. Lots of music. The only slight drawback is a feeling of 'sameness' in some of the songs. It could have used a wildcard like "Planet Caravan" or even "Zeitgeist" from the Sab's new album. That quibble aside this album delivers the whallop needed.
The finest Black Sabbath is Dio's Sabbath. Yes, we all know that (regardless of what AOR wants us to think). We got the mythical Heaven and Hell, then the speedy and doomy Mob Rules, and finally, Dehumanizer, a stoner-doom metal approach and one of the finest albums ever by BS.
After three majestic pieces of heavy metal by the darklords themselves of the genre, BS entered in a sort of right-wrong working. Flirting with Ozzy was unfruitful, he likes the american popularity, he enjoys playing himself as a lostminded clown, and he forgot, back in 1972, how to do good music, so, the best for Iommi and team was to do something different... Yet... Usual. Here is when Ronnie James and Vinnie are summoned for the last time and they deliver the goods.
Dehumanizer is doom. Oh yes it is. And this follow-up has the same feeling. Nevermind how much Iommi explains that this was a parallel project, we get more of the same. The major criticise to Black Sabbath (or Heaven and Hell, it's the same) is that there are no new ideas here. We get what we know we will get and that's it. Since "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", Iommi keeps on bringing the same riffing style, almost the same tune for the most of his compositions. An hybrid between his classical sound and Dio-era Sabbath. In "The Devil you Know" we listen a dirtier and more raw version of, say, "Mob Rules" and there we are. No more, no less.
Notwithstanding, despite the laxness of new ideas, the musicianship and talent of the performers here is unquestionable. Iommi, Dio, Appice and Butler are metal gods in their own term and they need no introduction. And we get amazed by Tony with a couple of outclassing-newcomers solos in here, specially in "Eating the Cannibals" and "Follow the Tears". The Guitar Devil proves once more that he can do more than deadly riffing. He is a virtuoso, as well. Maybe not as good as Ritchie Blackmore or Andy LaRocque, but not far away from them. Another extra point is for Geezer Butler. He is, probably, an average metal-bass player. But when it's about following the lead by the guitar and filling the emptyness, he breaks it. In "Bible Black" and "Turn of the Screw" we can taste a little bit of this.
And yes, yes, yes. Dio. Of course, I'll talk about him. But we can't forget Vinny. He is a little bit under-appreciated in my opinion, but he is a solid drummer. He fills the spaces and remembers us constantly what's about drumming in heavy metal. He actually beat the irons. In "Fear", "Eating the Cannibals" and "Breaking into Heaven" he get his best.
We all know this was the last recording by Dio. He died around one year later. Despite this, he gives us one of the finest performances in his career, only matchable with "Mob Rules" and a little inferior to the legendary "Rainbow Rising", his first metal band (have you heard about a band named Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, where Dio started his metal career? If you didn't, you are probably just a poseur). In "Bible Black", "Rock and Roll Angel" and "Breaking into Heaven", one of the legends of metal singing blast it all away. The lyrics are made specially for his style. Dark and gloomy. Being this said, the swan song by RJD is majestic, brilliant, mature and pure. (We will never forget you, Dio...)
What we can't find in originality and inventive, we get it here in the shape of talent, metalness and some bits of virtuosity. To be in heaven and in hell in the same time is not difficult with these guys. We know them, they are the devil and they can't fail.
Black Sabbath is a band that has gone through a lot of line-up changes. And although there is a golden stature to the Ozzy Osbourne era, the Ronnie James Dio era seems to have just as competitive a fanbase. With the three classic albums Heaven and Hell (1980), Mob Rules (1981), and Dehumanizer (1993), this fact became pretty apparent to Black Sabbath’s label (Rhino) in 2006. Thus Rhino released a Black Sabbath — Greatest Hits compilation featuring the best of the Dio years, for which Dio and the rest of the band got together and recorded a new song. Even though the band had reunited with Ozzy in 2001, they had actually been pretty inactive save for a few Ozzfest gigs. So when the compilation and new material became a mass success, the early ’80s-era line-up of Black Sabbath (Tony Iommi, Vinny Appice, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio) decided to re-form under a different name (as the band had not fired or replaced Ozzy). That name was based on the debut record of Dio with Sabbath: Heaven & Hell.
With Ronnie James Dio back in the fray, the band was able to settle into the comfortable writing space they had always had with Dio. Although Ozzy was always the most iconic front man of Black Sabbath, he was also notorious for his unreliable attendance, still struggling to work together with the band for new material in 2001, which never surfaced. So it was almost a shock to the band when they went in to record Heaven & Hell material in 2008 and had it done within a few months, with the result being the monolithic The Devil You Know.
To describe this record, I would have to say it’s at the top of what I have always wished for when it came to Dio’s era of Black Sabbath. It has the heavy, chunky, slow, and gloomy doom metal riffs which won the band for me with Ozzy, while also containing the virtuosic singing ability and epic melodies of Dio’s style. So by all means, this record is a perfect fusion of the two eras and MY GOD is it a bloody fantastic result.
This album is absolutely crushing. While the work Dio did with the band previously was still definitely heavy metal, it wasn’t in the heavier, gloomier, monolithic, and slower style known as doom metal (think songs such as “Black Sabbath,” “Iron Man,” “Electric Funeral,” or “Under the Sun”) that Ozzy and co. perfected in the ’70s. That is remedied on this record with some of the darkest, doomiest music that Dio, and even Sabbath, have ever been involved with. Tony Iommi’s riffs are almost heavier and more sinister than in his prime with Black Sabbath, dwelling within that slow, almost atonal guitar-riffing style with equally chunky and evil bass lines from Geezer Butler and pummelling, crushing drum work from Vinny Appice.
Other than the sinister riffs, another reason this record has such a dark vibe is the fact that it took Dio’s fantastic lyric writing and Sabbath’s general dark imagery to conjure images of demons, fallen angels, and sin, which work together to give the album quite a hellish mood and atmosphere. But despite the quite fantastical imagery, the album still has a very personal edge to it. It’s given to you from such a very real point of view, going in-depth about the emotions, that you can have some sort of relation to it. It also lets the songs that are more purely about emotion and don’t quite have the fantasy element blend right in as well.
At the end of it, this is one of the most powerful Black Sabbath outputs in the groups history. Tapping into what made Black Sabbath the defining metal band they are to create the most truthfully Sabbath album in a really, really long time has left this as one of my all-time favourite Black Sabbath albums and my favourite featuring Ronnie James Dio. Unfortunately, this would be Ronnie James Dio’s last musical outing before succumbing to stomach cancer in 2010. I can’t think of a sadder moment for the metal world than that day, and he is a force in metal that will be missed forever. I guess all I can say is that I’m glad his last output was a bloody fantastic one, as it ends his career on a very high note. Now that the soul of Black Sabbath, Toni Iommi, has the big C as well, and it seems the Ozzy-era Black Sabbath reunion of 2012 is hitting some rocky ground, if The Devil You Know is also the last Black Sabbath record, it’s one hell of a swan song for everyone to go out on. Pure, evil, doom metal magic. 10/10
Best Songs: Atom and Evil, Bible Black, Double the Pain, Rock and Roll Angel, Eatting the Cannibals, Follow the Tears, Breaking into Heaven
"When I'm finished doing this, I'll probably just dig in my garden"
- Ronnie James Dio on his retirement plans
I have tried to begin reviewing this album several times. From endless listens I know it is the best thing 2009 has to offer, a strong contender for the best thing of the decade, yet doing justice to such a monolithic creature is no easy task. To start with, it's as close to perfect as you can get (hence the rating which, as someone once very sensibly pointed out, should be understood figuratively as a rounding up of 99.9% rather than actual audio perfection), and it's up there with Rainbow's Rising and Sabbath's Heaven & Hell in terms of quality and significance.
The Devil You Know benefits from carrying the confidence of both a band established by decades of pioneering and longevity and the hungriness of a fresh contract and band name. Another benefit of the band's vague identity is that I can now tell myself Forbidden was not the last Black Sabbath album.
Firstly, after the mighty tracks forged for the Sabbath compilation The Dio Years, and the biblical live set that followed under the Heaven & Hell moniker, I am just so glad that this decade-defining beast actually happened. Although simply hitting the 'reset' button and following on from either Mob Rules or Dehumanizer would have provided Dio, Iommi and their colleagues decent grounds for a new album, the dark and challenging sound of those three new songs hinted at far greater things, and with The Devil You Know the band uses them as a basis for a bigger, more complex and more all-encompassing sound than anything attempted under the Sabbath name. The fearsome cover art is the perfect analogy; covering familiar ground (the devil) but in a far more intricate and imposing way. When listening to the album you will hear not only the three albums known as the Dio years, but the decade and a half that separates them from this disc. With the exception of the lineup for Heaven & Hell with Bill Ward and the Tyr lineup, this is probably the only lineup of Sabbath that never suffered passengers, each band member contributing something remarkable, and here in 2009 Iommi, Ronnie, Geezer and Appice bring their disparate experiences to bear without the tension that plagued the Dehumanizer sessions.
Since his last stint in Sabbath, Ronnie Dio has arguably achieved a bit more than Iommi. Having decided to make Dehumanizer the first part of a thematic and musical trilogy that he continued with Strange Highways and Angry Machines, Dio left his comfort zone for a creatively challenging concept album in Magica and then wrote a classic heavy metal album, Killing The Dragon, and a rock and roll infused doom epic in Master of the Moon. For Strange Highways and Angry Machines, Dio continued to use high-register rasping howls and low, menacing moans to sing his lyrics, while on his last three solo albums he staged a return to his '80s style of flamboyant tenor that he began to move away from on Lock Up The Wolves.
With The Devil You Know, Dio's performance is more varied than almost anywhere else in his career. Not being the sort of person to look upon the reformation of a band like Sabbath as simply a cash cow, Ronnie makes an enormous effort both lyrically and vocally. Dio draws on his decades and decades of experience singing in different ways for different projects for a colourful and inspiring performance on The Devil You Know. There are many moments on the album that actually demand a very high-pitched delivery, and for a man of 67 Ronnie never stumbles, managing to hit high notes that any given handful of your throwaway 'noughties power metal bands wouldn't dare attempt for fear of hurting themselves. His vocal melodies even in the verses often sound completely unlike anything he has done before, every line memorable in some way. Epic, romantic choruses on 'Atom & Evil' and 'Breaking Into Heaven' showcase an operatic edge that Iommi's riffs haven't truly benefited from since 1982. Lyrically, the poetic wizard of rock and roll still manages to somehow capture your heart with his eloquence and keen intuitiveness. The idea of how relying on religion can become an almost druglike addiction for some is an idea I have often thought about and tried to phrase, but could never have put it so excellently as does the evil elf: 'Let me go, I've found addiction, and it makes me feel alive!'
Iommi delivers a host of riffs more electric than anything since Dehumanizer and Tyr, managing to meld the aggressiveness slam of the former with the invigorating technicality and creativity of the latter. 'Double The Pain' is essentially built around a rock and roll riff, just with tons of fuzz and gain. The sound he goes for here has much in common with the pristinely-produced and rounded bluesy vibe of his excellent 2005 effort Fused with Mr Glenn Hughes, crossed with the violent, roaring tone of Dehumanizer. Tony has also realized our love of pretty little acoustic breaks such as that found at the end of the song this band is named for, and the end of 'Rock and Roll Angel' is even more beautiful than his stellar instrumental 'Scarlet Pimpernel' on The Eternal Idol.
A number of new things are attempted by the Birmingham axe man; the main riff to 'Follow The Tears' sees Iommi taking a glance at the chugging menace of death doom that rose as Sabbath fell, and blowing it all away with a few deadly notes that constitute one of his most threatening compositions to date. 'Atom & Evil' features almost progressive, dancing licks in the chorus while 'Bible Black' sees a more energetic approach to the groovy thrust of 'The Devil Cried.' 'Breaking Into Heaven's chorus features almost sad-sounding doom chords. I would like to say this sees a return to form for the guy, however after the three consecutive flops that were Forbidden, the 1998 tracks recorded with Ozzy Osbourne and his ill-conceived debut solo effort, Iommi released two albums of fantastic quality and daring experimentation in The 1996 DEP Sessions and Fused; The Devil You Know sees him continuing a very good streak indeed.
Geezer seems to have risen from his slumber to not only shame contemporary bass players, but to reinforce the importance of the bassist in heavy metal. Too often I hear an album where the bass either follows the guitar (so that the potential chemistry shared between guitarist and bassist is lazily squandered) or is simply inaudible. Geezer is as patient and self-assured a musician as ever, with deep, hearty plucks bubbling above even the fuzziest and sludgiest riffs on the album. As always, he is worth listening for as he provides a different instrumental perspective on the song. Of all four men, his performance defers the most to the days of Sabbath, following the improvised-sounding canters of the Heaven & Hell album.
Vinny Appice, the youngest present at a positively sprightly 52, is a far more accomplished drummer than he was in the days of Mob Rules. His almost narcissistic love of fills and rolls is present as ever, tempered by some of the rhythmic rock and roll sensibilities he learned in his years alongside Ronnie in Dio. The admittedly holy production job afforded the album by the band themselves and this Mike Exeter fellow allows each instrument to gleam forth in its crushing glory, and Appice's work behind the kit benefits massively. He sounds even better here than on the tracks recorded for The Dio Years, and with a good set of headphones you can almost see each stroke crashing into the kit with all the visceral reality of a live performance.
The album itself is structured very well, opening with a traditional doom crawl in 'Atom & Evil', moving into the urgent riffing and schizophrenic chorus of 'Fear', introducing more classic-sounding influences in 'Bible Black' and 'Rock and Roll Angel' and drawing to its close with a combination of hurtling rock and roll numbers ('Eating The Cannibals' and 'Neverwhere') and somber doom monstrosities ('Follow The Tears' and 'Breaking Into Heaven'). With the darkest moments at either end of the record, the blues and classic rock influences present in its middle feel better integrated, with everything flowing naturally from a base of doom-drenched heavy metal. It also means it doesn't trail off or fire all its rounds too soon; placing 'Fear' at the end might have detracted from the power it has as a second track, while opening with one of the two faster tracks could have created the illusion that the album became "boring" after. While it wouldn't have made a huge amount of difference either way, the tracklist is so well thought out that as each song ends you are left in just the right mood for the one that kicks in next.
In terms of actual songwriting, I seem to remember watching an interview with the band (conducted during recording the album) where Geezer in particular explained in very simple terms that, having finished a slow song, the band would try and record a faster one, and then perhaps a mid-paced one, with an eye to not doing the same thing over and over again. The other band members seemed to have very little to add on the actual thought going into creating this piece of art. Now you might put that down to the guys simply being tired of endless interviews and unwilling to cover the same stories over and over, which is understandable. I believe however that they simply had no more to add. When Iommi limited his contribution to something like '...then there's Geezer on bass, and Ronnie doing his thing', he was speaking from the unworried perspective of someone who needs to know no more than that each band member is holding or sitting at their particular instrument to be sure that excellent music will be produced. This is a positive thing in every way; you don't end up with something as compelling as The Devil You Know by going over it constantly and trying to make it better. Iommi had a phase doing that and produced Sabotage which, though I like it, was definitely a divisive one for Sabbath fans. Dio went through a period of overthinking his music and, again, produced two very divisive albums in Strange Highways and Angry Machines. So, cantankerous as they are in interviews, the four guys find themselves in a position any musician must surely hope to be in; being able to create classic music without even really thinking about it.
While I have dissected the album with all the self-indulgent scrutiny of the Sabbath-worshipping basket case I am, this thing actually works well on a purely basic level, providing ten tracks of incredibly involving head-banging heavy metal that someone with no knowledge of music recorded before this millennium could thoroughly enjoy. It's immediate, it's captivating and it's really very enduring. After months of listening to it, it is without a shadow of a doubt as essential and powerful an addition to the Dio-Sabbath collective catalogue as either Heaven & Hell or Mob Rules, proving the incredible strength of this lineup by even dwarfing spectacular releases by Iommi and Dio when separated from one another such as Sacred Heart or Headless Cross - something Dehumanizer couldn't do.
I will be listening to this in twenty years. Because of the age of the men involved, there is sadly little doubt in my heart that this opus stands towards the end of the incredible canon of work Dio, Iommi, Butler and Appice will record individually and together, and it is an eternal monument well deserving of doing so. And I think that, after creating something like this, you deserve as much time pottering about in your garden as you want.
Dio, Iommi, and Butler, three godfathers of heavy metal hailing from the band Black Sabbath, return as a new band, Heaven and Hell, a namesake taken from their groundbreaking 1980 Black Sabbath album that introduced Ronnie James Dio as their second major vocalist. Though with time all things begin to wither, these three Black Sabbath veterans not only still have it, but are just as innovative in their music making as they were when they first collaborated in 1980.
Iommi’s riffing in “Atom and Evil” is a heavy droning growl with a small whine to it reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s early darkened blues feel featuring plenty of true metal riffing to empower this track and drive the album forward. The solo at 2:28 has a great bluesy whine to it but is fast enough to compliment the heavy metal sound it’s going for. Dio’s singing is in beautiful harmony with the rest of the band. His lyrics are just as obscure and amazing as always, complete with wordplay like “Atom and Evil” exploring the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden and describing resistance to the Lucifer’s power, the atomic bombs, and confronting the two strongest philosophies today, Abrahamic religion and Darwinian atheism. Rather than describe God as a protector, Dio describes the inherent strength in man to survive, he describes the temptation and trickery involved in every aspect of life and how cunning is both useful and destructive, graying the lines between these two demonstrates how Dio views the graying of the lines between heaven and hell, between god and the devil, and between good and evil. This song is a great mix of modern and classic metal where these Black Sabbath veterans seem to have reinvented themselves again and created some truly amazing music.
From the get go, it’s obvious that the drums, played by Vinnie Appice, are here to back up the guitar and back up the guitar only. Every rap of the snare, kick of the bass, or crash of the cymbal works perfectly with the guitar but is pushed far enough in the background of the mix that it doesn’t have the prominent position that the Iommi’s legendary guitar takes.
“Follow the Tears” is a very melancholic song. Dio’s singing becomes a cry for help as he belts out the lyrics “So if you want to find me, if you really care, follow the tears, they’re everywhere”, Tony Iommi brings in another heavy grungy guitar riff to start off the song but kicks in some high notes later in the song to compliment every instance of Dio’s singing “follow the tears”. This song, like many on the album has a slow dragging of feet to it. Heaven and Hell definitely found their sound and speed with this album as the slow, churning pace of each song allows for a much heavier feel to it and makes each of Iommi’s riffs easier to make out. Each song has the intense, growling power of Black Sabbath’s 1970 title track and is a good break from the screaming pace in riffs found in most modern metal. I think Heaven and Hell did really well to reinforce the point that playing metal isn’t about playing fast; it’s about the emotion of the music, the ambiance created, the sound of the guitar, and the power of the music. Around the time of thrash metal, that seems to have been lost to bands looking to push the boundaries of extremity in music, but it must be remembered that songs like “Black Sabbath” and “Hand of Doom” are just as, if not heavier, than songs like “Paranoid” and “Electric Funeral”.
Tony Iommi, as anyone in the metal community knows, is one of the best guitarists in the history of music. Well, after that statement there really isn’t much more to say. Listen to this album, listen to the classic albums, absorb the power of the Iommi, and then grovel at his feet for you will never be as good as he. Every song has another helping of tasty riffs and a gallon of solos, enough to not only overfill this album, but flood the market with so many riffs that from this album, thirty more knock off bands can each release a ten track full-length by the end of the year and still seem innovative. Iommi is a master of his craft and delivers just as much heart and power as he always has to ensure his guitar playing makes the album memorable.
Heaven and Hell’s “The Devil You Know” is one of the best classic-style heavy metal albums that I’ve heard in a long time. If you want to know the next chapter in the gospels of Iommi, Butler, and Dio, you will find it in “The Devil You Know”.
Listening to a band like Black Sabbath, sorry, Heaven & Hell, I wonder: why can't all bands just be good? Y'know, I'm fed up of bands going through life adding nothing, attracting a star-dazzled fanbase and then disappearing back up the record label bosses arse two weeks later. Such is the seeming consummate ease with which this group of near pensioners can produce a doom metal record is staggering, with not a jot of cliche nor hint of dollar signs appearing on the horizon. Let me just clarify on the age bit: the combined age of the four here is 237! Eat that you stinking BMTH's of this world...
In my eyes as a Black Sabbath fan of a measly 8 years the professionalism of this group has been to the utmost, resulting in "The Devil You Know" not being lumbered with the same usual hyperbole and sense of occasion that usually bring down such a high profile release. And this is sensed immediately with "Atom & Evil". A lumbering beast of a doom metal tune, it is just huge - Dio's impregnable vocals, Iommi's God-like riffing and the mighty rhythm section of Butler and Appice all in perfect sync with one another to produce a pure majesty that results in doom greatness, not just slow lethargy. The album's lead single, "Bible Black" begins like a certain Led Zeppelin classic and finishes catchy, invigorating and memorable.
Riffs are always leaden weight in the land of Heaven & Hell, and rarely do they dip below the ‘brilliant’. Even if "Rock & Roll Angel" gets a bit tiresome, for every one of these there is an "Eating The Cannibals", a song which recalls not only groovier Cathedral and recent Candlemass but exposes the value in Ronnie James Dio. The little man gives the song new direction where for anyone else it might have been that an upbeat song in the middle. And just incase The Man Who Invented Heavy Metal (the capitals are entirely justified) needed to prove a point, Tony Iommi follows up his flashy soloing in "Eating..." with an "Iron Man" of a riff for next song "Follow The Tears". His work needs no more introduction than this.
This album is of course very different to that of the band's moniker released under the Black Sabbath name in 1980 as the benefit of greater technology has given a considerably weightier production and verve, exemplified in songs like "Atom & Evil". Whilst the missing fragility of "Children Of The Sea" is missing in this new guise with its modern production is a discussion worthy of a thesis itself, the point is that any Black Sabbath fan could hardly ask for anymore. When things could so easily have gone wrong, the old masters return to show the world how to grow gracefully. Well, as gracefully as is possible when doom metal occupies your 60 year old heart...
Originally written for Rockfreaks.net
The Devil You Know is a great comeback from a line-up that many people never dreamed would reunite for the third time. This album is all around fantastic. This album is virtually perfect in every single way except a couple minor things, which I will get to later on in this review. When they released the single for this album, 'Bible Black', I already knew that the album was going to be great and that it would be an Album Of The Year candidate, and I wasn't wrong!
Dio's vocals on this album are just some of the best and most aggressive sounding vocals he's ever put on an album. His vocals match the intensity that the album art for the album gives off as well as the album title itself. For being a couple years shy of seventy years old, Dio has still got it. In this album, Dio blends the perfect mixture of melody and aggression together to create some of the best vocals he's ever done on an album, if not the best. Dio's lyrical ability is also top notch and on this album he created some of the best lyrics he's ever written for any other album. The lyrics on this album are just great.
Tony's riffs on this album are just killer all throughout the album. There is not one single bad riff on this whole entire album and it really shows that Tony still has the ability to create fantastic riffs, he hasn't lost a step. This album features some very unique riffs, especially on the tracks 'Fear' and 'Bible Black', the riffs on those two songs are just great. The riff on 'Rock & Roll Angel' has some similarities to the riff on 'I' from Dehumanizer but Tony managed to tweak it enough so it's not exactly the same. 'Follow The Tears' has a very heavy riff that is no doubt the heaviest riff on the whole album. It has a great blend of melody and crunch to it that really makes the song along with the lyrics. Tony in my mind is the greatest riff writer in the history of music. The man is still a genius!
Geezer's time to shine on this album came on the song 'Double The Pain' where he starts the song off with a nice little bass solo and his bass is very audible throughout the song including a break in the middle of the song for another small bass solo. Geezer is on the ball on this album as he usually is. Geezer!
Now, the worst part of this whole entire album is Vinny Appice. I've always laughed at his drumming and always looked at him to be no better than an amateur. His drum fills on this album, as always, are laughable and just very bad. I mean, the man plays with the opposite ends of his drum sticks which no doubt effects his tone, but not in a good way. I really wish Bill Ward could have been on this album so he could show Vinny the proper way to get it done. While I'm on the subject of Vinny Appice, his live drum setup is one of the goofiest setups I've ever seen. Vinny is all around a very lame drummer and really stops me from giving this album a higher percentage.
There are a couple minor flaws on this album which is how long the track 'Breaking Into Heaven' drags on. Now, it's not a bad song by any means but I just feel that they could have cut it short by a minute or even two minutes. Plus, I think that it should have been the first song on the album to kind of create this theme, I guess you could say. You're Breaking Into Heaven, which is this great album. I feel that this would be the proper way to start of the album.
It is definitely hard for me to pick out any weak tracks on this amazing album. All tracks are enjoyed equally by me, and I would feel sort of guilty if I were to pick what would be the weakest track.
This is no doubt the Album Of The Year, not even in the metal genre, just overall. There really isn't an album that's come out so far or that is coming out this year, that can rival this album. Well, maybe the new Tenet album or the Blatant Disarray album or even the Candlemass album that came out a couple months ago but overall this album is just fantastic.Tony, Dio and Geezer have not lost a step in their old age and can still kick any younger band's asses! I really recommend checking this album out if you haven't already. You'll be blown away! Believe me! The riffs are just killer!
Heaven & Hell is, of course, the lineup of Black Sabbath from when Ronnie James Dio was the singer. Or at least, most of the time, as Bill Ward was still Black Sabbath’s drummer on Heaven and Hell and was later replaced by Vinnie Appice who drums on this album. The band took the name Heaven & Hell in order to respect Black Sabbath who had recently been inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. Tony Iommi, who at this time, owned the rights to the name “Black Sabbath” decided that this band should have its own identity and fans should not expect to hear “Paranoid” or “Iron Man” at a Heaven & Hell show. So thus, Heaven & Hell was born.
Prior to the name change, the lineup had gotten together for a tour and recorded three new songs for a Best Of compilation for the Dio-era Black Sabbath. These three new tracks laid the groundwork for the upcoming new album. But first, the band changed its name.
The album The Devil You Know is the first album of new songs recorded by the band, and is the first album of new songs recorded by any form of Black Sabbath. It was one of the most highly-anticipated albums of 2009 and for good reason. There had not been a new album from Tony Iommi since 2005 and from Ronnie James Dio since 2004. Knowing that these two icons had gotten back together and recorded new material was enough to send metalheads into a frenzy. When the new album artwork was posted, again fans were abuzz.
So, how is the new album?
Honestly, it’s something of a letdown. It is a perfectly good album, but it was a victim of its own hype. The interest in the album had risen to a fever pitch and very few albums could have adequately lived up to that hype. That is not to suggest that it was a bad album, very far from it. It just was not as good as everyone hoped it would be.
The band fits very neatly into the traditional doom genre. This was to be expected as Black Sabbath had been the purveyors of the doom metal sound. When Dio came on board, the band perfected that sound. Heaven & Hell is slow and extremely heavy and somber. There are some faster songs on the album, but even those still easily fit within the doom genre. The album does have a more traditional metal flavor to it as well, to go along with the doom elements. The album would not have been out of place coming out immediately after the Dehumanizer album, which also had Dio fronting Black Sabbath. It sounds that true to the style.
The music, as implied, is often very slow with lumbering riffs, and heavy bass. The bass is audible and is some of Geezer Butler’s best work in years. It is the driving force of the rhythms behind the riffs. Tony Iommi has not lost a step in his age. He is still very capable of writing some amazing riffs, and does so many times. It makes the album interesting to listen to and many of the riffs are infectious, getting stuck in the head and not leaving for days. Iommi also provides some great guitar solos, with a clean tone and good technique, particularly the solo on “Fear”. The drumming is efficient but definitely not one of the major features of the band. It is there for rhythm only and filling in where needed, and while there are some interesting drum parts, it mostly takes a back seat for the riffs and vocals.
The music is mostly played in minor keys, obviously to take advantage of the natural tendency to sound more imposing. The band does do a decent job of staying away from standard verse-chorus-verse structure. This makes the individual songs stand out more and keeps the album from running together. Unfortunately, many of the songs do tend to stay at one speed. Some tempo changes would serve to make the songs stand out even more.
Ronnie James Dio is one of the all time great vocalists in metal, and perhaps any genre of rock music for that matter. His vocals are still great, despite his advancing age. He is still able to reach that awe-inspiring, rich tenor tone that he has become known for over the years, and his ability to continue to do so is one of the highlights of this album. His vocals also fit seemlessly with the music. He does not sound at all out of place as his higher vocals balance out the deep bottom end of the music. If anything, this interplay makes the music even doomier.
Lyrically, this is definitely similar to a Black Sabbath album. Many of the themes are dark. The only song that seems to have bad lyrics is “Rock and Roll Angel”, which would have been a perfectly acceptable song in the 1980's but sounds pretty cheesy now.
The better songs on the album are “Bible Black” and “Eating the Cannibals”. “Bible Black” starts out with a powerful, solitary guitar solo and the vocals of Dio. It then slowly builds upon this loneliness into a heavy power chord progression. The song is very similar to classic tracks like “Heaven and Hell” and “The Mob Rules”. “Eating the Cannibals” is the fastest song on the album and is exactly the kind of song that fans expected out of the reunited lineup. It is a straight-ahead, classic metal track.
The album as a whole is a strong release and will probably be one of the better traditional metal albums released this year. However, it does not possess enough new and original ideas to match the hype that was built up for it. It is a very good, sometimes great album, that is a victim to its own impossible expectations.
Regardless of the name at the top of the cover slip, the personnel involved in the recording of this CD quite rightly mean that it is always going to be regarded as a Black Sabbath release. Not only does this mean it is a serious event – far more so than any of the work the members have been turning out in their respective individual projects in recent times – but of course also put an extra onus on Dio, Iommi, Butler and Appice not to balls the whole thing up.
The quality of the 3 Dio/Iommi-penned tracks that were written for ‘The Dio years’ Sabbath compilation just before The ‘Mob rules’ line-up properly reformed (or formed, or whatever) under the Heaven & Hell banner strongly suggested that there was nothing to worry about though, and this 19th full-length/debut CD follows suit accordingly.
Musically and lyrically, ‘The devil you know’ is very much a logical continuation from where this version of Sabbath left off on ‘Dehumanizer’, the more upbeat melodiousness of “The mob rules” and “Neon knights” discarded again in favour of pounding, dark anthems of paranoia and isolation. Though despite being a natural successor to the first comeback of this line-up, it is not quite ‘Dehumanizer 2’ – the defiant chest-beating of “I” and “TV crimes” is not delved into this time around, and despite the overall downbeat, doomy vibe, the chilling menace of “After all (the dead)” is never quite reached again, and as a whole the songs sit in the middle ground between the 2 extremes.
Presumably the lack of tension in the studio between the musicians that no doubt drove much of the aggression on ‘Dehumanizer’ is responsible for this, and the newfound comfort they have as a band has quenched their fire a little, but that is maybe doing the songs a disservice. Truly its own CD, ‘The devil you know’ offers something that is both immediately familiar but not an example of habitual repetition.
Performance-wise, the assembled veterans deliver exactly what would be expected from each of them. The vocals of Ronnie Dio, despite his ever-advancing years, are still a joy to behold. Anyone who has been paying attention knows his register has lowered over the years, and the snarling edge has mostly gone from his voice, but he remains the master of captivating melodies and hasn’t lost an inch since his last full studio performance on ‘Master of the moon’. Butler and Iommi’s playing skills are naturally less susceptible to age than those of the frontman, but despite a lack of standout instant classic riffs and solos, the 2 are in fine form as well. Butler’s bass playing may not be as unique as it was 40 years ago, but he retains a distinctive style and offers many unexpected little quirks as the CD progresses. The doubled-up intro to “Double the pain” is typical outside-the-box thinking from the bassist.
Iommi of course has always been the rock on which the endless Sabbath permutations have been built on, and his display was always going to be the make-or-break factor as far as this CD is concerned. The foreboding riff that opens the CD on “Atom & evil” more or less sets the tone for what is to come and confirms, as if anyone had any doubts, that the grandmaster has still got it. The skulking, sinister playing that follows in the later verses of this song is just pure, simple inspiration from Iommi and even though there aren’t many riffs that feel like they’ll achieve truly iconic status like so many of his previous concoctions, the most important cylinder in Black Sabbath is without a doubt still firing. The ubiquitous phrase “Bible black” is finally committed to song on what is possibly the best track on ‘The devil you know’. Some stellar acoustic playing in the mournful intro couples with a perfect vocal display from Dio, before the anticipated heaviness kicks in on a menacing doom-fest wrapped up in some enthralling lyrics. One of the few ventures into the expected occult territory, they could nevertheless also be read as another treatise on temptation and man’s thirst for knowledge whatever the cost that make up much of Dio’s work on this CD.
The most noteworthy and commendable about thing about the quality of ‘The devil you know’ is that it shows the rejuvenation and freshness that this reunion has provided for the 3 main members (no disrespect to Appice intended), as it is most definitely the best product any of them have delivered in some years. Dio’s own band has been rather stagnant for a while now (while still providing a terrific live show), while Iommi’s last solo outing with Glenn Hughes back in 2005 was diverting if entirely overrated. The less said about Geezer’s industrial tomfoolery the better, and that the 3 of them have collaborated on such a strong undertaking just goes to show the magic this version of Black Sabbath really had, and indeed still retains.
When all the euphoria over the fact that the CD has actually happened eventually dies down, the cold light of day will reveal that it is not a classic, but that is not to say there is anything disappointing about it. The Dio-fronted Sabbath always set the bar very high, and the fact they have not quite managed to match the amazing quality of their previous works 15 years after their last collaboration is nothing to be ashamed of. Seeking this one out is mandatory.
(Originally written for http://www.metalcdratings.com/)
While I am a fan of just about every era of Black Sabbath's history (Yes, that includes "Seventh Star"), I've always had a soft spot for the Dio era. His majestic voice and intirguing lyrics have always gone well with Tony Iommi's dark guitar riffs, Geezer Butler's sludgy bass lines, and Vinny Applice's solid drum work. Needless to say, I was quite euphoric when it was announced a few years back that the players during that time period would reunite to give it another go. Now that they've got an actual album out and have done more in three years than Ozzy Osbourne couldn't even accomplish with them in ten, I must say that they made the right choice...
In terms of style, it's best to say that this album basically picks up where "Dehumanizer" left off. The guitar/bass playing continues to be dark and hard hitting with hints of melody found throughout, the vocals are as soaring as ever, the lyrics are generally melancholic and downtrodden, and most of the songs stick to a slow or mid-tempo pace. Of course, there are faster exceptions found in "Eating the Cannibals" and "Neverwhere," but they aren't quite in the same mold as "Neon Knights" or "TV Crimes." In fact, they may be my least favorite tracks on this album, though they aren't really bad by any means...
With the band not content with simply rehashing their past glories, there are plenty of new, experimental elements found throughout the album. "Double the Pain" immediately comes to mind with its ominous bass line sounding like something Alice in Chains would've come up with and its subtly infectious chorus. As much as I enjoy the sinister themes of "Bible Black," I personally feel that "Double the Pain" would've been a better choice for a first single and may be my personal favorite song on the album. "Follow the Tears" is another particularly interesting tune with its mournful lyrics and unusually brassy interjections coming in during the simple but sweeping chorus.
Given that Ronnie James Dio is back behind the mic, the lyrics are inevitably worthy of note. While they aren't as monumental as the lyrics on past efforts, they are mysterious as ever and may have gotten a little stranger over the years. A few highlights include the foreboding silthers of "Atom and Evil," the Promethian imagery of "Fear," and the previously mentioned depression of "Follow the Tears."
As expected, there are very few flaws to be found on this album. I imagine that those who are expecting a second "Heaven and Hell" (the album, not the band) will be in for a shock, but the songwriting is still intelligently writtena dn the band's performance is smoothly executed. All in all, it's the first great album of the year and is mandatory listening for anyone who dares to call themselves a Sabbath fan.
1) The band's overall chemistry is overwhelmingly inspirational
2) The songs are intelligently and interestingly written
3) A few new elements keep things interesting
4) How the hell did four guys in their 60's create something this goddamn heavy?!
1) May be a little too slow for some listeners
2) Dio's lyrics may continue to be too strange for some
3) Vinny Appice's performance is solid, but doesn't stand out too often
"Atom and Evil," "Fear," "Bible Black," "Double the Pain," and "Follow the Tears"
If absence, as they say, truly makes the heart grow fonder, than this group of four veteran musicians would enjoy eternal reverence from the black masses of metal for all eternity based on that alone. But unlike many other longstanding franchises that have come and gone since the inception of heavy metal, this one does not survive by faithful adherents alone, but instead delivers high quality cuisines whenever it reforms itself. Within their very much orthodox and consistent mode of song creation, there seems an infinite number of possible ways for them to write perfect songs without need of quirky gimmicks and stylistic crosspollination. Everything here, as it has been all of their previous, though sparsely placed opuses, is pure unadulterated heaviness delivered in its simplest form.
By all accounts, this is a Black Sabbath album, excluding technical legalities brought to us via the Ozzman, aka mister washed up media whore. It is a testament to the fact that in spite of the name being scuttled, that the parts that made up the same sum are still alive and well, which is more than I can say for the original front man of this group given his output both with these musicians and others in the past 17 years. Perhaps it was out of jealousy that Ozzy can’t accept someone actually putting together a full length album under the Sabbath name, something that he has failed to do since he reunited with them and turned them into his own personal sideshow attraction. But regardless, Heaven And Hell bears little difference from its former name in terms of quality, nor spirit.
“The Devil You Know” is exactly what its own title suggests; a familiar recapturing of the spirit of Sabbath styled doom metal that was long thought to be lost more than a decade ago. It features a collection of well crafted, punishingly slow and heavy anthems to woe and discord that has embodied Metal since it first rebelled against the illusionary world of flowers, peace and love that blinded many to the true nature of the world in the 60s. Powerful guitar riffs and traveling bass lines battle each other for which one will reign as the darkest aspect of these trudging tributes to darkness, while the drums exhibit this duality of looseness and dryness that keeps things organized and also stirs the cauldron a little with unexpected ornamentations and fills. But the greatest charm to be found here is the simplicity at work and the utter lack of pretention. There’s no effort to impress, but simply a blunt honesty that can rival even the most and grandiose of epic compositions in the doom style, but with about half as many riffs.
The leading aspects of the band are also noteworthy, as they further differentiate this release not only from the rest of the pack out there, but also from previous works under the Sabbath label. Tony Iommi has gone through various stages of basic and complex soloing, the former of which peeked during “Vol. 4”, and the latter character came to dominate his leads during the 1980s. What emerges here is a much more moderated approach to an instrumental break, having a very melodic character that is quite different from the rapid streams of pentatonic runs that triplet licks utilized on previous Ronnie Dio and Tony Martin collaborations, but also not nearly as formulaic as the more primitive solos heard during the 1970s. A good example of this is the expressive lead work during the acoustic intro of “Bible Black”, which has more of a singing quality to it than even the intro to “Children Of The Sea”, which is among Iommi’s more catchy and memorable lead moments from his more technical era. Likewise, the steady stream of notes heard on the solo of “Eating The Cannibals” is about as far away from the formulaic leads of “Snowblind” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” as they come.
Ronnie Dio’s vocal work is basically flawless, still remaining a step ahead of his semi-operatic emulators Tony Martin and Robert Lowe. At the ripe age of 66 this colossal vocal answer to Napoleon Bonaparte still fills the microphone with high end majesty as if he just hit his early 30s. Decades have passed since he cut his first single in the late 50s, long before the concept of heavy metal came into being, and in spite of all the trends that have come and gone, the same vocal style and character has remained, forcing every genre of music that it has ever accompanied to assimilate to its will. It’s basically an expressive combination of clean sung glory and gravely yet tonal shouts common to both rock and metal music, but with about four times the attitude and twice as much control as what you’d get out of most in the former style.
When dealing with these songs on an individual basis, comparisons to “Dehumanizer” could be made, along with a lot of other Dio and Sabbath albums that came out after said release, and even a few from before it. There isn’t really one era of their project that defines this album, but more of an even mix of them all, compressed into a modern yet not overdone production. Songs such as the creepily slow and dark “Atom And Evil” and the dissonant yet catchy “Fear” could be compared to material heard on “Cross Purposes”, “Strange Highways” and “Magica” and still not quite describe the character of the sound in its entirety. Likewise, faster songs such as “Eating The Cannibals” and “Neverwhere” carry a dueling “Dehumanizer” sense of darkness and a “Mob Rules” meets “Holy Diver” feeling of riff familiarity and majesty. Some other songs such as “Double The Pain” and “Follow The Tears” get so heavy on the bass and low end riffs that they cross over into sludge territory. There’s essentially a little something for every fan of every respective era of these musicians’ careers to grab onto.
As was the case in 1992, the triumphant return of this outfit has resulted in a lesson that can school any and all adherents of metal music. It is definitely one of the best, if not the best album to come out this year. It isn’t a matter of this band being capable of doing no wrong, but simply that every time their in the studio, nothing ever comes out that way. They reprove their worth every time, starting nearly from scratch at each instance, and have once again put out something that will be talked about and listened to years after the novelty wears off. This is the devil that all of us know and love, forever unchanging, and forever a master at his craft.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 8, 2009.
It certainly is a feat to remain relevant in any musical scene for as long as Black Sabbath have been around. Just think about how many long-standing bands are out of touch these days. I don’t feel the need to start name calling; you should know who I’m talking about. I’m not saying that Sabbath haven’t released any duds, but not with this line up they haven’t!
I don’t think it’s necessary to go into a lengthy introduction of the band. Anyone who claims to be a metalhead should be knowledgeable about this band. So let’s just get on with the music, shall we? Heaven & Hell kick their debut(?) off with an excellent doomy rocker, Atom And Evil. Just from reading the song title you should be able to tell that you’re in for a real classic treat. When Iommi crunches out that slow paced mother of a riff, just turn your speakers up because it only gets better. Atom And Evil slowly bulldozes its way along, proving to be a great opener. The album soon speeds up with Fear, a faster tune reminiscent of the Dehumanizer era. If you listen to this band for the epic choruses, Bible Black is the song you should check out first. This is truly a massive tune where the whole band comes together to create something really special for the fans. It opens with a nice acoustic melody and Dio’s golden voice to make an intro that immediately reminded me of Children Of The Sea. But then - BAM - more crushing riffs from the godfather himself. This one’s a real gem for the catalogue.
Fillers? You won’t find them here. Some tracks are a bit weaker than others (Rock & Roll Angel) but every one has something to offer. Diversity is something else that impressed me about The Devil You Know. Fast tracks such as Eating The Cannibals nicely contrast with the slower songs (Breaking Into Heaven).
You seriously wouldn’t know that this was the bands first album in, hell, how many years? They really are as tight as they were in the hey-day. Each member steps up to the plate and delivers with all their balls. I think Iommi gets MVP for this album though, because the riffs here are definitely on par with his old classics. My personal favourite is Double The Pain, but they’re all fair game. Being a big Dio fan, I was glad to hear that his angelic vocal chords are still in mint condition. The drums and bass are pretty standard, but shine here and there.
If this is Heaven & Hell’s final album, there would be no shame in that. I’d safely dub this a modern classic, and certainly a highlight of 2009. This belongs in the hands of metalheads across the world.
I don't suppose I need to delve into the story behind this band much, because chances are you already know it, but on the off-chance that you don't, I'll sum it up in one sentence: Black Sabbath couldn't be called Black Sabbath anymore due to Ozzy Osbourne not wanting anything too awesome under that name anymore, so his old band teamed up with former singer Ronnie James Dio to rock the world once again. And here it is, the album we have all been waiting for, the product of months and months of hard work and true metal mastery, The Devil You Know.
First question, is it good? Fuck yes, it is, and if you had any doubts, you can stop reading this review right now and go back to your knitting circle, because this isn't for you.
Second question, how good is it? Well, I don't think anyone really expected these guys to re-invent the wheel (despite this reviewer's smidgen of hope that they would do something surprising), and they pretty much didn't. I mean, after doing metal for so many years, there are only so many ways a band can take their musical limits, and Iommi, Dio, Butler and Appice are just doing what they do best. That's pretty admirable from my point. No sell-out, no pussifying their sound, just Heavy Metal as solid as a goddamned anvil. And considering the minds at work here, I don't think I have to say that this is just pure magic from a musical and songwriting standpoint.
The basic sound here is like the three new songs off the Dio Years compilation, which themselves sounded like Dehumanizer except even more modern and oppressive, and a bit less varied. The guitars are heavy and...well, they're just really heavy, there's no other word for it. Iommi's tone is as thick and rich as molasses, and the riffs he plays are just pure class - perhaps not better than any of the classic Sabbath riffs, but still, in this day and age, these kind of riffs are a blessing. Dio's voice is in fine shape as he powers out ironclad, unstoppable vocal lines that show no sign of him slowing down at all. His ear for melody and hooks is still intact, as many of these songs pack choruses or even verses that will get lodged in the listener's head for days and never come out. The drums are thunderous and powerful, keeping up the slow tempo with a confidence unrivaled to this day, and Geezer's bass is still heavy enough to register on the Richter scale.
"Atom & Evil" kicks off this metal maelstrom with a stirring force, heavier and more primal than most anything the metal scene has seen in years. Dio's vocals are slooooooow, and the guitar riffs even moreso, and the whole thing generally oozes along like the oldest primordial slime. All of these songs generally follow the same formula, with the variation only being in riffing and in the general themes, and how can I really complain? It sounds absolutely stellar in every sense of the word. Standouts include "Bible Black," with its devilishly hooky closing riff and killer wailing chorus, the charging and vehemently attitude-filled "Double the Pain," the somber, bluesy epic "Rock & Roll Angel" with its more complex riff changes and guitar arrangements, "Eating the Cannibals," a faster song with an absolutely punishing musical motif and "Breaking into Heaven," which is just about the best soundtrack to storming the ivory gates in black flaming chariots that I've ever heard, with its epic stomp being refreshingly riveting.
So, at the end of the day, how does Heaven & Hell's first foray into the new millennium size up to their contemporaries? Extremely well, in fact! The good old Sabbath boys don't have anything to prove to anybody, and here we see them stubbornly holding a collective middle finger at the throes of compromise. The Devil You Know might not be a crowning accomplishment in the mammoth discography of the parts of this band, but it is a nice testament to consistency, and when one considers the year in which this album has been released, it really is quite a stunning comeback. Very good show, boys.
Originally written for http://www.metalcrypt.com
If you asked anyone just a few years ago, they would have said there was no way that Black Sabbath would ever be joined by the one and only voice of metal, Ronnie James Dio. We have all been proven idiots yet again, and I for one couldn't be happier.
After the band got back together and toured the world under the name Heaven & Hell, including the masterful playing on their "Radio City Music Hall" DVD, the response was overwhelming enough that they decided to resurrect their careers one last time to put out an album. But could anything these legends put out live up to the legacy that they had created?
Yes it can.
"The Devil You Know" is a different beast than any of the three Dio fronted Black Sabbath records, but hints at all of them. The epic melodicism of "Heaven and Hell" permeated the closer, "Breaking Into Heaven". The energy of "Mob Rules" infuses Eating the "Cannibals". The sludge power of "Dehumanizer" reinforces the strength of "Fear". This is an album created by four musicians who know their strengths, and have a century's worth of experience behind them.
From the opening note of "Atom & Evil", it is clear that the band means business. This is a seriously heavy affair, but not without bringing enough melody to contrast the metal fury Tony Iommi's guitar has created. Geezer plays his trademark runs, including an effects-laden intro on "Double The Pain" that harkens back to the good old days. Dio, the ageless wonder, dominates over the top of the mix, his voice showing almost no wear despite his age. He weaves familiar melodies, telling stories that he has told many times before. But that's exactly what we want from him.
The fears that this album would be a dirge were unfounded. The tempo ony really picks up on "Eating The Cannibals" and "Neverwhere", but the majority of the album stays in a solid mid-tempo slightly faster than what might be expected. The true surprise is the use of acoustic guitars, as a soft intro for "Bible Black", a coda for "Rock And Roll Angel", and layering the chorus of "Double The Pain", much like the band did years ago with "Wishing Well".
None of the songs immediately strike you with the force of "Neon Knights" or "Heaven and Hell", but they have enough subtleties to draw a distinction from the almost one dimensional onslaught of "Dehumanizer". This is a professional album bearing the name of four professionals who aren't content to rest on their status as the founding fathers of heavy metal. "The Devil You Know" doesn't live up to the very best that any of these men have put out, but it was never going to. Those albums have been mythologized to the point that such a thing is impossible to achieve. What this album does do is show the world that age is just a number, Heaven & Hell is just a name, but the spirit of Black Sabbath still flows through their metal veins.
I never thought I'd see the day where Ronnie James Dio would be fronting Black Sabbath again (yes, they're called Heaven and Hell now, but it's the same band with a different name – it's almost like you could say that they're The Devil You Know...). Then I was treated to three new tracks on The Dio Years. They were pretty good; at least better than the two new Reunion tracks with Ozzy were. And then we got the live DVD at Radio City Music Hall. This was great because it replaced the MIA video for Live Evil, which may or may not exist, depending on who (or what rumors) you believe. Also, I think the cover art for this album is wicked (that's a good thing, by the way). Even the alternate Wal-Mart exclusive cover is pretty cool.
As it stands, this album delivers on all levels. It's got some fast ones, and quite a few doom tracks. The basic way I would summarize this album is that it is a doomier version of Dehumanizer. It is up there in quality with Iommi's last solo album, Fused. The riffs on this album are very reminiscent of classics like “I” and “Letters From Earth”. I think most notable is that the album is mostly in Eb tuning (same as Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, and Dehumanizer), but two songs are in the old Sabbath standby C# (first seen on Master of Reality), with those tracks being “Rock N' Roll Angel” and “Follow The Tears”. It really gives them a heavier, doomier feel.
I think what strikes me most is that there are a lot of riff changes on this album. Iommi really went to town with this. There's several monster riffs, such as the chorus to “Atom & Evil” and the intros to “Double The Pain” and “Breaking Into Heaven”. There's even a completely weird riff for the start of “Rock n' Roll Angel” that doesn't sound like something Iommi would do at all. And the solos are good, too. The whole album has a good rhythm and feel to it, sometimes plodding, sometimes very... well, saying it has a groove to it is probably a bad way to describe it... but it has a good balance of fast and slow. Iommi proves yet again that he is the master of the metal riff. He probably has forgotten more riffs than most people could write in a lifetime.
As for Ronnie, his lyrics are fine. It sounds more in the vein of Dehumanizer, with more 'occult' style lyrics and staying away from rainbows and things of that nature. I like the story-through-song approach we have going on, where a song is like a whole concept. Reminds me a lot of Dio's solo effort Magica and maybe even Strange Highways. “Atom & Evil” and “Breaking Into Heaven” seem to have the best lyrics, from what I understand of the songs so far, and they make a good opener and closer.
As for the other members, Geezer can be heard well in the mix, and he has plenty of sweet bass fills and great rhythm lines. I wonder how much of a hand he had in coming up with riffs for this album, since I know he was more involved with this writing process than he said he would be if it was Ozzy-fronted. I do know he came up with the album title, at least, as well as the 25:41 on the cover (a very pointed reference to Matthew 25:41 from The New Testament of The Holy Bible). And as for Vinny, his drumming is fine. It sets a good rhythm, is in time, and I actually like his fills (I don't understand why he gets ragged on so much). I'm not a big fan of overly complicated drumming, I just like it to fit the music and hold everything together.
One thing I will say about this album, is that I did not “get it” the first time around. And by that, I mean for the first couple of listens, I was kind of ambivalent towards it. Much the same way I was with Fused. However, after about four listens, I think this may be one of the highlights of the entire Sabbath band catalog and it's solo band offshoots. It's nice to hear Iommi play an acoustic guitar again, which he only has done sparingly for Sabbath songs like “Children of the Sea” and “Nightwing” (the latter is from Headless Cross).
The acoustic intro to “Bible Black” is reminiscent of “Sign of the Southern Cross”, and for a radio-friendly single it is very good. There's also a middle section of “Rock N' Roll Angel” that has acoustic guitar with a distorted lead guitar over it, and an acoustic outro (reminiscent of “Heaven and Hell”). However, back to “Bible Black”, I must say that am not impressed with the single 'radio play' edits of this song - they butcher an otherwise awesome song with out of place changes. So listen to the album version before you pass judgment on it.
As far as the album goes, it is a definite musical masterpiece. If this is the last thing we get from a Black Sabbath entity, then they definitely went out on a high note. They were very ballsy and the opening song for the album, “Atom & Evil”, is doom. I didn't expect it, but it works well. I'd say that the highlights of the album are “Atom & Evil”, “Bible Black”, “Double The Pain”, “Neverwhere”, and “Breaking Into Heaven”. I also like how the album begins with a take off on Adam and Eve (aka. 'the beginning'), and it ends with the angels of hell trying to break back into heaven.
The weaker tracks to me are “Rock N' Roll Angel” and “Eating The Cannibals”. I think they are a bit weaker in lyrical content than the other songs. However, “Eating The Cannibals” has an amazing use of the wah-pedal for the solo (like “Lady Evil” did), and the song is overflowing with guitar fills. As for the other tracks, “Fear”, “The Turn of the Screw” (which has the greatest intro riff, IMO), and “Follow The Tears”, they're also very good. The whole album has a good flow and is very listenable straight through, and a good length of 10 songs for around 55 minutes of music.
Also, for those of you fortunate enough to get the Best Buy Exclusive version with the bonus DVD, I hope you enjoy it. I did not get a copy with it, but usually such bonus content is rare with Sabbath-releases. There's usually not a lot of extra frills on their stuff. So I'll take what you can get.
Hopefully after this, we'll get another great tour (and possibly another live DVD, but I wouldn't hold my breath) with a few more classics from the Dio-Sabbath vault (“Letters From Earth”, “Turn Up The Night”, and “TV Crimes” for starters) and three or so songs from the new album. And after that, perhaps Iommi will give us a follow up to Fused with Glenn Hughes, and Ronnie will go back to Dio and give us Magica II/III. At any rate, The Devil You Know is metal done right. A lot of these new upstart bands should take a listen to this album so they can hear what real metal sounds like.