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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