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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”.