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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"