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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.