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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.