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Black Sabbath is a band that has gone through a lot of line-up changes. And although there is a golden stature to the Ozzy Osbourne era, the Ronnie James Dio era seems to have just as competitive a fanbase. With the three classic albums Heaven and Hell (1980), Mob Rules (1981), and Dehumanizer (1993), this fact became pretty apparent to Black Sabbath’s label (Rhino) in 2006. Thus Rhino released a Black Sabbath — Greatest Hits compilation featuring the best of the Dio years, for which Dio and the rest of the band got together and recorded a new song. Even though the band had reunited with Ozzy in 2001, they had actually been pretty inactive save for a few Ozzfest gigs. So when the compilation and new material became a mass success, the early ’80s-era line-up of Black Sabbath (Tony Iommi, Vinny Appice, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio) decided to re-form under a different name (as the band had not fired or replaced Ozzy). That name was based on the debut record of Dio with Sabbath: Heaven & Hell.
With Ronnie James Dio back in the fray, the band was able to settle into the comfortable writing space they had always had with Dio. Although Ozzy was always the most iconic front man of Black Sabbath, he was also notorious for his unreliable attendance, still struggling to work together with the band for new material in 2001, which never surfaced. So it was almost a shock to the band when they went in to record Heaven & Hell material in 2008 and had it done within a few months, with the result being the monolithic The Devil You Know.
To describe this record, I would have to say it’s at the top of what I have always wished for when it came to Dio’s era of Black Sabbath. It has the heavy, chunky, slow, and gloomy doom metal riffs which won the band for me with Ozzy, while also containing the virtuosic singing ability and epic melodies of Dio’s style. So by all means, this record is a perfect fusion of the two eras and MY GOD is it a bloody fantastic result.
This album is absolutely crushing. While the work Dio did with the band previously was still definitely heavy metal, it wasn’t in the heavier, gloomier, monolithic, and slower style known as doom metal (think songs such as “Black Sabbath,” “Iron Man,” “Electric Funeral,” or “Under the Sun”) that Ozzy and co. perfected in the ’70s. That is remedied on this record with some of the darkest, doomiest music that Dio, and even Sabbath, have ever been involved with. Tony Iommi’s riffs are almost heavier and more sinister than in his prime with Black Sabbath, dwelling within that slow, almost atonal guitar-riffing style with equally chunky and evil bass lines from Geezer Butler and pummelling, crushing drum work from Vinny Appice.
Other than the sinister riffs, another reason this record has such a dark vibe is the fact that it took Dio’s fantastic lyric writing and Sabbath’s general dark imagery to conjure images of demons, fallen angels, and sin, which work together to give the album quite a hellish mood and atmosphere. But despite the quite fantastical imagery, the album still has a very personal edge to it. It’s given to you from such a very real point of view, going in-depth about the emotions, that you can have some sort of relation to it. It also lets the songs that are more purely about emotion and don’t quite have the fantasy element blend right in as well.
At the end of it, this is one of the most powerful Black Sabbath outputs in the groups history. Tapping into what made Black Sabbath the defining metal band they are to create the most truthfully Sabbath album in a really, really long time has left this as one of my all-time favourite Black Sabbath albums and my favourite featuring Ronnie James Dio. Unfortunately, this would be Ronnie James Dio’s last musical outing before succumbing to stomach cancer in 2010. I can’t think of a sadder moment for the metal world than that day, and he is a force in metal that will be missed forever. I guess all I can say is that I’m glad his last output was a bloody fantastic one, as it ends his career on a very high note. Now that the soul of Black Sabbath, Toni Iommi, has the big C as well, and it seems the Ozzy-era Black Sabbath reunion of 2012 is hitting some rocky ground, if The Devil You Know is also the last Black Sabbath record, it’s one hell of a swan song for everyone to go out on. Pure, evil, doom metal magic. 10/10
Best Songs: Atom and Evil, Bible Black, Double the Pain, Rock and Roll Angel, Eatting the Cannibals, Follow the Tears, Breaking into Heaven