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The Masters Continue Teaching - 90%

nosferatwo, April 29th, 2009

If you asked anyone just a few years ago, they would have said there was no way that Black Sabbath would ever be joined by the one and only voice of metal, Ronnie James Dio. We have all been proven idiots yet again, and I for one couldn't be happier.

After the band got back together and toured the world under the name Heaven & Hell, including the masterful playing on their "Radio City Music Hall" DVD, the response was overwhelming enough that they decided to resurrect their careers one last time to put out an album. But could anything these legends put out live up to the legacy that they had created?

Yes it can.

"The Devil You Know" is a different beast than any of the three Dio fronted Black Sabbath records, but hints at all of them. The epic melodicism of "Heaven and Hell" permeated the closer, "Breaking Into Heaven". The energy of "Mob Rules" infuses Eating the "Cannibals". The sludge power of "Dehumanizer" reinforces the strength of "Fear". This is an album created by four musicians who know their strengths, and have a century's worth of experience behind them.

From the opening note of "Atom & Evil", it is clear that the band means business. This is a seriously heavy affair, but not without bringing enough melody to contrast the metal fury Tony Iommi's guitar has created. Geezer plays his trademark runs, including an effects-laden intro on "Double The Pain" that harkens back to the good old days. Dio, the ageless wonder, dominates over the top of the mix, his voice showing almost no wear despite his age. He weaves familiar melodies, telling stories that he has told many times before. But that's exactly what we want from him.

The fears that this album would be a dirge were unfounded. The tempo ony really picks up on "Eating The Cannibals" and "Neverwhere", but the majority of the album stays in a solid mid-tempo slightly faster than what might be expected. The true surprise is the use of acoustic guitars, as a soft intro for "Bible Black", a coda for "Rock And Roll Angel", and layering the chorus of "Double The Pain", much like the band did years ago with "Wishing Well".

None of the songs immediately strike you with the force of "Neon Knights" or "Heaven and Hell", but they have enough subtleties to draw a distinction from the almost one dimensional onslaught of "Dehumanizer". This is a professional album bearing the name of four professionals who aren't content to rest on their status as the founding fathers of heavy metal. "The Devil You Know" doesn't live up to the very best that any of these men have put out, but it was never going to. Those albums have been mythologized to the point that such a thing is impossible to achieve. What this album does do is show the world that age is just a number, Heaven & Hell is just a name, but the spirit of Black Sabbath still flows through their metal veins.