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Mixed mood doom - 83%

gasmask_colostomy, August 1st, 2016

I can't remember what I was doing in 2009, but even I was aware that there was going to be an album from a former line up of Black Sabbath. I don't think I knew it then, since I wasn't really into more classic metal, though now I've gotta say - isn't this the highest quality line up Black Sabbath ever had? I mean, Ozzy and Ward did great things early on and the early period proved the most influential, it's just Dio has an empirically better voice than Ozzy and Vinny Appice doesn't give away much behind the kit. Anyway, it took this album to teach me about Dio's voice, since I'd never listened to much of his stuff before.

I remember the first time I listened to The Devil You Know, 6 years ago. I loved it. I would listen to it often and it fitted fairly snugly into a doom phase that I was going through, acting as a slightly more upbeat bedfellow to the likes of Candlemass, Cathedral, My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost, and Solitude Aeturnus. It has the same kind of lead heavy, broad guitar sound that those bands used, though nowhere near as murky or extreme as the doom death hybrid. Whatever some people might argue about Black Sabbath's early years being doom metal, this kind of doom is quite different, since one can hear how Iommi's riffs on a song like 'Fear' or 'Double the Pain' are based on notes rather than chords, not actually moving that slowly but imparting the sense of doom through the mood of the melody rather than the trudging pace. That said, there are genuinely fast parts here, not only on the speedier 'Eating the Cannibals' and 'Neverwhere' which go off like NWOBHM or even bonafide speed metal songs with a gruffer guitar sound, but also during the moving and grooving verses of other songs such as 'The Turn of the Screw' and 'Double the Pain'. Finally, there's a hard rock sense of swagger and strut to a few moments, particularly 'Rock and Roll Angel', which is rather unusual and certainly takes the edge off the oppressive feeling exuded elsewhere.

In this mixture of moods and styles, Napalm Satan's largely negative review of the album makes some valid points about how mismatched or tryhard a few moments sound. When placed side by side, 'Eating the Cannibals' and 'Follow the Tears' are totally opposite, with the former bounding out on energetic riffs and screaming solos as Dio gleefully tells a tongue in cheek tale, while the latter opens with horror movie keyboards, trudges on a (pretty uninspiring) chugging low-end riff, and has a desperate sentiment to the lyrics. 'Eating the Cannibals' works well for this band, but one feels that Solitude Aeturnus or even the melodramatic My Dying Bride could have done much better with 'Follow the Tears', since their singers are much better suited for such depressing subject matter. The same issue sligthtly dogs the slow 'Breaking into Heaven' too and those two songs, despite fitting in well with my musical tastes at the time, feel unsatisfactory now. 'Rock and Roll Angel', on the other hand, has never suited me and is the song that I most often skip, lacking in riffs, emotion, and purpose, while the style is wishy-washy in an otherwise powerful album.

That said, there are some superb songs on The Devil You Know. 'Bible Black' is a fucking excellent epic doom song with drama in the acoustic opening, a gripping storyline, and guitar bliss towards the end, while both 'Fear' and 'Double the Pain' are inventive takes on a rather more fun formula, turning in good riffs and movement. Along with 'Eating the Cannibals', those are the highlights, though there are things to like in all of the other songs, barring the exception I've already mentioned. The best thing about the album is not that all of the performances are sublime (they are good, but not perfect), more that there is a sense of fun and freedom alongside the sheer heaviness and darkness of the doom style, so that the album feels a pleasure to come back to and is detailed and atmospheric enough to remain lost in. Therefore, despite the grumbles that I have about a few songs and the overall unity of the album, it is always an enjoyable listen and remains on regular rotation in my collection.