Black Sabbath - Heaven And Hell
I was a huge Black Sabbath fan when this disc came out. I suppose I should clarify that by admitting that I still am. This disc was a big question mark for me, though. Up until this point Sabbath had been the same four guys, Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Geezer Butler. Now Ozzy was gone and into the mix was added Ronnie James Dio. Mind you, I was familiar with Dio from his work with Rainbow, but this was Black Sabbath – sort of sacred ground. So, I was worried about what Dio’s voice would add to the mix. Well, I had nothing to be afraid of at all. Indeed Heaven and Hell is one of the strongest discs Sabbath ever released and the marriage of their classic sound with Dio’s voice is legendary.
They waste no time jumping into the fray with the hard rocking metallic stomper entitled “Neon Knights.” Musically this one feels a bit like it could have fit on Never Say Die, but Dio’s voice adds a different flavor to the mix. While this is not one of the strongest cuts on show here, it’s no slouch either and makes for a solid opener. There is a bit of Rainbow in the chorus. Iommi puts in a strong solo on this one.
They move from above average territory into the realm of greatness with “Children of the Sea” – one of the best on show here. A dramatic balladic texture leads this off and as they build it up it takes on a vaguely mysterious and mystical tone. After the verse, they pound out in a more typical Black Sabbath type of jam that’s a killer. Dio’s voice really adds a lot to the mix on this number. In some ways the sound on this track calls to mind the Sabotage album quite a bit. They alternate between the balladic and the bombastic for good measure, and this is one of the strongest numbers by any incarnation of the band.
A more straightforward rocker, “Lady Evil” is actually a killer cut. It has a definite Rainbow texture and I wonder if perhaps it was something Dio was working on for that band. Still, Iommi’s guitar sound (not to mention Butler’s bass sound) lends definite Sabbath tones to this, too. It’s another highlight of the disc, if perhaps a bit different for Sab.
The title track pounds in heavy and dramatic. It’s a typical plodding Sabbath monster at this point. After the extended introduction, though, it drops to just bass and drums to serve as the backdrop for Dio’s vocals. As the chorus enters so do some smoking guitar crunch textures. This alternating pattern serves (with some alterations and augmentations) as the theme for the bulk of the track. Iommi puts in some great guitar work on this one, even in some of the more understated segments. The rising and falling riff during the later verses is particularly tasty, as is the extended guitar solo segment. The guitar man shows off his inimitable style of playing tastefully, throwing in just what the song needs at the right time. This is without question another highlight of the disc and the faster paced segment later is classic Sabbath. They drop it back to a beautiful acoustic guitar solo segment later on to take the cut out.
Another song that has a more straightforward, less typical Sabbath sound, “Wishing Well” is solid, but not a standout. It feels like a cross between Rainbow and Never Say Die era Sabbath. I definitely wouldn’t consider this a throwaway, but it also doesn’t rise to the level of a lot of the material around it. The guitar solo segment on this one is interesting. It just feels a bit like some generic hard rock band, not Sabbath.
In a hold over from the Technical Ecstasy era, keyboards start “Die Young” off. Serving as the backdrop for Iommi’s guitar they continue to drive the track. At a little before the one minute mark, though, the band launches out into a more tried and true, fast paced Sabbath stomp and this one shows itself as another highlight of the disc. I’d have to say that Dio’s voice probably gels with the band’s sound better on this cut than any other on show here. While this one might not be the first track that comes to mind when you think of this album, this is really among the top two or three songs here. They include a dramatic mellower segment for good effect, although a lot of keys on that section take it from the realm of typical Sabbath sounds. Still, when you hear the stomping movement that leads out from there all questions about what band this is will disappear. I really like this track a lot.
“Walk Away” is a pretty straightforward rocker that really doesn’t feel much like Sabbath at all. If I had to pick a loser on this set, this would be the track. It’s not that it’s bad; it just feels too much like generic late 1970s hard rock. Still, even saying that, this holds up better than a lot of music of that genre. I’d almost think of this one as Sabbath taking on the Stones or Bad Company.
A rather stripped down metal texture makes up “Lonely is the Word.” This kind of sound would dominate the band later (check out the disc Born Again for more somewhat like this – albeit with a different singer). While I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the strongest cuts on show here, it’s far from a slacker and makes for a reasonably strong closer.
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