Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Black Sabbath ~ Heaven & Hell


(Click heading to visit official Heaven & Hell website)
Style: heavy metal, hard rock, British
Label: Warner Brothers
Year: 1980
Home: England

Members: Geezer Butler ~ bass
Ronnie James Dio ~ vocals
Tony Iommi ~ guitar
Geoff Nicholls ~ keyboards
Bill Ward ~ drums, backing vocals


Few bands have replaced a key member, changed songwriters, updated their sound & found just as much success, particularly bands as musically influencial in creating a genre, as Black Sabbath did in 1981 when they brought in horn waving elf Ronnie James Dio fresh out of Richie Blackmore's Rainbow. Dio took not just the vocal spot from iconic Ozzy Osbourne but also the writing spot from bassist Geezer Butler & helped moved the band away from being a gloomy blues based drug band to heavy 80's rockers reaching out to a new generation of fans as hair metal hit the airwaves. Many decried the plethora of changes, though in hindsight many may have forgotten that this reinvention came after Sabbath was on the decline. Heaven & Hell, the first of four outings from the new line-up, isn't strung with classic song after classic song like the 1970 legacy-making Paranoid, but it did contribute fan favorites "Neon Knights", "Children Of The Sea" the title track ... that are just as good as anything that came before & working hard to disprove the fans that said there was no Sabbath without Ozzy. The experimental nature of the later Ozzy albums, a weak point of contention for many fans, was largely retired for a more commercialized sound, while the drug & mysticism lyrics gave way to medieval imagery. It's easy to ignore the albums between Paranoid & Heaven & Hell & forget that this is actually a predictable steady progression of the band, it just came to fruition earlier than expected with Dio's arrival. It's really not a surprising change, nor by far a negative one & definetly reads more drastic than it really is. Tony Iommi's trademark de-tuned guitar lines remain slow & heavy with Geezer Butler's bass still slogging away ... a simplicity that would be lost in future heavy metal that came to believe guitars had to be fast & distorted to be heavy. Iommi plays like a big slow gorilla not a fast colorful tiger. While the lyrical move isn't really that big of a change as its more like two sides of the same coin. Decrying social ills remains a regular theme, with the step from witchcraft to medieval mysticism beyond distant cousins & both lending themselves to visual lyrics. The band couldn't have found a better writer without hurting the band, as would be shown by the weak material that followed after the departure of Dio & Geezer. Further, honestly, Dio is probably the better singer than Ozzy ever was or is. Ozzy has an instantly recognizable voice & style but he essentially just shouts, grunts & vocalizes with none of the range or control of Dio & if it wasn't for some great songs, both with Sabbath & in his solo career, one can only wonder if he'd be so popular as his vocals often sound sloppy. Dio & the boys proved to be a rocky partnership that produced The Mob Rules before collapsing & Dio forming his own band with replacement Sabbath drummer Appice, while successive Sabbath singers found the band at its lowest point, but a shadow of itself with only Iommi as a constant presence. The Dio era, as its called, was the light before the dark. Dio returned to the fold a decade later to produce Dehumanizer, again to see things crumble & eventually lead to a Ozzy reunion that produced only a live album & two weak studio tracks. Dio united again with the band under the moniker Heaven & Hell, making a strong case for the skeptics that still preferred Ozzy let alone that Sabbath was dead, with the powerfully dark The Devil You Know before his unexpected death in 2010. Of the four Dio era Sabbath albums, two are great, two are okay. But, the great ones are good enough to have divided the Sabbath camp into Dio fans vs. Ozzy fans. It's really two different bands. I saw Heaven & Hell/Black Sabbath in concert & didn't mind in the least that not a single Ozzy song was played. They weren't missed.



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