Heaven And Hell / The Mob Rules (Deluxe Re-issues) – BMG
Replacing a lead vocalist is no easy task, especially one with the chutzpah of Ozzy Osborne, but Black Sabbath struck gold when serendipity delivered them ex-Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio. Just as their first four albums would set the template for heavy metal, the two studio albums with Dio at the helm would foreshadow much of the 1980’s (and beyond).
When Heaven And Hell hit the streets in April, 1980 it perfectly fit the prevailing zeitgeist. Coinciding with the rise of the NWOBHM, and the second wind of established bands such as Judas Priest and Motörhead, a revitalised Sabbath found themselves at the vanguard of metal’s rebirth, and leading the charge. If proof were needed to their newfound vivaciousness, then it can be found in opening track ‘Neon Knights’. Like a vitamin shot it sets hairs on end and pulses racing, and after a decidedly stodgy album (Never Say Die!) the band seem more agile and less clunky than the Sabbath of yore. The riffs are still heavy but the solos soar, and Dio’s versatile vocal range opened new avenues for the band (bluesy closer ‘Lonely Is The Word’). On Heaven And Hell Dio would not only chart a new course for Black Sabbath, but heavy metal itself.
Following its predecessor by a mere 16 months, many derided Mob Rules for its similarities to Heaven And Hell (right down to the track sequencing) but this proved to be a heavier Sabbath (as indicated by the blood-soaked sleeve). New drummer Vinnie Appice brought a regimental, hard-hitting style while the tensions which would soon cause the group to fracture informed tracks such as ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Slipping Way’. Dio’s lyricism always had a fantasy/sci-fi bent, but he stepped up another level on the likes of ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’ and in doing so pioneered the whole gothic rock boom that would blossom in the mid-80’s. It’s something he’d carry over to a successful solo career, but it never sounded so good as when tethered to Tony “Tombstone” Iommi’s monstrous riffs. The general consensus is Heaven And Hell is the better record, but some do prefer the visionary nature of Mob Rules, an album that acknowledged the past and anticipated the future.
Respectful remastering means that these two albums have never sounded better, while the addition of contemporary live recordings make them essential purchases. Those who had the honour of seeing Dio live will know how hard he worked the stage, and that ethic seeps through every note of these live sets. For many, Sabbath without Ozzy is an anomaly, but for others it represented a brave new world.