BLACK SABBATH – Heaven and Hell (2011 deluxe edition)
Of the Sabbath reissues, Heaven and Hell has proven to be one of the most anticipated, but also one of the most skimpy. Anticipated, because in addition to the usual B-sides, this one also includes some previously unreleased live tracks. Skimpy, because the bonus disc only has a minimal seven songs on it.
Even the most diehard of Ozzy fanatics usually begrudgingly concede that Heaven and Hell is a damn fine album. Powerfully heavy, but clean, slick and to the point, Heaven and Hell is the only Black Sabbath album to feature the lineup of Ronnie James Dio on lead vocals, and original members Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward. As such it has a different vibe from Mob Rules, due to Bill’s swing and thrift. Nobody can swing like Bill Ward, and I believe that Vinny Appice would agree with me. There is nary a weak song on the whole album (although “Lady Evil” comes close as far as I’m concerned). There are no less than two crucial singles, in “Neon Knights” and “Die Young”, both trademark Dio speed rockers. There is also, of course, the epic title track. A riff so famous that it rivals such classics as “Iron Man” and “Paranoid”. Let us not forget that when Tony Iommi appeared at the Freddie Mercury tribite concert back in 1992, it was “Heaven and Hell” that Brian May chose to introduce Iommi with, not “Iron Man” or “Paranoid”!
Really, Heaven and Hell is a perfect Sabbath album, perhaps the only truly perfect Sabbath album besides the crucial first six with Ozzy. While I love Born Again (my favourite album of all time by anybody) even I must admit that its production values make the record an ugly duckling. No such problem here. Martin Birch has expertly recorded the band. His production is not the wall of sludge of early Sabbath. It is a clearer, leaner beast, but no less mean. The teeth are sharp indeed. (This is before Birch allegedly succumbed to cocaine on Mob Rules.)
The bonus disc begins with the two live B-sides, “Children of the Sea” and “Heaven and Hell” itself, both (in my opinion) superior to the later live versions due to the presence of Bill Ward. “Heaven and Hell” is clipped off at the end however, I believe this is the version from the 7″ single, not the 12″. (But fear not, the full 12″ version is later!) Then there’s a 7″ mono version of “Lady Evil”, the only song I didn’t need to hear twice. Although I have to admit I had no idea they were still making mono records in 1980.
Finally there are the previously unreleased live songs! All the best tunes, recorded live in 1980 with Bill Ward on drums, and in this batch of songs is also the 12″ version of “Heaven and Hell”, the full 12 minute version that I have on the “Die Young” single. This has all the solos and Ronnie’s singalong vocals.
So there you have it. Not as much running time as Mob Rules, but Mob Rules also didn’t include anything that wasn’t unreleased.
5/5 stars. A landmark album, and this is the version to own. Oh, and the remastering sounds great!