REVIEW: Neon Nights: 30 Years of Heaven & Hell – Live in Europe

HEAVEN & HELL – Neon Nights: 30 Years of Heaven & Hell – Live in Europe (2010 Armoury)

Even though there was a double live CD (Radio City Music Hall) shortly before this, I don’t think anybody was complaining.  Obviously, with Dio now gone, this is his final live album. There was also a studio album in between these two live albums (The Devil You Know) and there are three songs from it here. The fact that none of these albums are released under the name “Black Sabbath” means nothing, to me this is Black Sabbath by any other name.  Please excuse me if you find me using the names Black Sabbath and Heaven & Hell interchangeably.

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Obviously Ronnie was not a young man when he died, and the human voice changes naturally with age. This is not the same sound as the guy who recorded Mob Rules or Heaven and Hell. The older Ronnie had a deeper voice, the range reduced noticeably. However, it is still Ronnie James Dio, one of the most powerful charismatic metal singers of all time. It might be an older, wiser Ronnie, but he knows how to work around his voice’s limitations to still deliver stirring versions of these songs.  He made stylistic changes to compensate.

The band itself is cooking. Tony’s riffing and soloing sounds straight out of 1980. Vinnie’s drumming is more fill-laden than it was on The Devil You Know which was very sparse. I’m happy about this.  Geezer is playing those rolling, rollicking bass lines that only he can compose.  This helps define that “Black Sabbath sound”. Geezer played on 3/4 of Black Sabbath’s studio albums, and his bass sound is part of that identity.  Most importantly, Heaven & Hell were having fun, showing the world why these guys together were as Black as any Sabbath. This is the way it should have gone with the Dehumanizer tour. That reunion should have lasted a long time, should have produced tours like this one, and should have produced a live album. I guess there were still egos and wound and the band weren’t ready to stick it out back then. This then is our last chance to appreciate the Iommi/Butler/Appice/Dio gestalt of Black Sabbath.  They should have but didn’t get all the glory back in ’92, the last time they tread the floorboards of hockey barns nationwide.

The track listing is just fine and dandy if brief. I would have preferred a double CD like Live Evil or Radio City Music Hall. Highlights for this listener included the three new songs, especially “Bible Black” and “Fear”. I also loved the new version of “Heaven and Hell,” which has some new tricks during the extended middle. I guess the guys were being creative right up til their last.

Because the keyboards are handled by Scott Warren (Dio) and not Geoff Nicholls (Sabbath 1980-1995),  there is a slightly different sound to the backing keyboard parts. He uses different voices than Nicholls did. Not a huge deal but an observation worth mentioning. Speaking of voices, I don’t like the way that Sabbath have been using tapes/samples on the backing vocals. This is especially noticeable on “I,” where you can hear several distinct Ronnie’s singing backup vocals while the “live” Ronnie sings lead. I guess Sabbath lacks a good solid backup singer, and Ronnie couldn’t hit the same notes anymore, but I feel cheated. I am firmly in the category of people who like their live music to sound live.

4/5 stars. Still a crucial part of the Sabbath live canon and necessary to all fans as Ronnie’s last stand.

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26 comments

      1. It was a great show. It was before the studio album came out so it was more like the Radio City setlist. If I remember right, it was a slightly shorter set than that but they opened with Mob Rules which was a relief because I didn’t like After All as the opener on the Radio City show. Great song but… not an opener.

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    1. If I can’t tell, it doesn’t bother me. Kiss Alive? Sounds pretty live. But when you can hear backing vocals from either people that are not on stage, or people that ARE on stage (but only one of them), that bugs me.

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    2. If I can’t tell, it doesn’t bother me. Kiss Alive? Sounds pretty live. But when you can hear backing vocals from either people that are not on stage, or people that ARE on stage (but only one of them), that bugs me.

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  1. When it comes to backing vocals, I believe you have done a really bad job as a producer / engineer if you can hear the lead vocalist also handling backing vox at the same time. Better then to let somebody else doing that afterwards. As you said, if it sounds live and I can’t spot the overdubs, I’m fine. Kinda like on Kiss Alive 2 when you can hear Paul Stanley doing both lead and backing vocals on Love Gun and Makin’ Love.
    What doesn’t bother me, though, is that neither Hard Luck Woman or Tomorrow And Tonight are done in front of an audience, but on a soundcheck. When I first heard that album, I thought they were done live. Good enuff for me.

    I did see Heaven & Hell twice, both times at Sweden Rock. The first time, in 2007, was magical. They played Sign Of The Southern Cross and I had goosebumps. In 2009, they were really good, but the sound was destroyed by the moronic sound laws we have in Sweden, not louder than 100 dB, and the sound guy who didn’t really know what to do with making sure everybody in the band sounding equally loud and whatnot.
    After this review, I might wanna get my hands on this album, even though Southern Cross isn’t on the album. How could a gem like that be left out? One point is taken off that album because of that…

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    1. I know the exact moments you’re talking about on Alive II. I agree fully. I’m not naive enough to think every live album really is live (or even every concert, with some groups) but at least maintain the illusion for me. It’s like…seeing the strings holding up the Enterprise.

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  2. Heh well, they can’t all be Rollin’s The Only Way To Know For Sure… Still, this looks awesome to me. Oh Dude, Dio, what a front man. And here I am still trying to get all of the studio albums (I’m halfway, or thereabouts). I hadn’t even started a To Get list of live stuff yet!

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        1. It’s why I have about 20 Kiss Greatest Hits albums.

          A writer named Mitch Lafon posted a pic on his Facebook yesterday of his Kiss CD collection — 600 discs. All those Instant Lives looked so gorgeous all lined up together. Me, I only have 3 Instant Lives from Kiss. He had hundreds.

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    1. It’s more an Ozzy thing. Let me see your fucking cigarette lighters.

      My buddy Peter has an Ozzy bootleg from 95, with Geezer on bass. Video bootleg. At one point Ozzy asks, “Do you guys wanna hear some fucking Sabbath?” And you can hear clearly some people yelling NO!!!! Ozzy didn’t know what to do next. LOL “No? Well here’s Iron Man.”

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  3. There are some sneaky overdubs on this one. On the original broadcast, Iommi fluffs the start of the solo to Neon Knights and you can see him shaking his head, but on the DVD, the solo is fine and it cuts to a shot of Appice instead. Naughty.

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