REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live Evil (remastered 2 CD version)

NOTE:  This is basically a review of the Deluxe edition of Live Evil.  I own The Rules of Hell (2008) box set of Dio-era Sabbath, so I did not need to buy the later Deluxe of Live Evil.  The 2 CD edition inside The Rules of Hell is sonically the same.

BLACK SABBATH – Live Evil (1982 Warner, 2008 Rhino)

Live Evil: Not only a palindrome, but also the last gasp of the Dio/Appice/Iommi/Butler lineup of Black Sabbath.  Hard to believe that their first “official” live release was with Ronnie James Dio at the mic and not Ozzy Osbourne! This infamous live album was the last thing Sabbath did before Dio left (the first time) and it’s actually a lot better than people generally give it credit for.

Some folks may not enjoy that live, there’s only one guitar.  When Iommi takes a guitar solo, the gap is filled by bassist Geezer Butler and keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.  The audible keyboards in the middle of a heavy metal song like “Neon Nights” do take a little getting used to, admittedly.  In the end though, it’s part of the scenery.  Black Sabbath didn’t do much with live keyboards in the original Ozzy era, but they were a part of every Sabbath lineup since.  There was also apparently a lot of behind the scenes bitching about instrument levels and whatnot that supposedly lead to the disintegration of the band.  This remastered edition of the CD leaves me with few qualms about the sound.

LIVE EVIL_0004

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, you used to see a lot of fan rivalry.  “Dio sucks!” or “Dio rules!”  Today we all have the perspective to know that you can have both Ozzy and Dio, like having your cake and eating it too.  Well, until Dio’s heartbreaking 2010 death, that is.  It is true most singers that Sabbath have had couldn’t do the Ozzy material convincingly. Ozzy sounded genuinely disturbed and terrified on “Black Sabbath”. (“What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me. Turn round quick and start to run. Find out I’m the chosen one…oh no, please God help me!”) Dio camps it up quite a bit, which is not my personal preference. The same goes for “War Pigs”.  I also find that Vinny Appice just can’t cop the vibe that Bill Ward got on the drums. Ward played it very subtle, almost tribal, and Vinny plays it straight ahead. But I’ve yet to hear any lineup that can do that song as well as the original album version, including the reunited (1997-2012) Sabbath with Ozzy and Bill.  (Appice also gets a drum solo on “War Pigs”; thunderous but not necessary.)

The set list for this album was pretty cool, including Mob Rules favourites “Voodoo” and an absolutely killer “Sign of the Southern Cross”. This version, melded with a long extended “Heaven and Hell”, is among the very best moments in Dio’s career. Basically, all the Dio-era material here is excellent, while the Ozzy-era stuff leaves you feeling just a little bit underwhelmed. Not to say they’re bad, they’re just…different.  Two completely different singers with their own personalities.  The fact is that Dio made it work live as best he could, and that’s commendable.

MVP:  The super slinky Geezer Butler.  The remastered edition allows us to hear with real clarity every massive note, and his bass is like a jolt of caffeine to the brain!

Since this is a 2CD set, all the between-song banter that was deleted on single disc versions has been restored. That’s important. Dio talks a lot between songs and that’s part of the album. Otherwise there is no bonus material. There are ample and interesting liner notes, and the front cover looks absolutely stunning. This is one of Sabbath’s all-time best covers (perhaps second only to their first album) and it definitely shines in this edition. (But don’t let that stop you from tracking down a vinyl copy so you can see it in its 12×12 glory!)

LIVE EVIL_0001

Shame that this was the last album of the original Dio era, but of course Dio and the band felt there needed to be additional chapters later on. And so there were. Live Evil remained a controversial album for a decade after its releasing, dividing fan and band opinions.  I asked two of my esteemed Sausagefest rock scholar friends for their opinion on it, to make sure we’ve covered all the bases. This is why they had to add:

Uncle Meat:  “As good as Dio was as a singer, I never really liked some of his takes on Ozzy Sabbath songs. He kinda over-sings them. It’s like he is bored with them and he appeases the singer in himself. Also the mix is pretty horrible as well. The truth is, the only great Sabbath live album isnt even a Sabbath album. Ozzy’s Speak of the Devil still sounds great today.”

Dr. Dave:  “I don’t love or hate it. I like it. The most interesting thing for me, besides Dio, is the Vinny Appice take on the whole thing. More of a groove, less of a swing than Bill Ward. Not saying better, just neatly different.”

Final note: The liner notes correct Dio’s name to Ronnie James Dio.  The original LP and CD had his name printed as simply “Ronnie Dio”, as a bit of a “fuck you” to the singer.  They do not, however, reinstate Vinny Appice as an “official” member, having his name under “special thanks”!

3.5/5 stars. The most historic of the Sabbath live albums.

22 comments

  1. Got this after it came out and i always drifted back to Ozzys Speak Of The Devil more. Not knocking Live Evil but I just kinda dug the Ozzy deal more. Especially with him all snapped up on Speak Of The Devil….
    Great review….

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  2. I’m with Scott, that looks lovely indeed! And for my part all I could think was,hell, it’s Dio. And Sabbath. I mean let’s be honest here, what’s NOT to like?? Well, the sound,according to Lebrain’s ears (which we all trust). But otherwise… Ah never mind. Still better than a lot of the crap others were listening to at the time!

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    1. I agree with Uncle Meat though — Dio really does oversing the Ozzy stuff. Although technically Ozzy will never be considered the greatest singer, his vibe is eerie and very difficult to cop. It’s a problem Sabbath have had with every singer. Nobody can perform the Ozzy songs convincingly except Ozzy.

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  3. The biggest problem with this album is that it sounds produced. I know there are millions of overdubs here and you can hear that. Still, it’s hard to argue about the songs. It’s Black Sabbath, man…
    Ronnie James Dio was one of the best vocalists ever and the stuff he did with Sabbath and Heaven & Hell, well, it doesn’t get much better than that. But I remember how much I hated what he did with the Ozzy stuff when I bought this album. Only Ozzy can sing stuff like Black Sabbath, NIB and Children Of The Grave. No matter how good Ronnie was, those songs just sound wrong.
    Today, I like this album more than I did back in the day. Fact is, I think it’s a really great album.

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    1. Seems we more or less agree on this one too. There’s something special about the songs they wrote with Ozzy, that only Ozzy can do them the way they were written. Dio did the best he could though!

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      1. Absolutley. But it was the same thing with Tony Martin. I think Tony Martin is a fantastic singer, but he couldn’t do the Ozzy stuff justice at all. But he did the Dio stuff brilliantly.

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        1. Tony Martin was in a lose-lose scenario and did as best as anybody possibly could have. 6th or 7th singer…8th depending on who you count and who you don’t…or even 9th or 10th! It had gotten ridiculous. But he was willing to sing everybody’s material. I think Martin sang everybody’s material with the exception of Ian Gillan.

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        2. Also, the Martin era was the first time Sabbath felt like a unit again since the Dio days, instead of just Tony Iommi with a bunch of guest musicians.
          I hold Headless Cross and Tyr among the Sabbath greats. Classics just as Heaven And Hell or Paraboid.

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        3. I like those albums a lot (Tyr in particular) but I wouldn’t go that far. I would like to do detailed reviews of those albums because I have all the singles and bonus tracks.

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  4. I’ve come to utter some blasphemy: I actually like Dio’s singing BETTER on “NIB” and “Children of the Grave.” For “Paranoid” only Ozzy will do. For all the other songs, I love both singers. I never did like Speak of the Devil, though. More blasphemy, I know. But when it comes to Sabbath songs, I can stand almost any of the singers. Wanna swap out drummers? I can handle that. Some bassist other that Geezer. I don’t like it, but I can stand it. But a Sabbath song without Tony on the six string? Nope. I can’t like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool! Well I’m glad to have a differing opinion even if it’s only you! I agree though about Tony. Tony makes it Sabbath. As Jon pointed out some of the best Sabbath albums don’t have any originals except Tony. I quite like TYR a lot.

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