heaven and hell

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.

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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!)

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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.

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REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Dio Years (2007)

BLACK SABBATH – The Dio Years (2007 Rhino)

Compilations are always fun to quibble about. Fans like to complain about which songs are missing, and which songs they’d replace. I won’t spend too much time talking about that. Most reviewers have already pointed out that “Sign Of The Southern Cross” and “Time Machine” are missing from the 2007 Dio-era Black Sabbath compilation, The Dio Years.

It’s very important to remember two things. One, this album contained the first new Black Sabbath music released in nine years. Nine years! This is a band that used to release an album every year, up until the point that Ozzy Osbourne rejoined the band. Since then (and before the new album 13), the band released exactly two new songs (both with the Ozzman singing) and started to stagnate. Since The Dio Years represented the first new Sabbath material in almost a decade, it bears a listen.

The second point of note: this set was originally supposed to be a 2-CD boxed set. As such I’m sure a lot of songs were dropped along the way, Yes, “Southern Cross” is missing. However, this reviewer’s only real quibble is “Southern Cross”. I mean, hey — “Lonely is the Word” is on here!  I would have replaced “Lady Evil” with “Southern Cross” myself (I never liked “Lady Evil” much), but perhaps the fine folks at Rhino felt that one 7+ minute epic was enough for a single disc. I can understand that logic. Besides, I, like every Sabbath fan worth his or her own salt, already own Mob Rules.

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This disc was freshly remastered. I should point out that this remastering session was not the same one that produced the series of Sabbath Castle remasters in the late 90’s, but one that occurred in 2006/7. As such the sound is even heavier (louder). I found that I had to roll down the bass a bit, as my normal settings made the bass just too heavy. This was also the first time that the material from Dehumanizer (15 years young!) had been remastered.  The running order is a little weird, though.  “Heaven and Hell” as the third song on an album?  A live “Children of the Sea” following “I”?  The flow is lacking in cohesion.

The liner notes are excellent, very detailed, with lots of facts that casual Sabbath fans didn’t know (like the fact that Craig Gruber from Rainbow, and Sabbath keyboard man Geoff Nicholls were brought in to play some bass when Geezer briefly left the band in 1980). There are a bunch of cool pictures and artwork as well, which fit in nicely with the Sabbath vibe.

Every Dio-era album get a look-in, even the controversial Live Evil via a great version of “Children Of The Sea”, almost as memorable as its studio counterpart. No rarities. What you get instead are the aforementioned three new songs. That’s one more than Ozzy gave you on the Sabbath Reunion CD, by the way!

When Dio was with Sabbath he tended to talk about his songs in terms of tempo. As such, you get one “fast one” (“Ear In The Wall”), one “slow one” (“Shadow Of The Wind”) and one mid-tempo song (the single “The Devil Cried”). I almost always prefer the fast Sabbath stuff, so obviously “Ear In The Wall” is my favourite. Sound-wise, these three new songs pick up where Dehumanizer left off, and foreshadow The Devil You Know.

Geezer, unfortunately, was not involved in the writing.  Iommi and Dio also did the production themselves. This might have something to do with the fact that I can’t hear nearly enough of Geezer’s trademark slinky bass lines–something I identify with the Sabbath sound more than any singer they’ve ever had. Iommi’s playing some good riffs and some scorching solos here, although I have found his guitar tone over the last decade to be too modern and distorted. I much prefer it when he gets a nice amp-driven sound rather than something so processed. However, bottom line is, these three new songs are good, albeit not essential, parts of the Sabbath catalogue.

Thankfully these three new songs were not the last gasp of Black Sabbath. Before his untimely death, Ronnie James Dio recorded The Devil You Know, under the name Heaven & Hell. And of course after that, the original Black Sabbath finally delivered the unforgettable 13.

As for The Dio Years?

4/5 stars

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.

REVIEW: sHEAVY – The Electric Sleep (1998)

sHEAVY – The Electric Sleep (1998 Rise Against Records)

Last time, we talked about the “moment of epiphany” when I first heard this band.  This is my favourite album by Sheavy, choice band from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Electric Sleep is an intense listen, throbbing and bottom-heavy, but it’s especially striking for its similarity to early Black Sabbath.  My buddy Tom often said that this seemed like it should have been the next Sabbath album, as if Ozzy never left in 1979.  I disagreed, as I found it to be more the mold of earlier period Sabbath.  It doesn’t matter; if hearing a band that sounds pretty much exactly like the original Black Sabbath offends you in any way, then don’t listen to Sheavy.

The album opens with “Virtual Machine”, and Steve Hennessey’s distorted computerized yowl is mesmerizing.  The riff detonates, it’s a keeper, and Sheavy have kicked me in the buttocks with the first track.  “Velvet” abruptly changes the landscape to something more acoustic, atmospheric.  A Sabbath analog would be a song like “Solitude”, for example.  But then “Destiny’s Rainbow” arrives to kick your posterior again once you’re getting too comfortable.

“Electric Sleep”, the title track, recalls “Hand of Doom” from Paranoid.  “Born In A Daze” has a groovier feel.  You know how Sabbath kind of got a bit groovier on Never Say Die?  Songs like “Junior’s Eyes”?  Maybe Tom’s right, and maybe this album does sound like a followup to Never Say Die at times.

My favourite song is the stormy “Automaton”.  This one actually reminds me of early Queensryche lyrically, when they were still singing about computers and robots and other cool stuff:

If all the secrets they’ve been hoping to find,
Unlock the programs buried deep in my mind,
And am I human or just a robot slave?
They sent me here so their world I could save, yeah-ahh!

Musically, “Automaton” is also the least Sabbath-like.   The riff is swift, stout and precise, but not very Iommi, which is fine.  And there’s a cool slide guitar hook that recurs in the song which helps give it a unique sound.  This one’s a winner:  my favourite Sheavy song, period.

That’s a hard act to follow, but Sheavy do so with the mournful “Savannah…Flights of Ecstasy”.  In his best vintage Ozzy delivery, Hennessey laments the loss of someone close:

She forgot to breathe,
She forgot it was make believe,
Can’t avoid her eyes,
Never cared for long goodbyes.

If I had to compare this to a Black Sabbath song, it would actually be “Lonely Is the Word”, from Heaven and Hell.  Hennessey’s Ozzy stylings aside, musically this has the same kind of vibe…until it gets heavy and riffy close to the end.  Then suddenly it’s Vol. 4.  

“Saving Me” gets the heads banging, but “Oracle” is something else.  Beginning with a didgeridoo (an instrument that Black Sabbath definitely never used), it’s obvious that this song is a carbon copy of “Black Sabbath” itself.  The riff is the same “devil’s triad”.  Throw in some cool Jimmy Page “Dazed and Confused” wah-wah guitar licks on top and you have an idea of what this mash-up sounds like.

The album closes with “Stardust” and “Last Parade”, a duo of heaviness 15 minutes in length total.  “Stardust” itself is loaded with guitars, no less than eight players are credited on it!

I think if this album wasn’t so derivative of the original Black Sabbath, it would be worth 4.5 stars due to the sheer quality.  However, I think I have to knock off half a point simply because you can play “name that Sabbath song” for several tracks.  Although Uncle Meat says the same is true for moments of Black Sabbath’s new album 13, I’m going to give Sheavy…

4/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Black Sabbath – 13 (by Uncle Meat)

Uncle Meat is back to tell us about the new Sabbath — the standard 8 track retail version.  When I get the deluxe and Best Buy editions, I’ll do my own.  Until then, please welcome Uncle Meat for his insightful take on one of the most anticipated albums of the last 33 years.

BLACK SABBATH – 13 (2013 Universal)

What is your favorite Black Sabbath album?  How many times do you think that question has been asked over the last 30 years or so?  Before today, I would have said my personal favorite would be a tie between Volume 4 and Heaven and Hell (cop-out answer I know).   Expectedly, that has not changed after listening to the long-anticipated “reunion” album simply titled 13.  There is a case to be made that this is one of the most anticipated albums of all time.  So does this album live up to that hype?

Sabbath LogoThe true answer to that question lies within you as the listener of course.  Personally, I always find that something truly great will build momentum with every listen.   With that in mind, my first listen to 13 was one of pleasant surprise.  It has been a long time since Black Sabbath (or Heaven & Hell for that matter) has released something that I have connected with.   Even Dehumanizer, which I believe to be the last relevant Sabbath album, went in a direction that was not really what I wanted to hear from Black Sabbath.   My theory is that with Dehumanizer, they were trying to “reclaim the throne” so to speak.  Being overly heavy just for the sake of being heavy, and losing the diversity and groove that made them true rock royalty.  It appears Rick Rubin has brought back at least some of that old Black Sabbath magic.

Rick Rubin’s legacy is almost as iconic as Black Sabbath themselves.  He has been responsible for the re-birth of several artists such as Slayer, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash et al.  The first thing that struck me about 13 was the bass sound.  Geezer has never sounded better and is hot in the mix, complimenting and adding to every track.  I also really like Tony Iommi’s guitar sound on this album.  More than a few times I found myself reminded of that classic Iommi riff sound.  Brad Wilk’s drums are great, and this could be nit-picking, but there is no doubt that Ward’s drum style is missed here on a few tracks.  Even Ozzy gets a passing grade here but I suspect that has a lot more to do with Rubin rather than a resurgence of Ozzy’s voice.  I was pleasantly surprised as well by the vocal melody lines on the album as a whole.

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TRACK 1 – “END OF THE BEGINNING”

The guitar parts in the verses paint an almost too-reminiscent picture of Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath”.  But overall this track is strong throughout its 8:07 running time.  Definitely a great start to the album. Ozzy hits some notes at the end of this song that I find hard to believe even came out of the man. Steroids?

TRACK 2 – “GOD IS DEAD?”

I was not thrilled about this song when it was released prior.  Not that I dislike this song, just nothing special here to me. Next.

TRACK 3 – “LONER”

Good track.  They are somewhat ripping themselves off here to be honest, and that’s OK ’cause every band with longevity does it to an extent.  Main riff is VERY reminiscent of “N.I.B.”, and also Ozzy’s  “Alright now” and “Come on, Yeah!” made me genuinely smile.   Anyone remember Barry Horowitz?  Patting himself on the back?

BARRY PAT BACK

TRACK 4 – “ZEITGEIST”

More self-pilfering, this is the the “Planet Caravan” of the album.  Don’t particularly like that song to begin with. There are more strong vocals from The Madman here though.  But, still glad it’s the shortest song on the album (4:37).

TRACK 5 –”AGE OF REASON”

This track is in a tie right now with upcoming Track 7 (oh the drama!) as my favorite tune on the album.  Not only are the best riffs of the album on this song, I found myself loving the progressions here.  They remind me of the diverse song-writing on Sabotage, for example.  “Age of Reason” also contains a CLASSIC Tony Iommi solo.  This cannot be under-stated.  One kick-ass monster Tony Iommi solo!

TRACK 6 – “LIVE FOREVER”

The second shortest track on the album at 4:49, this is a good little song; and a great main riff on this track.  Very reminiscent of one of my favorite Sabbath songs, “Cornucopia” and even Brad Wilk seems to channel some Bill Ward in the open crash cymbal playing on this song.

TRACK 7 – “DAMAGED SOUL”

This is what we have been waiting for.  This is Sabbath being Sabbath better than all the bands that try, intentionally or un-intentionally, to be Sabbath.  [Wait until you see tomorrow’s story — LeBrain]  This is what I want from my Black Sabbath.  Doom meets gloom meets the blues.  There is something wonderfully sloppy about the guitar on this song.  Like a cross between Iommi and Keith Richards.  We even get some Ozzy harmonica in there.  Love the bridge in this song and the harmony vocals that come with it. The last third of this song is just lovely.  Yes… I said lovely. Check it out.  I must take back a proclamation made earlier in this review.  This is my favorite track on the album.  It’s that simple.

TRACK 8 – “DEAR FATHER”

The last track on the album is solid.  Once again there are some great drums on this song.  It builds momentum as well, getting more majestic as it goes along.  The last track on the album has a very fitting ending.  The track ends with the thunder, rain and tolling of the bell that started off their very first album 43 years ago.

The bottom line is this:  Black Sabbath have released a very relevant album in 2013.  I had my doubts if that was possible, and I am sure the presence of Rick Rubin was a big part of this being a very good if not great album.  Even without Bill Ward, there is life and inspiration within 13.  I find the ending of this album (hopefully) very fitting.  They have made an album which will be rightly recognized as something special, and this should be the end for Black Sabbath.  A glorious end indeed.

A solid 3 ¼ / 5 stars

Look for Mike Ladano’s upcoming review of the super duper extra-special royale deluxe version … containing several more tracks … coming soon.

Uncle Meat

BLACK SABBATH-13 SUPER DELUXE BOX

Part 136: Black Sabbath, July 22 1995 (REVIEW!)

Sadly, my concert review for this show no longer exists.  Ye olde floppy discs don’t exist anymore, and the site that once hosted the review (sabbathlive.com) no longest exists.  Therefore I’m forced to re-write this as a Record Store Tale.

RECORD STORE TALES PART 136:  Black Sabbath July 22 1995

July 22, 1995.  Tom, myself, and a few of the boys decided to go see Black Sabbath.  They were playing Lulu’s Roadhouse, the world’s longest bar, with Motorhead opening.  It felt like a step down for both bands, but the place was packed.

We arrived just before Lemmy hit the stage.  They ripped into a scorching set to promote their latest album, the high-octane Sacrifice.   I remember Lemmy introducing the title track:  “Don’t try to dance to this one or you’ll break both your fucking legs!”  At the end of their set, Motorhead promised to return (and they did a year later).

I remember Tom and I being blown away by Motorhead.  I didn’t own any — this show officially was what made me a fan.  I kicked myself for not really paying attention to them earlier, but better late than never eh?

Motorhead remain today one of the best bands I’ve seen.

But I was there to see Black Sabbath.  We moved closer to the front of the stage to be in position.  We chose a spot perfectly between where the two Tony’s would be, right up front.

The crowd was getting a little drunk and restless.  A fight started…well, I hesitate to really call it a fight,  it was over before it started.  We all turned around to see this big huge dude headbutt this little tiny Kurt Cobain looking guy.  Knocked him out cold.  Then the big guy realized everybody was watching and hastily made an exit.

Then, Black Sabbath:  Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, and Geoff Nicholls.  What we didn’t know was that Cozy only had seven more gigs after this one.  Then he would be replaced by another Sabbath vet, Bobby Rondinelli.  And of course little did I know that I’d never see Cozy live again in any band:  He was killed in a car accident 3 years later.

They hit the stage to the classic Martin-era opener, “Children of the Grave”.  Sabbath’s set was sprinkled with tunes from the Ozzy era (“War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Black Sabbath”) and the Dio era (“Heaven and Hell”, “Mob Rules”) and many of his own tracks.  They played three from the lacklustre new record, but at least three of the better songs:  an awesomely dramatic “Kiss Of Death”, the explosive “Can’t Get Close Enough”, and the filler song “Get A Grip”.

It was just before “Get A Grip” that the stagediving began.  Tom vacated the stage area right away.  “Get a grip is right!” he said to me.  “I’m out of here.”  Two songs later I followed him.  This drunk girl started grinding me from behind, so I took the first chance to slip away and catch up with Tom.

The one song I really came to see was “The Shining”, one of the best Martin-era tunes, and his first single with the band.  Sabbath delivered.  They also played two from Headless Cross including “When Death Calls”.  Neil Murray played the chiming bass intro to this song that I’d never heard before.  It was the only unfamiliar song.  I resolved to get Headless Cross as soon as possible.  (It took two months for Orange Monkey Music in Waterloo to get it from Europe.)

Vague memories:

Tony Martin was a so-so frontman.  Much of the time, he would spread his arms Christ-like and shake his thinning hair.  He talked a lot and I remember he had small, beady but friendly looking eyes.  He did the best he could.  He sang his ass off, although he had lost a fair chunk of his range.

I remember Iommi ditched his SG for an unfamiliar red guitar during the overdriven “Can’t Get Close Enough”.

I could barely see Cozy, which is my biggest regret.

I was pleased that Sabbath played a well-rounded set with new stuff.

Little did I know that the end was near.  Not only was Cozy soon to be out, but promoters cancelled much of the end of the tour.  Sabbath headed over to Japan, threw “Changes” into the set (OMG!) but were done by the end of the year.  For the first time in a long time, Sabbath were put on ice while Tony (Iommi) worked on a solo album with Glenn Hughes.

Meanwhile, the lawyers were conspiring to create a new/old Sabbath lineup.  By 1997, Ozzy was back, and the band now featuring founding members Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and new drummer Mike Bordin of Faith No More.

I’m glad  to have seen Sabbath with Martin.  He did five albums, and I like three of them.  I think he did the best he could under difficult circumstances.  He’s a talented guy, so it’s great to have seen this lineup especially since Cozy would be gone so soon!

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (deluxe edition)

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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!