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.
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!)
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.