Live Evil

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.

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: Ozzy Osbourne – Speak of the Devil / Talk of the Devil (1983)

 

OZZY OSBOURNE – Speak of the Devil (1983 Epic)

After Randy Rhoads died, Ozzy really seemed to have gone into a tailspin. He just seems to have been completely miserable at the time and he really tries to bury the albums he made in this period. Speak Of The Devil, a live album featuring Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) on guitar, was not even included on Ozzy’s 2002 reissue program and went out of print.

Ozzy owed his label a live album, and had actually recorded one too (Randy Rhoads Tribute).  With fresh wounds from the loss of Randy, Ozzy didn’t want to do a live album at all.    So a compromise instead; Speak of the Devil (Talk of the Devil overseas) consisted entirely of Black Sabbath songs.  At the same time, Sabbath was releasing their own double live album, Live Evil.  This direct competition poured fuel over an already volatile feud.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL_0003I always hate to compare Ozzy’s versions of Sabbath songs with the originals. Ozzy’s have always sounded different because of the guitar players he’s chosen to use over the years. These Gillis versions are about as authentic as Ozzy’s been, until the fortuitous discovery of Zakk Wylde five years later.  Gillis is a flashier player than Iommi, but without Randy’s intricate classical bent.

You absolutely cannot argue with the track list (from the Ritz, in New York). This is Sabbath boiled down to its black core. These are the desert island songs, and I love that “Never Say Die” and “Symptom of the Universe” were included.  Through the classics, Ozzy sounds tremendously drunk.  Colossally smashed, not quite completely out of his fucking head yet, but close.  Still lucid, not yet totally annihilated.  His voice takes on an angry shade when he starts reminiscing about the the groupies at the old Fillmore East (“The Wizard”).  (Sounds like a naughty word was awkwardly edited of out this ramble, too.)

I do love a moment when, just before breaking into the aforementioned “Wizard”, Ozzy says to somebody (a roadie?) “Hey, what’s happenin’ man?”

The vocals sound like they’ve been sweetened in the studio.  They’ve been double tracked, or manipulated to have that effect.  I’m normally not a fan of that kind of thing, but it’s still a great listen.  There’s some annoying feedback at points…it doesn’t bother me too much, hell, when I first heard this album (on cassette) in 1991, I couldn’t even hear the feedback, for the shitty fidelity of cassette tape.  I’m sure Ozzy considers the album to be sonically embarrassing, that seems to be his modus operandi.

Of note, “Sweet Leaf” did not manage to make the original CD release, but has been restored to this version, its CD debut.  It was on the original cassette version, a cassette-and-LP-only “bonus track” at the time.  (Aaron, that means you gotta buy remastered or LP.)

Band lineup: Osbourne/Gillis/Sarzo/Aldridge/Airey.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Mob Rules (deluxe edition)

I’m addicted to buying these deluxe editions, and I’ll be doing more Sabbath in the coming days! Check out more of my Sabbath deluxe reviews by clicking here!

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BLACK SABBATH – Mob Rules (2010 deluxe edition)

The entire Dio-era catalogue of Sabbath has now been reissued so many bloody times! First there was the original CD issues, then the Castle remasters in 1996, then the Dio years boxed set (The Rules of Hell), and now these deluxe editions. I’m feeling lightly pillaged. But buying these is optional…unless you’re a die-hard like me. If you’re not, stick to the Dio box. If you are a die-hard, plunge forward.

The big reason to buy this set is the Live at Hammersmith Odeon bonus disc. Folks, when Rhino announced this live album in 2007, I jumped on it immediately. The CD sold out immediately, only 5000 copies were ever made.  Limited and numbered (I got #3723), even if it sucked it was bound to be worth a fortune in the future right? Well not necessarily. Now it’s been included as a bonus disc. (It’s also seen a vinyl reissue.)  So, for me this sucks — my Rhino issue is no longer as desirable to collectors. For you, it’s awesome. Now you can have this blistering live album, way better than Live Evil!

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All the other expected perks are here, including bonus tracks:  the soundtrack version of the title track, and a B-side (“Die Young”, live) from a 12″ single.  It also has extensive liner notes that cover the recording, the tour, and the Hammersmith disc. Throw in some photos and a great remastering job, and you have (hopefully!) the last copy of Mob Rules that you will ever need to buy.

Mob Rules itself is very much a brother record to Heaven and Hell. You have that big dramatic epic (“The Sign of the Southern Cross”), the speedy opener (“Turn Up The Night”) and everything else in between (“Voodoo”). It’s not quite up to the lofty standards of H&H, although it does follow the blueprint quite closely. I find the closer (“Over & Over”) to be the weak link in an otherwise pretty damn strong chain.

I think the title track, “The Mob Rules”, is probably one of the greatest heavy metal songs ever written.  Furiously paced, with Dio’s pipes in fine form, it an energized trip.  “The Sign of the Southern Cross” is, as far as I’m concerned, pretty much an equal track to “Heaven and Hell”.  Its riff is simply earth-shattering.  Once again, Dio’s pipes are unequaled.

Even something like “Country Girl”, a lesser known track, blows me away.  Iommi pulls another memorably powerful riff out of his bag of tricks, while Ronnie wails away…about what, I’m not sure.  But it sure is fun to sing along.  “Slipping Away” is another personal favourite due to Geezer’s fluidic bass solos.  “Falling Off the Edge of the World” smokes, another fast Iommi riff that bores its way into the brain.  You’ll be exhausted by the end of it.  Really, the only mis-step is the album closer, “Over and Over”, which I find a bit too dull and slow for an album as great as Mob Rules.

Pick it up to help complete your Sabbath collection, and to hear the awesome Live At Hammersmith Odeon.

5/5 stars