As I said before, I’m not a fan of Ozzy-era Black Sabbath at all. Sorry, I do respect the influence they had on metal, but most of their songs were pretty boring, and worse, Ozzy was an absolute shit singer. And, like many people, I became aware of the Ronnie James Dio era of Sabbath a good while after the Ozzy era, but I’ve come to prefer this incarnation of the band, who had an excellent introduction to the world with 1980’s “Heaven and hell”. Here, Sabbath shows more pep in their step than they ever did in the Ozzy days, and Dio owns him seven ways to Sunday vocally, so, this was nothing but a step up for them. Okay, so maybe it has become a bit overrated with time (a 10, Hanging Limbs?), and its follow-up was quite the let-down, but it still remains a very enjoyable album, and lucky for me, its old Class6 write-up got canned, leaving the door open for my take on it; YES!!!
Ahem… “Neon knights” opens us up with the energetic pulse of Tony Iommi’s guitar, then Dio comes in with that dramatic, passionate voice of his, admittedly, singing some pretty cheesy lyrics about “dragons and kings, weaving a charm and a spell” and whatnot. But, who cares about a little cheese when a song is this alive and this much fun, especially when compared to the band’s previous 8 records? “Children of the sea” then gives us an excellent contrast, by turning down the lights (so to speak) and getting serious, with its beautiful acoustic guitar, tender, earnest vocals from Dio, and tragic lyrics: “In the misty morning/On the edge of time/We’ve lost the rising sun, a final sign/As the misty morning/Rolls away to die/Reaching for the stars, we blind the sky…”. You want a “power” ballad, then you got yourself a helluva one right here.
Unfortunately, “Lady evil” makes for a pretty crappy follow-up, with an overly campy, almost sleazy feel to it that’s really annoying; sorry Sabbath, but it seems your big comeback record won’t be 100% consistent with the good songs. But, once that’s out of the way, it’s nothing but smooth sailing for the rest of the album, especially on the title track, with its epic opening riff and dramatic verses where it’s nothing but the steady beat of Bill Ward’s drums, the low murmur of Geezer Butler’s bass, and Dio once again showing why he’s a legend when it comes to metal singing. The climatic outro, where the song radically speeds up, is excellent as well, as is the melodic, gradually fading acoustic guitar at the end, resulting in a very powerful song all-around.
After that, “Wishing well” is a nice, upbeat offering, with Iommi giving us some extremely energetic solos, then “Die young”, with a Vangelis-y synth intro and some of the heaviest riffing Sabbath ever recorded, the enjoyably good-natured “Walk away”, and while “Lonely is the word” is a bit draggy, it’s still a decent way to close the album out. Though nothing on the second half of “Heaven and hell” lives up to the great standards of “Children of the sea” or the title track, it’s all still good, hence, the album’s good, and the best Sabbath album to boot, at least in my very humble opinion.
One strength of “Heaven and hell” I need to mention is how good it sounds 30 years later, especially when compared to releases from that same year (“Iron maiden”, I’m glaring at you…). The rhythm guitar is sharp, the drums have a nice, heavy “thud” going on, the bass is prominent, and Iommi’s solos have a cool, lower-than-expected tone to them. Speaking of which, the solos here actually contribute to the momentum of the songs, rather than just spinning their wheels like on “Mob rules”. And, besides some cheesiness, the lyrics here are all evocative, emotional, and extremely memorable, and with Dio such an articulate vocalist, you can actually understand what he’s singing without having to take another stupid side trip back to the fucken Metal Archives.
So, after all that, what more can I really say for “Heaven and hell”? If you’re already a fan of it, then I salute you for your good taste. And, if you aren’t a fan of it, or maybe even haven’t given it a shot yet, then I’ll kindly ask you to stop being such an Ozzy fanboy, drag yourself out of 1971, and open yourself up to the great taste of Dio ‘n Sabbath already.