Welcome to another “Album by Album Challenge.” For those that are new here, the “Album by Album Challenge” is where I take a band’s entire discography and listen to every album in order of release from front to back. With my unforgiving and well-aged ear, I call it how I hear it. In some cases, I find that what I once thought was good is actually pretty crappy and sometimes crap manages to age into something pretty kick ass. And in some cases, face melting is still just good ol’ face melting.
This time around I’m doing one of my most challenging Album by Album Challenges to date: The Black Sabbath catalog. That’s right, I have made it a point to sit down and listen to every official studio release by Black Sabbath from the 1970 debut to 1995?s Forbidden. This was a really fun challenge for me. While doing this challenge I found many pleasant surprises and I also found some things that I wish I would’ve never found. This challenge will be in a few different installments to cover the different singers of Black Sabbath.
This time around we are visiting the Dio era of Black Sabbath. Not only was there life after Ozzy but Sabbath proved that it was a pretty fucking awesome life at that. One can not even compare the two eras of Black Sabbath as they were like night and day (the Dio era being more like the “night”). Releasing only 3 albums and one under the moniker of Heaven and Hell, this era of the band left behind a legacy that could not be touched. As the years passed, this era would grow to be highly respected just as much as the Ozzy era and rightfully so. Ok, folks. Let’s get to this shall we?
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Release Date: April 25, 1980
The Good: Neon Knights, Children of the Sea, Heaven and Hell, Wishing Well, Die Young, Walk Away, Lonely is the Word
The Bad: Lady Evil
Black Sabbath obviously needed to re-invent themselves so they did just that by recruiting former Elf/Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio. Gone were songs of cocaine, Satan, and pot only to be replaced by songs of dragons, kings, mysticism, and folklore. The result of this move was nothing short of jaw dropping as the band delivered an album that not only changed the face of Black Sabbath but pretty much changed the face of what heavy metal would come to be. I mean, I’m sure they could’ve played it safe and tried to forge forward with an Ozzy clone and capitalize on their earlier successful albums but instead took a gamble and came up with a full house. The opening track “Neon Knights” opens with a sonic blow to the dome with that signature, chunky Sabbath riff combined with Dio’s larger than life vocals. “Children of the Sea” featured yet another signature aspect of Sabbath: the beautiful intro leading into a face melting groove. No matter how much time passes, I still get goosebumps whenever I hear this song.
“Heaven and Hell” still holds up as a classic piece of metal greatness but it was songs like “Wishing Well” and “Lonely is the Word” that I totally forgot about. For some reason, those songs just fell on deaf ears back in the day but now they ended up being two of the most stand out tracks for me. “Wishing Well” is a bit of foreshadowing as to what we would hear with Dio’s future solo work while “Lonely is the Word” is one of the best Rainbow songs never written. For an album this fucking good, it even makes up for the stinker that is “Lady Evil.” I’m not quite sure what they were going for on that one but that one just really fell flat. All in all, Heaven and Hell was a solid, awe inspiring debut from this era of Black Sabbath.
Black Sabbath – The Mob Rules
Release Date: November 4, 1981
The Good: Turn Up the Night, Voodoo, Sign of the Southern Cross, E5150, The Mob Rules, Country Girl, Falling Off the Edge of the World, Over and Over
The Bad: Slipping Away
It still amazes me that Sabbath got it so right with Heaven and Hell but it was Mob Rules where I feel that this lineup stepped it up and really blew people’s minds. I was too young to have known how this transition actually went down but I can only imagine that some minds were seriously blown when hearing “Sign of the Southern Cross” for the first time. What a goddamn epic piece of classic metal. The album opens much like Heaven and Hell does with an upbeat, and even uplifting track with “Turn Up the Night” which is such a great song. I can imagine this song being played at top volume in many panel walled basement parties back in the day. The space intro “E5150” is something I would think was a waste but for some reason it totally works leading into probably the most epic of all Dio era Sabbath songs, “The Mob Rules.” If anyone can hear this song and not have their face melted clean off I completely question their level of metalness. It’s so hard to believe that such a monstrous voice was coming from such a tiny frame of a man. I mean, if I had to pick a signature song for this lineup, this would be it.
“Country Girl” is yet another great song combining that classic Sabbath sound with Dio’s Rainbow era lyrics of mysticism and fantasy while “Falling Off the Edge of the World” has us seeing the band creating their own sound as a band. “Over and Over” is another song that I failed to notice back in the day but upon listening to it now I can see its sheer greatness. It’s a shame that those two songs didn’t get the attention that they deserved in the live setting. Listening to Mob Rules, you can hear that Sabbath was really focused and settling into this new era. Sadly, this line up would split up and not make another album together for 11 years.
Black Sabbath – Dehumanizer
Release Date: June 22, 1992
The Good: Computer God, After All (The Dead), TV Crimes, Letters From Earth, Master of Insanity, Time Machine, Sins of the Father, Too Late, I, Buried Alive
Listening to this album you would never believe that it was 11 years since this lineup had worked together. For some reason, I remember liking but not loving this album but 20 years later I find myself in absolute love with this album. Dehumanizer sounds just how I would’ve imagined the follow up to Mob Rules sounding. It’s confident, it’s really well produced, and the songs are top notch. I’m guessing that since Dio had about 11 years as a solo artist under his belt, this album sounds more like solo Dio mixed with classic Dio era Sabbath rather than having that Rainbow influence in there. “Computer God” is a killer opening track and, in my opinion, sets the pace for the most solid album from this lineup. After All (The Dead) is also a bit of foreshadowing as to what we would hear nearly 15 years later from the Heaven and Hell album The Devil You Know.
Each song on this album is as good if not better than anything from the classic albums from this era of Sabbath. “Letters From Earth” is a song that I found myself loving way more than I did before and “Too Late” in some ways completes the sonic trilogy of “Children of the Sea” and “Sign of the Southern Cross.” While these songs aren’t really connected lyrically, they all seem to be the bastard brothers of each other. “I” has to be the greatest song on this album. Much like with the song “The Mob Rules”, the riff is just sonically crushing and Dio’s voice is absolutely monstrous. It’s really a shame that this album didn’t (and still doesn’t) get the attention that it deserves. I remember seeing them on this tour and it was like people just didn’t catch on to it. I’m glad I was one of those that did because that tour was monumental and had them playing some top notch shows. Dehumanizer is every bit as classic as the previous two albums from this lineup and because of this challenge will be getting a lot more spins from yours truly.
Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know
Release Date: April 28, 2009
The Good: Atom & Evil, Fear, Bible Black, Double The Pain, Rock and Roll Angel, The Turn of the Screw, Eating The Cannibals, Follow The Tears, Neverwhere, Breaking Into Heaven
17 years after the release of Dehumanizer, Dio and his Black Sabbath once again reunited only to create a new chapter in metal history. Instead of reuniting as Black Sabbath and hitting the road with that moniker, they opted to once again reinvent themselves and call themselves Heaven and Hell. This time around, they would hit the road performing only Dio era Black Sabbath songs. Once again, it was a gamble that paid off far better than anyone could have expected. It was a strong standing testament to just how well this era of the band stood on its own. After 3 years of successful touring, Heaven and Hell released The Devil You Know which proved to not only be a stellar album but yet another masterpiece it its own right.
Once again, enough time had passed that you could hear a much darker toned style of songwriter and performing much like Dio’s later solo era stuff. The opening track “Atom and Evil” was all it took for me to know that this album was going to be a force to be reckoned with. While possessing elements of the classic Dio era Sabbath, songs like “Fear”, “Double The Pain” and “The Bible Black” boasted a fresh, modern, yet classic sound. These are the guys that pretty much invented this style of metal so to hear them doing it and doing so well was an amazing thing. Nothing about this album sounds dated or even remotely retro. This was a new chapter for the band and basically was a bunch of old dudes looking to the younger generation of metal bands saying, “Nope. THIS is how you do it. You’re welcome.”
Unfortunately, Dio would lose his battle with cancer in 2009 making this his swan song. Listening to this album it’s pretty clear to see that Dio must be looking down and smiling knowing that he left behind such an amazing legacy of music only to be capped off by this masterpiece. It’s an album that only gets better with each listen. I’m sad that we will never get to see where they would’ve gone from here but trust me, The Devil You Know is as good as it gets and an honorable end of a legendary era.