At just some 40 minutes of air-time and a meager 8 tracks, with a new frontman the band just hired off The Rainbow bar on the Sunset Strip in L.A., a record really needed to be good. The classic and 9th studio album Heaven and Hell from Black Sabbath will qualify – to an extent. And yes, to an extent only. ‘Tis not all great and shiny disco lights. Not all tracks will really open heaven’s gates on this disk. But be this as it may, there definitely is improvement on this album, and this on several fronts at once. But more to that later.
Ronnie James Padavone aka Dio was hired to pull this supposedly foundering ship called Black Sabbath off its moorings and into the deep sea where it belonged. Whisperings abound that one Sharon Arden actually introduced the new guy to Tony Iommi. The very same lady that should get some fame as Ozzy’s wife and manager later on. And isn’t it ironic that Dio had his hiring interview in a bar of the same name than his last band Rainbow? And with this crew, he celebrated remarkable successes like Rising or Long Live Rock’n’Roll.
And what a change in Heaven and Hell. It was a hell of a long road from the metallic and somewhat disjointed whine of Ozzy Osbourne to the crystal clear and powerful lyrics of Dio in a hell of a short time. Of course, his fast ascension to fame really got accelerated by Ozzy Osbourne‘s insane behavior (his own words). Which brought about the demise of the latter – something like lightning quick.
And there are voices out there bitching that Ozzy was good at nothing and came by the job by accident and his good looks. Well, you know, he may not be a stellar musician, but he can sing pretty well and displays one major talent: And this is stage presence. This, plus the – I admit – sometimes interesting way he delivers songs renders him irresistible in his own way. Of course, there have been other fronts that did it better than Ozzy back during that time. As an example, Freddy Mercury of Queen and long since gone from this earth absolutely blew you away in concert. But back to Black Sabbath and this record. Ozzy’s undeniable stage presence is probably the reason why the Black Sabbath manager (Sharon’s dad…) back around 1979 tried to get him back into the band. Unsuccessfully as we all now know.
The songwriting got a mighty brush up too, to the good side, away from the somewhat murky and more experimental way of doing things before. To top it Geezer Butler did not really partake in the songwriting for Heaven and Hell, so it lay on the shoulders of one Ronnie James Dio, formerly of Rainbow (the band, not the bar). Now, I would never dare call Geezer a bad songwriter. But the sense of freshness prevalent throughout the record is just amazing. And I won’t hide the fact from you that I am a big fan of Dio in the first place.
This first record in the Dio years is already a precursor of things that – with all best intentions and expectations – could never have worked out for very long. Dio was certainly not one to bow to the pressure of the two sabbatical heavyweights Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi. And it showed in his unceremonious dismissal a few very short years down the road. Allegedly on false accusations, but hey, we weren’t there.
And talking about Tony Iommi: The Mighty Solo Demon from the hellish Metal planet of Crunch possessed him in this album and made him churn out solos and riffs of the heavenly kind. Outstanding and at times almost otherworldly, some of that stuff just struck me speechless. And this is good news, ’cause the bass work and drums are somewhat indifferent. Well, what can I say, Heaven and Hell is a jolly good name for the album.
Not surprisingly Heaven and Hell was generally well received going to Silver and Gold in a number of places relatively quickly. But it had to wait until ’86 to get to Platinum status in the United States. Nevertheless, this is a stellar performance.
Already with the first track Neon Nights, we get a taste of Ronnie’s talents, starting off like Rainbow at their best. Well, just look at the source. But the solo that features there is already sublime. Then comes the classic Children of the Sea. Again, following some of the whispered accounts around the bars on Sunset Boulevard, this track was already shelved and in the bin. Because Ozzy wrecked it so badly earlier. The band then took it out to audition Ronnie during their first jamming session. This is how this first version was born, which then went on to become a classic in itself.
Now, let me step right over to the best and – not surprisingly – the title song Heaven and Hell. The doomy Heavy Metal delivered with Dio’s soaring voice blows me away every time I listen to it. This one is the icing on the cake and the cherry all in one. Plus a couple of shots of vodka to go. The original version at almost 7 minutes is already good. But if you have it, try the live version clocking at 12:34 minutes on the Deluxe Edition. This one is really good and gets you a woozy, boozy version that sounds great after the more austere original.
After that Black Sabbath go more mainstream, but how could they possibly avoid that after the stellar tracks coming before? Die Young has certainly its merits – very good track. And the bluesy Lonely Is The World will get to you through Tony’s outstanding soloing powers. This one always gets me going and is for sure a fitting way to end a pretty good album.
So, is Heaven and Hell the best-ever record Black Sabbath concocted? Well, from a standpoint of what came before, this is really one hell of a heavenly step up from before. And as far as I am concerned all of them Black Sabbath albums will always be measured against what the original crew did with 13.
For this record? Dio did it belting away, I betcha, helped by the solo demon that possessed Tony Iommi. The freshness and musical prowess that comes to the forefront in this record are – I say it again – outstanding. And this despite the fact that they got one or two fillers in this shortlist of tracks. Heaven and Hell right there, right? This is for sure one of my favorite albums from Black Sabbath. But not my one and only #1 record this band ever made.
Ed’s note: Congrats, the album made it onto the newest issue of the Old’n’Tasty series.
Record Rating: 7/10 | Label: Vertigo| Web: Official Site
Release date: 25 April 1980