“Mob Rules” remains one of my favourite Black Sabbath albums. It was Sabbath’s latest album when I first heard it. I was around 11 years old and already impressed with AC/DC and Van Halen. A friend let me hear the intro to the old classic, “Iron Man,” because Ozzy’s distorted voice and the bent guitar note sounded cool. Heavy metal music was filtering down to the boys of my age via the channel of older brothers (which I didn’t have) and so it was through another friend that I was treated to this “new” heavy sound. When I first heard the, “tss, tss, tss, tss” of the opening track, “Turn up the Night,” and the sudden thunder of guitars, I was in love. This was music to my ears.
“Turn up the Night” features some blazing wah-wah pedal solos by Tony Iommi and Ronnie James Dio’s gruff and powerful vocals. The song, a bit mainstream sounding I’ll admit, thunders on through from start to finish. Say what you will about it, I still love to listen to it. The second track changes the pace quickly with a mid-tempo, less heavy in tone number called, “Voodoo”. The contrast between the first two songs hints that this will not be all hellfire and thunder straight through the album. The soloing also shows a more stylistic approach in contrast with the sonic ray gun blasting of “Turn up the Night”.
The third track, “Sign of the Southern Cross,” remains as one of my favourite Black Sabbath songs ever. It features a pretty acoustic guitar intro with Dio showing off his skills as a talented singer, using smooth soft vocals and delicate falsetto. His delivery is impeccable. I remember my friends and I having a snicker over the line, “Vanish it to small,” because one friend liked to sing, “vanishshit”. Hey, we were 11 years old. After the intro, the song morphs with a monster slow and heavy riff. It has been said that heavy metal was originally slow and heavy and if you think of Sabbath’s own, “Black Sabbath” then you can imagine that we are back to a 1981 version of that slow heavy riffing. The song has a seriously haunting, doomy atmosphere about it with a touch of a spooky cosmic mood during the verses. In spite of the fact that there are some cool drum and bass fills and the guitar solo concludes with a little bit of finger action, the music for the most part is sparse but effective. And by now, Sabbath have offered up three distinct songs of differing mood and tempo.
“Sign” fades into the effects instrumental “E5150” which begins with some rather interesting effects but soon becomes neither here nor there. I read that the song title spells out “E-V-I-L” if you replace the numbers with Roman numerals. Sounds a little silly but it was probably someone’s good idea at the time. Then abruptly the fearsome assault of “Mob Rules” erupts and reminds you that this album started out with a balls-to-the-wall metal rocker.
Side two begins with another “Voodoo” mid-tempo song that opens with another cool riff. “Country Girl” gives Dio a chance to show off his vocal prowess once more. “Slipping Away” was an education in music for me because I was still a newbie to rock and metal having come from a background of Disney story book cassettes, the Smurfs, and my parents’ easy listening albums. In “Slipping Away” Messrs Iommi and Butler taught me the difference between an electric guitar solo and an electric bass guitar solo, thus initiating my long love for the bass guitar (though I only ever tried playing a bass once).
I always felt that “Falling off the Edge of the World” was like a sped up version of “Sign of the Southern Cross”, perhaps because it too has a slow and very heavy riff. But the song rockets off and plays at a pace that would have inspired many young and upcoming thrash metal musicians. The final track “Over and Over” often gets mention by other reviewers but I’m afraid it has never appealed much to me and is the only track off the album that I usually don’t listen to. I find it drags on, and Dio's plaintive whimper (albeit a powerful whimper) doesn't thrill me either.
Many reviewers agree that this album is not quite as good as “Heaven and Hell” with some even going as far as saying that this is an inferior copy of the previous album. But I bought “Heaven and Hell” on cassette a year or two later and I loved only the first three tracks. After that I can’t remember anything else from the album and I am not yet tempted to purchase it on CD. “Mob Rules”, on the other hand, is one of my three-timers: an album that I have purchased once on cassette in the 80’s, once on CD in the 90’s, and a third time on remastered CD in the 00’s. Still these days I find myself keeping the album or at least favourite tracks on my iPod. For me, this album was a very important stepping stone to getting myself into heavy metal.