BLACK SABBATH — Heaven And Hell (review)

BLACK SABBATH — Heaven And Hell album cover Album · 1980 · Heavy Metal Buy this album from MMA partners
5/5 ·
Before I even start, I wish to make one thing clear: this is one of my top 10 albums of all time. So, I will not deny being very much biased, and well aware of it- though I am not the only one to consider "Heaven and Hell" one of the absolute masterpieces of classic hard rock/heavy metal, signaling the band's return to sparkling form after the severe decline shown by their late Seventies albums.

At the beginning of the Eighties, Sabbath underwent what we could call a total makeover. Gone was the muddy, uncertain sound a of their earlier albums, to be replaced by Martin Birch's state-of-the-art, crystal-clear, diamond-hard production, which allowed every instrument to shine - Geezer Butler's and Bill Ward's thunderous rythm section, Tony Iommi's legendary riffing, but especially new guy Ronnie James Dio's awe-inducing roar. The latter's addition to the lineup made the real difference in the band's performance: though Ozzy's distinctive, vaguely disturbing wail had been Black Sabbath's trademark for nearly a decade, Dio was simply one of the best vocalists ever heard on the rock scene.

Obviously, such changes could not help altering the band's sound in a rather substantial way. As a matter of fact, "Heaven and Hell" sounds quite unlike their Seventies output - less chillingly menacing, more crushingly powerful. Album opener "Neon Knights" (to these ears, one of the best opening tracks ever) sounds like a statement of intent right from the very beginning, brimming with Iommi's towering guitar riffs and Dio's soaring bellow. Things slow down for the second item on the tracklist, doom-laden "Children of the Sea" - one of Dio's career-defining vocal performances together with Rainbow's immortal "Stargazer". Though not one of the album's highlights, "Lady Evil" is a catchy, uptempo song, punctuated by Butler's dynamic, booming bass lines.

Strategically placed at the end of Side A when the album was originally released, the title-track, is a crushingly heavy cavalcade bolstered by Butler's thundering bass and Iommi's manic riffing, with Dio's voice soaring and swooping above the din in true epic style. As a sort of release of tension, another catchy tune follows, the almost poppy "Wishing Well" (no relation to the Free song of the same title) - perhaps nothing to write home about , but a song I have always been partial to. On the other hand, "Die Young" can be counted as another of the album's high points - a classic, powerful, keyboard-laden hard rocker, it sees another cracking vocal performance by the inimitable RJ Dio, and sterling guitar work from Iommi.

While the slightly nondescript "Walk Away" is in my opinion the only real filler on the album, closing track "Lonely Is the Word" most closely resembles Sabbath's earlier output with Ozzy - a sinister slice of doom driven by Iommi's positively monstrous riffing, and featuring at the end what might be his best solo ever, while Dio's vocals sound pleading and commanding in turn. Without the shadow of a doubt, one of the band's undisputed milestones, and one hell of an album closer.

A classic by every other name, "Heaven and Hell" is one of those albums that every self-respecting metal fan should hear at least once in their lifetime, even if to some ears it might sound somewhat 'lightweight'. If you are into great music, regardless of labels, do yourself a favour and grab a copy - you will not regret it.
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