Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell (1980)
Written by Mark Nagy
So I’ve avoiding writing this review for quite some time, for a number of reasons I’ll explain through the review, but the show must go on for metal’s founding fathers. So here we go with Dagg presents: Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell. This is one of the most controversial albums in the band’s history because it’s the first since the departure of founding vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. In his place, Iommi and co. picked up Elf/Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio, who at that point was the most recent victim of Ritchie Blackmore’s ego (Of which everything he touched eventually seemed to fall victim). Dio was in no way a similar singer to Ozzy, and hence we arrive at one of the great controversies of all of metal.
Heaven And Hell continues some of the musical developments of Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die!, but with a more technical approach to the guitars and a more traditional songwriting approach than the blues-influenced early albums. Additionally, unlike the previous two albums, there’s nothing outright wrong with Heaven And Hell, and the band has finished refining the new sound. Black Sabbath has also left behind much of the more sinister doom metal in favor of what would eventually become more traditional heavy metal. Dio still emulates much of the sinister attitude that Ozzy had, but being a much more technically talented singer, the effect is much different.
By far the most noteworthy song on Dio’s Sabbath debut is the title track, “Heaven And Hell,” and while I’m still a strong believer that Ozzy’s body of work is superior, you would be hard pressed to find a better song anywhere in Black Sabbath’s career. “Heaven And Hell” takes a lot of influence from Dio’s previous work with Rainbow, bringing a previously unheard-of arena rock attitude, while still holding the sinister aggression that is essential to the band. In addition to bringing stronger vocal performances to the band, Dio also replaces Geezer Butler as the band’s lyricist, and that’s a vast improvement.
However, for as great as the highs of Heaven And Hell are, there’s a creeping aspect of mediocrity that would haunt the band for years to come. “Neon Knights,” “Heaven and Hell,” and “Wishing Well” are all great songs, but to be honest, the album feels a bit repetitive. While Black Sabbath has never been a diverse band, the more traditional songwriting approach begins to wear thin near the end of the record. Additionally, while Iommi is still playing to his strengths as metal’s premier riffsmith, moving away from the doom influences moves Black Sabbath into territory that they are less capable of dominating. Heaven And Hell is a less unique album than its predecessors, and by this point there are competitors rising that can simply play this game better.
By no means does that mean you should pass up hearing Heaven And Hell. Of the 8 songs, 4 are absolute classics (“Neon Knights”, “Children of the Sea”, “Heaven and Hell”, and “Wishing Well”). However, the other half of the album will be much less satisfying, especially for well-versed metalheads. It’s an improvement over what they would have done had they continued with Ozzy, but a couple of uninspired songs, as well as some synths that have aged very poorly bring this from legendary to great, but still essential.
3.75 // 5