Black Sabbath – The Mob Rules
Black Sabbath – Mob Rules (1981)
Reviewed by Mark Nagy
Black Sabbath and Dio: Round 2. After an overall successful return to form with 1980’s Heaven And Hell, Tony Iommi and co. hit the studio again for 1981’s Mob Rules, hoping perhaps to inject some consistency into what had been a very erratic band over the past 5 years. While the band may have been trying to establish something like a machine-like quality in how they went about their business, what they really accomplished was a machine-like quality in songwriting, wherein they failed to achieve significant development over Heaven And Hell.
I’ve already taken issue with Heaven And Hell’s approach to a more generic metal sound that the band was not able to dominate, and this only continues to be true on Mob Rules. Ronnie James Dio’s vocals are by far the most noteworthy and enjoyable part of the album, but I think of Dio’s 3 major career ventures (This, Rainbow, and the band Dio), this was the band that was the biggest mismatch to his strengths. While Dio was capable of a sinister tone, and Iommi did have the versatility to move out of doom metal, the middle ground that was the combination of two styles created here is just less than fulfilling.
While it’s hardly unique to Black Sabbath, the 80s synthesizers that the band employs on this record have aged like milk. “E5150” employs some vaguely futuristic synths, but the song plays as if those futuristic leads were some great climax, and throws them in at the end of two long, pointless minutes of needless “anticipation.” Were that an opening track, as bands find fashionable to do today, I might be more willing to excuse it, but instead the band just decided to massacre the tempo with this thing midway into the record.
Additionally, this is the first Black Sabbath album to feature Vinny Appice on drums. Fortunately, Appice only makes two appearances in the Black Sabbath catalog, but of the stable of drummers who replaced Bill Ward, he is by far the most boring and un-engaging of the band’s long career. This is not to say he is untalented, as his long-time association with Dio is not unwarranted, but simply that his style, which is very precise and machine-like, is completely at odds with the talents of Iommi and Butler. This pair, who excel at more open-form psychedelic blues and doom metal, are solidly second rate at straight riff driven heavy metal. Seriously, take a listen to Bill Ward create melodic texture on “The Wizard”, and then fast forward to ANYTHING Appice plays with Black Sabbath. Vinny Appice simply does not belong behind the kit with this band.
Mob Rules maintains all the stylistic downfalls of Heaven And Hell, making the band yet more generic as they sell short both the talents of Dio and Tony Iommi, while also lacking any of the songwriting that might have helped the band overcome such a mistake. It’s difficult for me to say whether or not this is worse than Never Say Die!, because even though Ozzy’s first swansong was a collection of underwhelming songs played by a band who was too conflicted to really care, at least I could see where the effort might have yielded a worthy album. But this? This album is just entirely uncompelling and mediocre to the highest degree. It’s fun for Dio’s vocals and Iommi’s heavy riffs, but from musicians who should be capable of dominating the world at this point in time, they fail to create something that would even qualify as ‘average’.
2.0 // 5