REVIEW: Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know

Roadrunner (Worldwide), Rhino (US) Victor (Japan)

Q: When is Black Sabbath not Black Sabbath? A: When it’s Heaven & Hell. And even then … it’s still Black Sabbath. For the small handful of folks who have been living in a cave, under a rock or perhaps dwelling in a festering dungeon of misery in a barren, foggy and forsaken land time forgot, or something, Heaven & Hell is Black Sabbath’s Mob Rules-era line-up, trading under a new name so as to avoid confusion with the Ozzy-led incarnation of the band, which is still a going concern at least on paper. It’s not known even by the band members if or when the mighty Sabbath will reactivate (and I’m sure that largely depends on when they can fit in rehearsal between Osbourne photo opportunities and Botox appointments) but in the meantime, there’s Heaven & Hell.

CLICK HERE to buy The Devil You Know from Amazon.com.

Any assumption that Heaven & Hell’s The Devil You Know is a consolation prize pending new activity by Black Sabbath is crushingly put to rest within the first 5 seconds of album opener ‘Atom and Evil.’ After an opening drum salvo from Vinnie Appice, a lumbering, demonic Iommi riff lurches forward. If you listen with headphones you’ll hear a distant shimmery overdub which recalls the high-speed phaser sound of ‘Killing Yourself to Live’ from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. It’s a subtle reminder of Sabbath’s past, but don’t go looking to read too much into it because The Devil You Know is not a depository for sly back catalogue references. Oh, you’ll be able to tell from a cursory ear-glance that it’s Iommi, Butler, Dio and Appice, but even though the lyrical direction may lean towards themes explored on the line-up’s last studio album, Dehumanizer, there’s more than enough distinction to keep The Devil You Know from being Dehumanizer 2: Electric Boogaloo.

‘Atom and Evil’ has that dark, plodding tempo that made Dehumanizer’s ‘Letters From Earth,’ yet the orchestration is a little richer, Geezer Butler’s bass tone is more up-front (especially in the second verse), and Iommi’s double-tracked rhythm guitars sizzle and burn, no doubt the result of his extremely high output Gibson Tony Iommi humbuckers. I don’t know if my perception is influenced by the fire-and-brimstone look of the album cover, but compared to Dehumanizer, Iommi’s tone on The Devil You Know generally feels warmer and more organic than the often cold menace of its predecessor.

‘Fear’ picks up the pace a little but two songs in we’re still nowhere near the tempo of ‘Neon Knights’ or ‘The Mob Rules.’ Some darkly supportive vocal harmonies and considered use of backwards reverb ratchet up the menace level in Dio’s voice, which is as powerful and commanding as ever, despite his advancing years. Though Dio doesn’t quite reach for the high notes like he once did, and seems to sing in a lower register overall, it fits the material and adds yet more weight to his delivery. Oh and while I’m singling out individual band members, Vinny Appice’s drum sound is incredible, with just the right mix of ambience and directness. His playing sits so deeply within the pocket that sometimes your ear is drawn away from him, until he throws in a particular fill or accent – there are some great ones in ‘Atom and Evil’ – to kick the song up to another level.

For me, as brutals as this sounds, the key distinction between Ozzy-Sabbath and Dio-Sabbath is one of evil. In their classic 70s output, the band seemed to be stalked and tormented by darkness and doom, while Dio-led Sabbath seems to be in control and command of it. This really hits home with the single ‘Bible Black,’ which starts with a classic Iommi acoustic figure underneath a sombre blues-inspired lead line. A minute and a half into the song, the doom and menace kick in – perhaps recalling ‘Children of the Sea’ from the Heaven & Hell album, but with a little more power and drive. In this tale of an evil bible that leads its reader to commit vicious misdeeds, Dio sounds determined and powerful, sinking his teeth into the character of the protagonist with a sort of demonic relish that Ozzy could only reserve for bats and doves.

‘Double The Pain’ almost sounds like an Iommi-led attempt at covering Alice In Chains’ ‘We Die Young.’ Four songs in and we’ve started to reach the faster tempos that this line-up has always done so well. Of course it wouldn’t be Iommi without more of those famous, evil, snaking riffs, and this track includes a killer half-time line. I’m not sure if it’s in part an in-joke – double the pain, double the length of the bar of music – but it sure sounds cool. ‘Rock and Roll Angel’ has an almost psychedelic opening riff which is quickly pushed aside for a chugging, heavy groove not a million miles removed from Zakk Wylde’s rhythm playing in Black Label Society. Geezer’s tone has a kind of growl which is especially effective in the pre-chorus sections, where Butler and Iommi seem to swap their respective support and leadership roles. Such interplay is all over the album, and it serves as a reminder that while Iommi is the chief riff writer, Butler is absolutely indispensable and perfectly capable of leading the charge.

‘Turn of the Screw’ kinda reminds me of Tony Martin-era Sabbath, with a Butler-led verse riff that recalls that line-up’s criminally overlooked Cross Purposes album. It’s not one of the album’s stronger cuts, yet the band is very tight and they navigate the song’s twists, turns and time shifts with ease. ‘Eating The Cannibals’ is the album’s fastest cut, a high-energy call-to-action about holding big business fat-cats accountable for the current economic state of affairs. A few reviewers have said it’s this album’s ‘TV Crimes,’ and the tempo is similar, but the mood is more smart-ass and revolutionary than the cautionary, accusatory tone of that Dehumanizer track. Oh and Iommi lets rip with a blazing solo that kinda sounds like he’s been spending a lot of time around Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine. Little lead guitar interjections in the following verse are also a nice touch, then we’re given another wild solo. Iommi’s lead playing is in fine form indeed on this album, and it’s great to hear him really stretch out. The intro riff to ‘Follow the Tears’ is possibly the darkest, creepiest moment on the album, moving from ‘threatening’ to ‘menacing’ to all-out oppressive by the time the drums come in. This one is going to be a killer live, and it’s amazing to think that 40 years after ‘Black Sabbath’ the song, Iommi is still writing riffs of this quality, and playing them with such conviction.

‘Neverwhere’ is another fast-paced track which once again has a slight Tony Martin-era feel (astute listeners might recognise a few common intervals with ‘Glory Ride’ from Eternal Idol). It’s one of the few moments on the CD that isn’t particularly stand-out, but at the same time it provides a welcome up-tempo break from all the stomping, lumbering doom that characterises most of the album. Finally there’s ‘Breaking Into Heaven,’ which bookends the collection with a similar (actually about 10bpm slower) tempo as ‘Atom and Evil.’ A monster, anthemic chorus gives way to repeated lashings of doom riffage, before the tempo picks up for a bluesy, double-stop-accented guitar solo. After a return to the slow doom, The Devil You Know finally fades out on a single chord which, rather than signalling the end of the album and saying ‘There, that’s over and done with,’ seems to say ‘To be continued…’

Man, I hope it is.

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NEWS: Heaven and Hell album pre-oders begin

Whoa. Check out that cover. I haven’t seen anything that evil since …well, since the last time I ate cheese before bedtime then had nightmares. So this is the new Heaven & Hell album (otherwise known as Black Sabbath’s Ronnie James Dio line-up with a different name).

CLICK HERE to pre-order The Devil You Know.

Here’s the press release:

After finishing several heralded world tours as HEAVEN & HELL last summer, Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice were tighter than ever before, both musically and personally.

Agreeing that it would be a shame to stop making music together at tour’s end, the quartet began writing, first in England at Iommi’s home studio and later in Los Angeles at Dio’s studio. “The band had gotten too good to just walk away,” Dio says. “We wanted to show people that we were still capable of giving them new music that measured up to what we’d done in the past.”

With that goal in mind, the band once again converged on Rockfield Studios in Wales last winter, the same place they used 17 years earlier to record their last album, “Dehumanizer”. The result is the long-awaited new album, “The Devil You Know”, featuring 10 soon-to-be-classic tracks from the Dio-fronted version of BLACK SABBATH. The highly anticipated set arrives on April 28 from Rhino for a suggested list price of $18.98 (physical) and $9.99 (digital).

It took less than three weeks to finish the album, with most of the songs only needing a couple of takes. “It was good to play them live in the studio. It keeps you on edge,” Iommi says. “I mean, somewhere along the line we were gonna have to play them live; might as well start in the studio.” Butler adds: “We’ve learned from the past that you can kill a song doing it over and over. The first SABBATH albums were done in two or three days. Technically they weren’t great, but vibe-wise they were great. If you capture that feeling, that’s all you need.”

“Bible Black”, the epic first single, begins with Iommi on acoustic guitar behind Dio’s plaintive wail before the rhythm shifts to a menacing stomp for the rest of this dark tale about a book of sinister scriptures. One of the first songs written for the album, Dio says it established a tone for the rest of the album. “When you start off with a blockbuster like that, it makes the rest of the album so much easier because it gives you a benchmark to measure the other songs against.”

Iommi proves he hasn’t lost the ability to inspire six-string envy, unleashing riffs like a pack of rabid hellhounds on “Atom And Evil”, “Fear”, “Neverwhere”, and “Eating The Cannibals”, a tune about doing more than biting the hand that feeds. Butler and Appice slow the pace while ramping up the intensity on “Follow The Tears” and “Double The Pain” and “Breaking Into Heaven”, the latter diverging from its glacial procession for Dio’s majestic chorus about fallen angels planning an attack on paradise.

“The Devil You Know” track listing:

01. Atom And Evil
02. Fear
03. Bible Black
04. Double The Pain
05. Rock And Roll Angel
06. The Turn Of The Screw
07. Eating The Cannibals
08. Follow The Tears
09. Neverwhere
10. Breaking Into Heaven

CLICK HERE to pre-order Heaven & Hell’s ‘The Devil You Know’ from Amazon.com.

NEWS: Heaven And Hell album title, release date

Set aside April 28 to do something extra evil in celebration of the release of “The Devil You Know,” the new album by Heaven And Hell (aka Black Sabbath’s Dio era).

According to a posting on Blabbermouth.net:

HEAVEN AND HELL — the band featuring BLACK SABBATH members Tony Iommi (guitar), Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Geezer Butler (bass) and Vinny Appice (drums) — has set “The Devil You Know” as the title of its debut album, due on April 28 via Rhino. Songtitles set to appear on the CD include “Bible Black”, “Rock & Roll Angel”, “Breaking Into Heaven”, “Atom & Evil” and “Eating the Cannibals”. The LP was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales, U.K. where the 1992 SABBATH album “Dehumanizer” was also tracked.

“Everyone had so much fun playing together that we didn’t want it to end,” says the group. “We started writing together and the songs started flowing like we never stopped. We wound up writing and recording an album that stands up to anything we’ve ever done. We’re really proud of the music and excited for people to hear it.”



NEWS: Heaven And Hell album almost finished

Can you feel the evil in the air? Heaven And Hell (that’s the new name for Ronnie James Dio-era Black Sabbath, if you’ve been living in a crypt for the last few years) are almost finished recording their new album of original material.

Finally we get to hear a whole album’s worth of new music from the mighty Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler. The three new tracks on the recent best-of were pretty bitchen and certainly above the usual “We knocked these songs out in a weekend to fulfil contractual obligations” fare usually barfed up as best-of bonuses, so I have a lot of hope that the new stuff will be worthy of taking a place on the throne of evil next to their other albums, ‘Heaven And Hell,’ ‘The Mob Rules’ and ‘Dehumanizer.’

According to Blabbermouth, drummer Vinnie Appice (who I saw strolling around Melbourne when Heaven And Hell played here last year, but I was too chicken to throw the devil horns to) has issued the following update: “Well, the new Heaven And Hell album is going very well with almost three fourths of the songs recorded. It sounds amazing and it’s very heavy. The untitled CD will be released sometime in March-April 2009 (via Rhino Records).”

Heaven And Hell will tour in early 2009 in support of the new album. So far the following shows have been announced:

June 3-6 – Sölvesborg, Sweden – Sweden Rock Festival
June 19-21 – Clisson, France – Hellfest

Oh and I took that photo of Iommi with my camera phone. Sorry…

CLICK HERE to buy Heaven And Hell – Live From Radio Music City Hall on DVD from CDJapan.co.jp
CLICK HERE to buy Heaven And Hell – Live From Radio Music City Hall on CD from CDJapan.co.jp