I mean, here’s a review of the new Heaven & Hell record, aka the band formerly known as the second version of Black Sabbath. I just got the record today (it’s officially out Tuesday, April 28) and, even though I’m no longer a full-time music reviewer, I couldn’t help but write about it. And I’m not lying when I said one of my headphones went out while listening …
The new Heaven & Hell record is so heavy, I think it blew out one of my headphones.
The band, also known as Black Sabbath with Dio, is set to release “The Devil You Know” on Tuesday. And this is not the “Neon Knights,” turnabout Sabbath of the early 80s, when some of it’s best music was made with signature nasty riffs that nevertheless — in a move seemingly designed to contrast the Ozzy years — moved faster and far more fluidly than anything the band did with Ozzy.
But it’s now a band with seemingly little to prove, which may be why these songs trudge like flaming lava down a mountainside, threatening to destroy whatever gets in the way. It was easier to revert to the earlier, slower, larger Black Sabbath. In other words, if you ever wondered what Ronnie James Dio might’ve done with “Electric Funeral,” this would be a good way to find out.
There’s not a lot of catchiness to be found, so it may take a few listens to separate mundane from classically heavy. It’s difficult even for the original God of heavy guitar, Tony Iommi, to not sound like a Tony Iommi imitator. It wouldn’t be so hard if this was a record as good as either of this incarnations first two, but let’s not throw in the towel yet. There’s plenty worth listening to.
An early favorite for best song is “Bible Black,” a title that, ironically, was among the band names singer Ronnie James Dio considered when he left Sabbath more than 25 years ago. It highlights Dio’s still-powerful voice and the band’s ability to build a juggernaut with all the subtlety of an oil freighter smashing a rowboat. Even if it’s not the best record Sabbath/H&H has made, it’s still viciously reassuring in listening to the band still making good music on its own terms, from Iommi’s screeching solos to Geezer’s Butler’s buzzing bottom end bass. Vinnie Appice’s drumming sounds more straight forward and heavier than ever, a requirement for this version of Sabbath/H&H. Dio’s lyrics, though still heavy in imagery and the usual Satanic references, seems to wade deep in modern metaphors.
The band finally picks up the pace seven songs in, on “Eating the Cannibals,” with Iommi’s searing leads coming over the fast chunk, not unlike “Turn Up The Night,” nearly 30 years ago. They go right back into thick-as-molassis mode on next song “Follow the Tears,” the record’s best headbanger, which sounds surprisingly frightening (which is saying something, coming from a longtime Sabbath fan).
Predictably, Dio rhyming “power” and “witching hour,” in second-to-last song “Neverwhere,” teeters on being a Dio parody. It’s not the first, but is perhaps noticeable because, by then, the noise factor is starting to creep in. It takes away some of the fun of the premise of last track, the pounding “Breaking into Heaven.”
All in all, it’s a solid outing from the heavy metal band that most deserves your respect. You won’t be singing these in 30 years, ala “Mob Rules,” or “Die Young.” But like an old heavyweight boxer, Heaven & Hell might be slower and less spectacular, but still packs a big punch and benefits from experience.