Heaven and Hell: Knowing the Devil

It's like Pan's Labyrinth meets Legend! Bad ass!Let’s get this out of the way first: anyone who goes into this record expecting the team of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice and Ronnie James Dio to come out with a new Heaven and Hell or Mob Rules is out Objects in image may not be to proper scale. (Photo by Chapman Baehler)of their minds. 1980 was 29 years ago. It’s like asking Al Pacino to be Michael Corleone from the first Godfather movie again, or doing a sequel to Dr. Strangelove. The first two albums Black Sabbath released with Dio on vocals captured a special moment in time, one that couldn’t even be revisited on 1992’s reunion album, Dehumanizer. To think they’d pull it off 17 years after that is just ridiculous. They’re simply not those people anymore.

To their credit, they know it, and rather than try to recreate something from their past as Black Sabbath, the band Heaven and Hell are moving forward. The Devil You Know (Rhino) meets every reasonable expectation that could possibly be placed on it. It’s never going to be as influential or top albums that have already had 30 years of deifying, but it sounds modern, heavy and like the four legendary players in the band are enjoying making music together. We all know Iommi‘s been itching to do another Sabbath record for years. This is his opportunity, and he makes the most of it.

The band has hinted that The Devil You Know has the most in common with Dehumanizer, and to a certain extent, it’s true, but thankfully, the early ’90s production that now makes that album sound so dated where its two Dio-fronted predecessors are timeless is nowhere to be found. This is a modern album with classic players, and though that can be an awkward fit, Dio, Iommi, Butler and even Appice pull it off sounding fresh and not overly overproduced.

After the jump is the track-by-track breakdown…

The Devil You Know launches with “Atom and Evil,” an unfortunately punned, mid-paced beginning with flange on the guitars and a general Dehumanizer feel. The central riff of the song will be familiar to anyone who heard either the three tracks the band released on Black Sabbath‘s The Dio Years collection in 2007, but not redundantly so. It’s not one of the better songs, but as Dio brings out the spider, the moon and the fire, it’s clear all the old favorites are going to appear in the lyrics.

“Fear” has a better, more modern guitar line from Iommi, and a somewhat faster (but still upper middle) pace. Dio delivers the title line with some backwards background vocals that come off as a lackluster production choice, but "You two, arms folded. You two, not so much!" (Photo by Chapman Baehler)are acceptable after multiple listens. He sounds more comfortable working at this meter than he did on “Atom and Evil.” Butler mostly sticks with Iommi, but throws in little flashes and makes himself known just before the guitar solo at 2:52. I’ve maintained since these guys got together as Heaven and Hell that Appice is a boring drummer, and nothing on The Devil You Know has yet changed my opinion.

At 6:29, “Bible Black” is one of the album’s longer songs, and it starts out with a quiet nod to “Falling off the Edge of the World” with keys, an Iommi solo and Dio vocal that goes raw as the heaviness kicks in at 1:30. As the title suggests, the song centers around a kind of anti-Bible, with Dio constructing a narrative about a man who wants to go to Hell. Fair enough. It rocks, so I won’t complain.

As the archetypal metal bassist — creative but rarely in the limelight — it’s good to hear Geezer start “Double the Pain.” As “Bible Black” built to its head, he became steadily more prominent in the mix, but it never seems to be enough. The riff is classic, ballsy Iommi; the kind that all those kids from the Bay Area sped up to create the thrash movement from. As Dio sings the title line, his vocals are doubled, which again, is a cornball production move. “Hey, he’s saying ‘double,’ let’s double it!” and so forth. Like the backwards vocals on “Fear,” we’ll let it go because the man is a god.

While I have a hard time believing Ronnie James Dio doesn’t already have six songs in his catalog named “Rock and Roll Angel” — which if you think about it really is the quintessential Dio song title — I’m glad this one made it on here. It’s a little different than what’s come before it, a little lighter but not necessarily less heavy, just not as dark-sounding. This must be the Heaven in Heaven and Hell. Worthy of note is the Iommi solo over acoustics beginning at 3:02 leading into a chugging section reminiscent of the verses of the song from which the band takes their name. It’s not new, but it’s more than welcome here (and anywhere, really). Spanish-style acoustic guitars lead the way out and back to the more aggressive “The Turn of the Screw.”

In the larger context of the album as a whole, the song could easily be seen as a transition point between “Rock and Roll Angel” and “Eating the Cannibals,” which immediately follows. Just when you think it’s about to launch into a full-blown early ’80s-style Dio (the band) chorus, Iommi turns it darker. The start-stop guitar in the verses gives Geezer some well earned time to shine with a classic metal groove as Dio carries the melody ? la “Eat Your Heart Out” from The Last in Line. This could easily have been one of the three The Dio Years tracks.

“Eating the Cannibals.” Behold the barn-burner. Not only is it the best title on the album, but it’s by far the fastest and most aggressive of the bunch. Appice drops into a straightforward (big surprise, I know), almost punk-ish up-tempo beat, hitting the twos and fours and driving the song forward. He is outclassed in the rhythm section by Geezer in An older photo by Mark Weiss. Dio on a box for sure.every way, but as far as his performances on The Devil You Know go, this might be his best. He’s lucky to be in this band. The song is short at 3:37 but goes a long way to proving the strength and vitality of the players.

If “The Turn of the Screw” was the transition into “Eating the Cannibals,” then the pair of “Follow the Tears” and “Neverwhere,” particularly the latter, feel like contractually-obligated filler cuts trying to get to the end of the album and “Breaking into Heaven.” Opening with organ and Iommi‘s guitar, “Follow the Tears” brings back the darkness of the record’s first half, but ultimately sounds like it could have been a leftover from the 2000 Iommi record with Dio doing a guest vocal. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, the song doesn’t visit anywhere Heaven and Hell haven’t already been on this album.

“Neverwhere” comes on like “Eating the Cannibals” less cool younger brother. It’s not quite as fast, has a lamer title, lacks the same kind of edge and just isn’t pulled off as well overall. The background vocals have a similar feel to those the band used on the Live at Radio City Music Hall version of “Die Young,” and the song isn’t bad — nothing here is, and given the personnel involved even if it was, people would like it anyway — but it stumbles through its last minute or so and probably could have been trimmed down into a more effective track.

If “Shadow of the Wind” from The Dio Years was the next incarnation of the riff from “Time is Mine” off Iommi (and it was), then closer “Breaking into Heaven” is another evolutionary step. It’s the only song over seven minutes, but I could easily see them playing it live. For the solo at 4:23 alone, it would be worth showing up to whatever large outdoor venue they decide to hit late summer/early fall when next they tour the US. The song picks up the pace after that and The Devil You Know rocks itself to a respectable finish.

As a band, Heaven and Hell inevitably acknowledges their past, but they do so while creating something new. For that alone, the record is a success, no matter how it’s received either critically or popularly. Iommi, Butler and Dio prove their songwriting chemistry is still strong after all this time and offer at least a couple songs to pepper into their live sets that won’t make your eyes roll when Dio says, “Here’s one off the new album.” That’s got to be worth something.

For anyone who was there when Heaven and Hell first came out, don’t come into The Devil You Know thinking you’re going to be raving about it for the next three decades. It’s a new day and a new time. The band Heaven and Hell are living in the shadow of an insurmountable legacy, but judging by this latest work, they’re living pretty well.

Dio can see into your soul!

Heaven and Hell’s site

Rhino Records

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One Response to “Heaven and Hell: Knowing the Devil”

  1. Woody says:

    I dont have high expectations for this, but still wanna hear it. It’s gotta be better than any of the Tony Martin Sabbath tapes.

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