Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer

Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer (1992)

It’s both funny-ha-ha and funny-strange to think of it now, but Black Sabbath were old men in 1992. Think of what else was going on at the time. Dehumanizer, the band’s first studio full-length with Ronnie James Dio as frontman since 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), came out on June 30. On Sept. 24 the year prior, Nirvana released their breakthrough second LP, Nevermind, and in Sept. ’92, Alice in Chains would help solidify what became the “grunge era” along with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and a 100,000 others who suddenly decided flannel and ripped jeans was a really good idea. Even as its more extreme forms — death, black, even doom if one thinks of it in the Peaceville sense of the word — were beginning to hit their vital prime in the underground, in the commercial sphere, metal was staid and overblown. Would bringing back a singer who’d fronted the band a decade earlier really do any favors for the past-trend Black Sabbath? Hindsight argues yes, it can and did.

Looking back on Dehumanizer some 26 years later, it’s easy to see the effect it had on Black Sabbath in general. They were never going to recapture the groundbreaking moment that was their early years. Simply couldn’t happen. The ’70s were long over, metal had codified into a varied rock and roll subgenre, and the band’s own production value and stylistic drive had shifted — as heard even before they parted ways with original frontman Ozzy Osbourne, let alone got Dio in for the first time on 1980’s landmark, Heaven and Hell (discussed here). What Dehumanizer allowed Black Sabbath — spearheaded as it always was by guitarist Tony Iommi, with co-founder Geezer Butler on bass and returned drummer Vinny Appice — to look back while moving forward. It was the first time they’d done so, and a decent portion of their career to come would be spent in that modus. Long since mature in their approach, Dehumanizer appealed in songs like “Computer God,” “TV Crimes,” “Time Machine” — lest we forget the Wayne’s World soundtrack — and “I” to Black Sabbath‘s established audience. A little older, but still wanting a metallic crunch in their guitars and still ready to groove on an Iommi riff. Dio, who’d spent the 10 years prior fronting his solo band and thereby helping to chart the course of ’80s metal with a string of hits across an essential first three albums-plus, was already the voice of classic metal even as “classic metal” first became a thing. On Dehumanizer, Black Sabbath took these established principles and brought them together with an approach that was modern in its production and presentation, and still allowed for a sense of rawness in the delivery.

That can be heard in the careening verses of “TV Crimes” or in the thudding and rolling highlight “After All (The Dead),” as each black sabbath dehumanizerpunch of snare from Appice seems the punctuation of a stomp Black Sabbath had never before elicited. Melody of course was central, on “After All (The Dead)” and the single “Master of Insanity” as well as “Time Machine” and the later “Sins of the Father” and “I,” but where Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules both seemed to carry over some of Iommi‘s late-’70s progressive aspirations, a decade later, Black Sabbath sounded fully assured of who they were as a unit, knew what their sound was at the time and how to capture it. They’d of course been doing so for years at that point on the 1986 would’ve-been Iommi solo album, Seventh Star and the beginning of the Tony Martin-fronted era in 1987’s The Eternal Idol (discussed here), 1989’s Headless Cross and 1990’s Tyr — all of which followed the Sabbath-meets-DeepPurple experiment that was 1983’s Born Again (discussed here) — and though it’s almost too easy to read this stretch as a descent into mediocrity, it served as a defining moment for Iommi in terms of style. The guitarist who’d helped to create metal learned what metal was during this time and began to find his place in it. His style of riffing became less bluesy, took away some of the progressive edge, and learned that sometimes the raw force of a riff was enough to carry a piece.

Some of that can be heard on Dehumanizer as well, on the brook-no-argument side A with “Computer God” — the lyrics both prescient and quaint over a quarter-century later — and “After All (The Dead),” as well as in the reaches of a less-immediate side B, which is bolstered by “I,” but requires deeper listening to “Too Late” or closer “Buried Alive,” the last of which is anticlimactic on the first impression but unfolds over time to be deceptively memorable. Dehumanizer was never going to be classic Sabbath, and it wasn’t intended to be. It was a pivot that not only helped recapture the mutually-beneficial-if-personally-tumultuous relationship between Iommi and Dio, but gave the band’s mature approach a kick as only the latter could provide. Sure, it was just one record and then Iommi and Butler would be back with Tony Martin and drummer Bobby Rondinelli for 1994’s Cross Purposes — both Butler and Rondinelli would be gone for 1995’s Forbidden — but one has to wonder if the late-’90s reunion with Ozzy, Butler and original drummer Bill Ward would’ve happened in the way it did had Dehumanizer not blazed that trail of getting back together with a former vocalist. Arguably, between touring with Osbourne and reuniting again with Dio in the late ’00s, first as Black Sabbath for new material on the The Dio Years compilation and then as the offshoot unit Heaven and Hell, whose lone studio album, The Devil You Know (review here), came out in 2009.

The death of Ronnie James Dio in 2010 and Tony Iommi‘s battle with cancer — he won, with riffs — seemed to drive Black Sabbath back together minus Bill Ward for the 2013 album, 13 (review here), and subsequent years of (alleged) retirement touring that wrapped with a hometown show in the band’s long-ago hometown of Birmingham, England, last year. A fitting enough end if it really was the end, I suppose. That’s what they called the live album, anyway: The End. Nowhere to go after that except The Epilogue, which would invariably be something of a comedown.

Either way, Black Sabbath remain unparalleled legends in doom, in metal and in the creation of what has come to be known as “heavy” in general. Dehumanizer is one of several outings in their catalog that served as a pivot point as they moved from one era to the next, and though its sound is inevitably a standout from the two original Dio-era albums, it’s a more than worthy addition to that catalog and, of course, essential listening.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Today’s Friday, right? Shit I hope so.

I’m in Massachusetts as of yesterday afternoon, hope to be leaving again as of this afternoon. Here just long enough to take out the recycling and try — probably fail — to obtain a new driver’s license. Yesterday we came up from Connecticut, today we’re going back, and then either Saturday or Sunday, depending largely on the weather and The Pecan — who’s even less predictable at this point — back down to New Jersey for I hope at least a full week. It would be nice to be someplace for a full week.

Not the least because there are no fewer than six shows I want to hit in various spots in the next two weeks. Next Friday, Saturday, Sunday, in order: Sasquatch at Saint Vitus, Backwoods Payback in New London, CT, and Bible of the Devil in Manhattan. Then, the week after: Sleep in Brooklyn, Acid King & Geezer in Brooklyn and Witch Mountain in Brooklyn. I’m thinking of going to all of them and calling it a “weekend warrior special,” but that too will no doubt either happen or not at the behest of the baby. We shall see. Gonna take it one day at a time like the alcoholics.

Seemed like a lot of in-transit this week, but a lot of it was basically just running around from place to place with the baby. It’s been nice out — summer and whatnot — so I’ve been trying to take him outside, let him try to eat grass, stop him immediately, then let him try again, etc. Going for walks and that kind of thing. That’s been facilitated by the fact that I’ve been waking up absurdly early. This morning was 2:40AM, yesterday was later, 3:30, but the two days before were both somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-1:30, so yeah, pretty silly.

I’ve been able mostly to get my shit handled though and then be available to The Patient Mrs. for baby-helpery early in the day, which has been good. Yesterday we all took a walk on the beach together and that was good, and the day before, he and I were out for an hour just basically killing time. Yeah, there’s some element of it that’s counting down to when he goes to bed, but there’s some element of it that’s counting down to when I go to bed too, so fair enough.

Also been singing to him like nonstop. Little known fact that about me that no one cares about but is true anyway is that I’m a huge Beatles fan and I’ve been on something of a kick lately. Three hours in the car stuck in I-95 traffic? No problem when you’ve got a thumb drive filled with the entire catalog plus choice bootlegs set to random. Meandering around the neighborhood for untold amounts of time so The Patient Mrs. can check in on her students for the online class she’s teaching? The mental jukebox was built for these things. “Strawberry Fields,” take 30. It’s fun to pretend I’m not completely tone deaf, which, sadly, I am.

Distractions abound this morning, but before I go, of course, next week’s notes. Being home, my PhotoShop installation disc is handy, so I just loaded that onto The Silver Fox and I’ll be using it to make a Quarterly Review banner. Then it’s onto the 50-record madness throughout the next week. I’ll likely have fewer posts overall — going to try to keep it to three a day if I’ll actually let myself do so — but we’re at the moment of a great girding of loins. Tomorrow I build back ends and start writing. From there, all hell breaks loose. I expect by next Friday I’ll really, really want to get out to a show, which is fine because I hear there are a few happening.

Thunderbird Divine also play Ode to Doom in Manhattan next Wednesday. Dare I? We’ll see.

In the meantime, here are the notes, subject to change blah blah blah:

Mon.: Quarterly Review day 1; Saint Karloff track premiere.
Tue.: QR2; Electric Citizen track premiere.
Wed.: QR3; Gorm track premiere.
Thu.: QR4; Saturnia video.
Fri.: QR5; Atavismo full album stream.

Woof. I’m exhausted already.

Okay, let me get out of here and see if I can sneak a minute or two of back-end work before the day starts. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Thanks for reading and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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2 Responses to “Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer

  1. Mark says:

    Loved the Dehumanizer review. At the time of release i was so excited, then so disappointed it didn’t have or sound much like Heaven & Hell.

    But revisited a couple of months ago, and you know what, its not that bad. In fact its pretty good.

    Think your blog is great. Thanks for all the effort you put in.

  2. Zack Kurland says:

    Was just talking about how much I love that album.

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