Friday Full-Length: Heaven and Hell, The Devil You Know

The science of realistic expectations made it abundantly clear in Spring 2009 — now 15 years ago — that the debut and only studio full-length from Heaven and Hell, The Devil You Know (review here), was not likely to form the basis for the legacy of any of the players involved in making it. Even the title itself seemed to be tamping down anticipation for what the assembled four-piece of vocalist Ronnie James Dio, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice had put together for a studio follow-up to the LP that had introduced them — 2007’s Live From Radio City Music Hall — as a new incarnation of most of the Black Sabbath lineup that in 1980 released the album which would become the basis of their moniker, the mega-classic Heaven and Hell (discussed here). They were, in essence, that version of Black Sabbath operating under a name and without drummer Bill Ward, from whom Appice took over ahead of 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here).

In style and sound, the 10 songs/54 minutes of The Devil You Know have the most in common with 1992’s Dehumanizer (discussed here), which was a one-off Black Sabbath reunion with Dio during the currently-having-a-revival Tony Martin era of the band, and like that record, it starts doomed. But where “Computer God’ seethed with one of Dio‘s most snarling performances and moved at a deceptive midtempo, “Atom and Evil” replaces that with a more complex melody and a stately slog with a chugging chorus. I’ll argue for it being the worst song on the record. How much stronger would The Devil You Know sound launched by “Fear,” which follows, and works from both a more interesting central riff, or even “Double the Pain,” the takes-a-bit-to-get-there intro of which could easily have served as an unfolding into the album itself.

“Atom and Evil” is more vocals-forward, and given that we’re talking about the last Ronnie James Dio studio album before his death in 2010, every second of his voice on the recording is a thing to be treasured, but while it would’ve been weird to put “Eating the Cannibals” in that spot just because, well, it’s a weird notion to start the record, at least the penultimate “Neverwhere” at least has a push. It’s not “Neon Knights” from Heaven and Hell, but it moves. “Atom and Evil” teases dynamic without paying it off and leans on Mike Exeter‘s keyboard line for personality. Not exactly the best first impression, but it does live up to The Devil You Know‘s titular promise of being mediocre. It feels familiar. Maybe that’s enough.

However, redemption comes quickly as the aforementioned “Fear” gives an energetic kick with the first of the record’s vital hooks, backed by the even-more-memorable “Bible Black,” which calls to mind the three songs Sabbath recorded with Dio — “The Devil Cried,” “Shadow of the Wind,” and “Ear in the Wall” — for 2007’s The Dio Years compilation. “Rock and Roll Angel” is a classic Dio lyric, and follows the duly-pounding-but-goes-somewhere “Double the Pain,” Butler‘s bassline setting the nod soon to unfold in the intro before they dive into the chugging verse, Appice‘s drums finding an approximate swing to complement the chorus and sounding duly relieved when the song shifts through the bridge to the next Heaven-and-Hell-The-Devil-You-Knowverse that follows. Iommi gets a moment to shine in the solo for “Rock and Roll Angel,” but has already delivered a slew of characteristic riffs and even an acoustic/electric blend at the start of “Bible Black,” so it’s not like he’s hurting at that point regardless.

The label, Rhino Records — what, Relapse didn’t want it? — released The Devil You Know as a three-sided 2LP, and that puts “Follow the Tears” in a well-justified highlight position at the beginning of the second platter. A tradeoff is the fact that “The Turn of the Screw” is somewhat lost between the more billowing “Rock and Roll Angel” and the relative gallop of “Eating the Cannibals,” which offers scorch even before Dio‘s first verse playing the restauranteur in lyrics that are some kind of comment on human-on-human cruelty but were maybe inspired more by the sound of the phrase itself than any particular idea that might’ve birthed it. “Eating the Cannibals” is the shortest inclusion at 3:35, but in that time there’s plenty of Iommic shred in line with the brief introduction, and it’s the moment here Heaven and Hell most seem to be enjoying what they’re doing. Appice seems comfortable timekeeping at a rocker’s clip, Butler adds nuance and persona as ever, and Dio‘s performance is spirited in a way that seems to find mischievous delight in the lyrics.

Soon enough they’ll close with “Breaking into Heaven,” which reaches toward Dio Sabbath epics like “Heaven and Hell” or “The Sign of the Southern Cross,” but “Follow the Tears” and “Neverwhere” precede, the former also with a theatrical aspect to its keys and the latter with due sweep such that the finale arrives with some momentum behind it. That suits the dramatic and still resoundingly heavy ending, calling back to the plod of “Atom and Evil,” but in a richer and more realized interpretation.

At the time, The Devil You Know felt like it was high stakes, but I’m not sure it was, and certainly after Dio‘s death, the time that Black Sabbath — because that’s what they were in everything but name — spent as Heaven and Hell is a footnote in the history of the band and players. But even if DioIommiButler and Appice had moved forward from these songs to do, say, three more LPs between 2009-2024 — I’d gladly trade Black Sabbath‘s 2013 album, 13 (review here), for even one more Dio-fronted outing — The Devil You Know was never going to be the basis for the legacy of anyone involved. Indeed, one of the most satisfying ways to hear it is as a celebration of the band Dio Sabbath was and a victory lap for the Iommi/Dio dynamic as it played out in Heaven and HellMob Rules and most especially Dehumanizer, on the other side of Black Sabbath presenting themselves as a metal band, having of course played a significant role in defining what that means for themselves and the generations of acts who’ve followed.

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

This week was mostly dedicated in my head to the comedown and catchup after returning from Freak Valley this past Sunday. I posted every day, but much of it was written beforehand, and I got to spend some of the intervening time with my wife, whose company it feels like something of a novelty these days to enjoy given the high-impact nature of our co-parenting experience, the divergent nature of our individual lives — she’s a college professor and on the local board of ed; I do this, parent poorly, and periodically fly off to some festival — and other obligations, familial or not. We don’t hang out as much as we did when we were, say 17. Or 25. Or 35. When we do, it is a thing I appreciate.

Next week is full. I could look in the notes and list what it’s full with, but if you’re gonna read, you’re gonna read and if not, not. There’s a Fu Manchu review on Monday, I know that off-hand. As to the rest, in my head I’m in get-through-the-weekend mode, which since the next two days entail two kid-birthday parties and an ice skating performance to attend, feels like enough to get through. Today is a “patriotic performance” at school as well, where she’ll sing  “Grand Ol’ Flag” and “This Land is Your Land,” probably a couple others. Then Girl Scouts. Yesterday was skating rehearsal. She’s getting pretty good zipping around. Wants to do speed-skating, of course. “You mean there’s a more dangerous version of a thing I enjoy? Fuck yes!” seems to be the general frame of reference there. The mind boggles, continually.

The week after next, we’re traveling to the Nevada for a National Parks tour with The Patient Mrs.’ mother, whom I love dearly but probably has no idea what she’s in for traveling with the three of us. I will write as much as I can on any given day — as always — but if two weeks from now there are one or two posts a day instead of three, four or even five, that’s why. Heads up. I’ll probably remind of that next week as well.

I hope you have a great and safe weekend. I’m gonna go hit the weed store and then settle in as much as I can before we need to go back to school for all the hearts beating true for the red, white and blue, etc., maybe play a little Tears of the Kingdom, which I foolishly restarted on the flight home from Germany last weekend. Silly.

And if you kept up with the Freak Valley coverage at all, thanks. You might be curious to know my mother is doing fine, recovering, doing what the physical therapist says, all that stuff. Good behavior, cooperation. These things do not always abound among those who share my blood.

Thanks for reading. Great and safe weekend. No injuries, as few arguments as possible. Fun?


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