Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 27th, 2022 by JJ Koczan

I’m not going to pretend to have any insight on Black Sabbath‘s Heaven and Hell beyond the scope of what’s been written about the album over the 42 years and one month since its arrival. It is simply one of if not the greatest piece of heavy metal ever released. Think of this as a celebration. It not only brought the band into contemporary status with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and revived the arc of their career with the inclusion of then-Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio on vocals in place of Ozzy Osbourne, but it brought their songwriting to a new level of complexity entirely, as guitarist Tony Iommi seemed able to find a manner in which to channel the riff-driven approach that made records like Master of Reality (discussed here) and Volume 4 highlights of early ’70s heavy — as well as the landmarks from which the aforementioned NWOBHM was in part built — into something newer and more grand. Black Sabbath weren’t breaking ground stylistically in the same way they did with their self-titled or Paranoid, but Heaven and Hell (which previously closed out a week here) was a revolution and a reignition for them and it helped steer heavy rock and roll and heavy metal into a new era for the 1980s, the soaring, seven-minute title-track alone standing out for its ability to find a way to convey a sense of the epic without tipping fully over into the self-indulgence of prog rock. Heaven and Hell, then, is Black Sabbath having it both ways.

Forgive me if I assume familiarity on the part of the reader with the album. If you’ve never heard Black Sabbath‘s ninth LP (in 10 years, mind you), or you’ve never really bothered to dig into the various post-Osbourne eras of the band, it was issued by Warner Bros. in 1980 as the follow-up to 1978’s Never Say Die, and to put the two albums side-by-side is perhaps one of the starkest contrasts one could hope to make. Famously drugged-out and careening toward mediocrity, the combination of IommiOsbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward still were able to conjure a few classics even in sounding past their peak just several years earlier, but no question it was a slide from both the grittier heft of Master of Reality and the electrifying performances on albums like 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and 1975’s Sabotage, never mind the genre-codifying influence of their first four LPs — though I know Never Say Die and its predecessor, 1976’s Technical Ecstasy (discussed here) for sure have their proponents. In considering Black Sabbath, however, the only proper scale to rate it is alongside other Black Sabbath. Sometimes that isn’t even fair. So here we are.

Among Heaven and Hell‘s stunning aspects — and there are many, between the scope of the production, the range of songs like “Children of the Sea” or “Die Young” in bringing Iommi‘s acoustic work into the actual pieces themselves, Butler‘s bassline alone on the title-track still imitated, and the nod of the closer “Lonely is the Word” remaking blues rock in its image — is the fact that, all told, it runs just about 40 minutes in length. Four songs on a side, rocker up front with “Neon Knights” opening — an energy Black Sabbath Heaven and Hellthat a year later “Turn Up the Night” on 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here) would brazenly attempt to recapture — and then quickly unfolding into the broader intentions of “Children of the Sea,” setting up the back and forth interplay of grandiosity and straightforwardness that the bass-led “Lady Evil” and “Heaven and Hell” continued on side A and “Wishing Well,” “Die Young,” “Walk Away” and “Lonely is the Word” reaffirmed on side B, Black Sabbath pushing and pulling their audience along this dynamic course without even really letting on what’s happening; a subversive duality further conveyed through the album cover. Still, what they accomplish in the five and half minutes of “Children of the Sea” is more than many bands have done in their entire career, to say nothing of “Heaven and Hell” or the scorching payoff of “Die Young” to come. Pairing those with the hooky — and outwardly misogynist in a way that became a hallmark of Dio‘s lyrics — “Lady Evil” and “Walk Away” or even “Wishing Well,” which is probably as close as this record comes to filler, establishes a pattern and a personality unlike anything else in the Black Sabbath catalog, before or after.

The band’s run with Dio was short. Already noted, Mob Rules arrived in 1981, minus Ward on drums, and after 1982’s crucial Live Evil (discussed here), Iommi and company teamed with Deep Purple‘s Ian Gillan for 1983’s still-undervalued Born Again (discussed here) before a few floundering years — lest we forget Glenn Hughes on Seventh Star in 1986 — led them into the Tony Martin era with 1987’s The Eternal Idol (discussed here). A momentary reunion with Dio for 1992’s Dehumanizer (discussed here) brought a darker, meatier tonality and a signal of refocus not unlike what Heaven and Hell did following Never Say Die, but it was a short-lived collaboration and Dio was back to his own band soon enough, Sabbath returning to work with Martin for the bulk of the ’90s until their reunion with Osbourne in 1997 led to years of touring and their first Ozzy-fronted studio recordings in two decades (looking at you, “Psycho Man” and “Selling My Soul” from the 1998 Reunion live album).

A 2007 collection The Dio Years with new Dio-fronted studio tracks led to the formation of Heaven and Hell with IommiButlerDio and drummer Vinny Appice, and though Dio would pass away just three years later, the band nonetheless managed to tour and offer up 2009’s The Devil You Know (review here) even amid his and Iommi‘s declining health, finding a way to salute their long-intertwined paths while remaining vital, creative and unabashedly heavy as elder statesmen of metal; a magic that 2013’s Rick Rubin-helmed 13 (review here) would attempt to harness, seemingly as a closing chapter for the band’s studio work with Osbourne and their first album with him since Never Say Die. Retirement touring, Osbourne‘s own, well-publicized physical decline, and other collaborations have come in the years since, but the future of the band is never written until its written. I won’t speculate.

However you ultimately define Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell is a touchstone beyond touchstones. In the realm of desert-island albums, it is the island you want to be stranded on.

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

I’m still sick. Or I’m sick again? Or I have allergies? I’m not really sure. I woke up at about 4:15 yesterday morning and was miserable from that point on. Sinus pressure in my head utterly inescapable, snot leaking out my nose all day, coughing. No sore throat to speak of, and in direct comparison to the week before, the rest of my body didn’t feel the same as when I was covid, which was somewhat ironically like a lockdown keeping me in place because my entire being felt so wretched — for only about two days, thankfully — but still, a wreck.

I’ve been awake now since 3:15AM. The Patient Mrs. has already gotten up and given me a bucketload of shit for getting up so early, thereby inevitably leading to hardship and fatigue later in the day. The facts that (1:) I wasn’t sleeping anyway because in my head I’d already started to compose the above writeup for Heaven and Hell and (2:) it’s not like she’s about to stop grading to let me write about 42-year-old metal records for a couple hours in the early afternoon and (3:) big change, I managed to think better than to mention. But there really is nothing like starting what’s probably going to already be a long, tough stretch of hours with your spouse pissed off at you. Super, super helpful.

She bought me medicine yesterday, which was helpful — perhaps none of us are at our best in the middle of the night — and I took all of it. I said this out loud yesterday to her and I stand by it. If it’s allergies that I was suffering from yesterday — some mysterious pollen blooming or whatever — then it’s the worst allergies I’ve ever had. Even more than that, The Pecan was in the exact same condition. A fucking mess. All day. Miserable. Kept him home from school. I did go to bed yesterday afternoon for about 90 minutes, which helped — so thanks to The Patient Mrs. for that, definitely — but by the time Strange New Worlds was over was no less desperate to return there than I had been after lunch. It was a brutal day.

His covid test, meanwhile, was negative. I show a faint line positive on the home test. The PCR I took last Thursday, meanwhile, was negative. No one knows anything, everything is fucked. I’m glad fewer people are dying, and I’m glad not to need to be put on a ventilator. I know some who were not so fortunate. Needless to say, having the sick kid as an additional factor of anxiety did not aid on any level whatsoever. It’s been a tough few days. I was feeling better before that.

Steps to be taken? Well, I’ve got nose spray, a leftover steroid inhaler hanging around, Zinc, various Claritins, Mucinexes, DayQuils and so on to parse out. I’ve already finished an iced tea and nearly a full pot of coffee, and I’ve set an alarm on my phone for noon to make another. Beyond that and the usual hydration, I’m not really sure what there is to do. I’m out of Paxlovid, if this is still covid, and in the meantime, one of my nephews up the hill at my mother and sister’s house has tested positive, so even if I was willing to bring someone from over there in to assist here — a thought I find not particularly thrilling, given the potential risk of exposure from us to them, never mind from them to us — outside help would seem not to be forthcoming.

Survival-mode, then. The tv went on early yesterday, may go on earlier today. We’ll see.

I did manage to floss yesterday and this morning though, and that felt good. And I’ve gotten about 150 responses from people looking to take the Obelisk Questionnaire, so it seems that feature will continue for the foreseeable future. I’m glad. I like it.

I wish you a great and safe weekend. Have fun, stay healthy, watch your head, drink water. It’s 5:30AM now and I have more writing to do for today, so I’mma skip out. New Gimme show this afternoon. It’s a good one. I know you don’t care but I do.

Thanks for reading.


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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 4th, 2013 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell (1980)

I just wanted to end this week with an album I love. On a high note, maybe, but even more than that, just something that I can’t see being the person I am without. So here we go, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell. It’s not a record I can claim to be Johnny Groundfloor on — it came out a year before I was born — but it has touched me profoundly over the years and I’ve gone back to it over time the way you do to things when they become a part of who you are. It’s been a while since last I made my way through, and I’ve missed it. Fucking “Children of the Sea.”

Yeah, you can go ahead and argue in favor of Ozzy-fronted Sabbath. I don’t even necessarily disagree. The way I see it, Master of Reality is just about the best heavy album ever made. It’s apples and oranges — or for a comparison of two even more disparate things — Ozzy and Dio. I’m glad both exist, I’m glad Geezer Butler played in both and I’m happy to leave it at that.

What a week. If I was drinking, I’d already be drunk. I was out this afternoon to meet with a guy from the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center to explore funding options for buying a bar. It went like this: “Uh, I see here you’re poor. There’s no funding for poor people.” I’m not out yet, though that was a fun hit to take. Then I went to the grocery store and had — not one, but two! — debit cards declined. I was doing a pretty good job on the maintaining thing, keeping my head together, but then it was time to break out Heaven and Hell, which is right up there in my book with watching Futurama in the dark.

Normally — though using such a word feels like a perversion of the concept — I’d probably follow up the one (Heaven and Hell) with the other (Futurama in the dark), but instead of sitting on my ass and wallowing in the waste of space and precious oxygen I’ve let myself become, I’m going out tonight. Gonna go catch Cortez and Pants Exploder at Radio in Somerville, then tomorrow there’s an early show for Esoteric and I might just hit that too, because fuck it, music’s still good.

There was a lot this week I didn’t get to post. In addition to reviews for one or both of the shows above, look for reviews to come of The Freeks and Mos Generator, an interview one way or another with Dave Wyndorf of Monster Magnet and some new audio from Supervoid. So there’s a lot as ever. I’ve got some work-type work to finish up, so I’m going to get through that while Heaven and Hell rounds out and then have a bite to eat before I head to Radio for that show. If you’re going, I hope I’ll see you there.

And even if not, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you get the chance, please hit up the forum and the radio stream.

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