Released: 2009, Rhino Records
Reviewer: Aaron Yurkiewicz
In a perfect world, Ronnie James Dio and I would be best friends. We’d ride dragons together through the mystical forest of metal, wearing flowing velvet capes and drinking ale from jewel encrusted chalices. We would kick back in our castle talking about how awesome Black Sabbath was with him behind the mic, and after a night of drinking the aforementioned magic ale we’d egg Ozzy’s house, pointing and laughing as the Ozzman peeked out from behind his living room curtains. I’m not sure what that has to do with the new Heaven & Hell album, but as I would give RJD a kidney if he needed it, I felt compelled to share.
Oh, did I mention that there’s a new Black Sabbath album? Sorry, I know, I know, it’s Heaven & Hell now. But if the freaking TYR album could bear the Black Sabbath name on the album cover, then dammit, THE DEVIL YOU KNOW should be able to as well. After a 17 year hiatus, the legendary lineup of Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinnie Appice have made many a fan’s dream come true by coming together one more time to unleash some new tunes upon the world. What’s that you say? Is it any good? Oh yes my friends, yes, it’s pretty damn good.
The three new songs featured on 2007’s Black Sabbath compilation THE DIO YEARS set the bar exceptionally high and proved that a bunch of guys who are old enough to collect retirement checks could still write some of the heaviest, most compelling, and most headbangingest music around. When it was announced that Heaven & Hell would be writing and releasing a full disc full of new music, I greeted the news with both childlike excitement (a high pitched eeeeeeee!!!! type sound was shrieked) and extreme trepidation. The last time the quartet got together for new material was in 1992 for the DEHUMANIZER album, which while a great album retrospectively, it did take some time to grow on me.
Be forewarned, it’s no longer 1980, and the new Heaven & Hell material doesn’t create any illusions that it is. THE DEVIL YOU KNOW picks up right where THE DIO YEARS material left off, and is the heaviest that you’ve probably ever heard this foursome. Iommi’s opening riffs on “Atom & Evil” are immediately familiar. Not rehashed, but familiar, like a long awaited homecoming. And damn, it feels good to be home. Dio’s slow methodical vocal lines carry along the main riff brilliantly, bridging into a pre-chorus that will give you goose bumps. “Fear” is full of angry, dark riffs accompanied by Dio’s amazing vocal performance. “Bible Black” is the first single from the album and has been circulating for a little while in a radio-edit format, but it pales in comparison to the full album version presented here. The additional melody lines and vocal layering further accentuate an already powerful and nuanced song. “Double the Pain” and “Rock & Roll Angel” sound more akin to some of Ronnie’s more recent solo fare than traditional Sabbath material, but they’re sure to get your head nodding nonetheless. “Eating the Cannibals” and “Neverwhere” are both faster numbers, reminiscent of “Ear in the Wall.” The band has always been exceptionally powerful at their slower, more calculated pacing, but it’s great to hear them fire all the guns at once. “Breaking Into Heaven” is that aforementioned slower, calculated pacing at its finest. A monstrous, epic album closer, hopefully this will make it into the set list when they hit the road later this year (fingers crossed on that one guys).
My one gripe with THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is that it’s so consistently thick and heavy; it comes across somewhat one dimensional. All of the Dio-era Sabbath records had their more out of the box moments (“Too Late,” “Walk Away,” “Slipping Away”), but THE DEVIL YOU KNOW is a sledgehammer from start to finish. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it took several listens to warm up to the idea. Performance wise, the band is in top form. Anyone that questions whether or not Tony Iommi is the true father of metal guitar riffs need only listen to THE DEVIL YOU KNOW. He makes it seem so deceptively simple and natural. Geezer Butler proves that he’s one of the most talented bass players alive (again), walking his rumbling bass lines underneath Iommi’s crunching guitars. And Vinnie Appice delivers yet another underrated performance behind the drum kit.
There were so many opportunities for this reunion to go wrong, that it’s so much sweeter hearing how right it is. Is it perfect? Of course not, but a less than perfect Sabbath record is still one of the best listens you’ll find. There’s a lyric in “Atom & Evil” that sums up the experience better than I could ever do justice: “Falling’s Easy/Rising Will be Harder/So We Must Rise, Together.” Truer words never spoken for a band that has risen high, fallen hard, and has risen yet again – stronger, together. Glad to have you back guys, it’s been too long.