The Dio Years (Rhino)
by Martin Popoff
The Ronnie era was a rock solid, efficient, self-aware time for Black Sabbath, and yeah, folks pretty much dig both Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, as they should. Amusingly, the band are kinda hard on themselves over Mob Rules, I think remembering more that it wasn’t fun, not realizing that it’s a near equal of Heaven and Hell in the eyes of the fans. Dehumanizer, eh, I tend to agree that it’s a little gray and dark and grungy and dour. “Lady Evil” has always been a bit silly, but still, bloody ‘ell, “Neon Knights” and the under-rated “Die Young” (my fave), you can’t lose. “Children of the Sea” is included in live form, a good pick, given that it’s Heaven And Hell‘s third coolest track. Mob Rules is adequately represented with four tasty nuggets. Dehumanizer: “TV Crimes” was a good fast one when we were starved for that, “I” is a chugging mid-pacer most people like, including the whole band, it seems, and “After All (The Dead),” eh.
By the way, while you listen, you’ve got some good readin’ to do: One of the UK’s top two pre-eminent scribes, Dave Ling, does the liner notes, and they’re as smart as the occasion requires. Which, OK, brings us to the big hubbub, the three new tracks. I’m feeling a bit ripped after Tony said there’s a fast one, a mid-paced one, and a slow one: Something for everybody. In fact, there’s a fast one and two slow ones. “The Devil Cried” is slow, but it’s huge, with big crashing drums, and a riff that stays interesting. Dio’s lyrics rule, and so do his vocal. “Shadow of The Wind” is almost too much sludge to handle, this one being VERY slow, but somewhat saved from drowning by the band’s My Dying Bride conviction. Again, Tony fills it up with a good riff, while Ronnie enunciates thespian-like, another way above average lyric. “Ear In The Wall” is the fantastic rocker of the three, and everybody I’ve talked to loves it. It does seem like, all told, these tracks comprise an inevitable follow-up to Dehumanizer. Strange how that works. Art will get its way; creativity has a path with connecting dots. Look at the way Priest talk about Painkiller through the Ripper years; same thing: A river of riffs runs through it and these guys sorta seem to have to hang on and ride the rapids. Plus, you might want to throw in there that these tracks are very Dio-esque, given four of Ronnie’s last five records. Still, man, this is the most powerful and robust production Sabbath’s ever had, and despite the modern methods of these song’s assemblages, there’s a sense of chemistry between the guys which, hey, they’d probably admit they only really felt on the one album.
All hail the doom-masters for attacking the challenge of the dirge, even if the easy joyride of “Ear In The Wall” was destined to hit every headbanger’s pleasure center with greater zeal. They had to see that coming, surely.