Black Sabbath - The Dio Years

Rhino Records
Produced by Black Sabbath

The prospect of new music and touring for "the other" Black Sabbath line-up is comfortably one of the most exciting things in metal for a long time for most fans. Which of course means it has every chance to disappoint.

Obviously this CD a compilation of the best songs from the three albums Black Sabbath made with Ronnie James Dio on vocals, and it arrives after the widely talked-about announcement that the Mob Rules/Dehumanizer line-up of Dio, leading light Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinnie Appice are touring this year under the name Heaven And Hell (the title of the first album Sabbath made with Ronnie), including a recently confirmed UK leg in November.

The Dio Years was originally to be a boxed set, presumably containing all the old studio tracks, plus some new ones and some of the live b-sides, but in the end it was reduced to one disc. The record company were probably nervous about a boxed set selling well when the majority of metal fans naively subscribe to the "no Sabbath without Ozzy" way of thinking.

The album evenly covers the very best of the Dio years; a period from which it is very hard to make selections, given the undoubted strength of all three albums. Heaven And Hell is the most heavily represented, with six of its eight tracks appearing here (although the version of Children of The Sea is from 1982's Live Evil) and it could be argued that the other two albums each have a track or two missing. Indeed Sign of The Southern Cross from Mob Rules is a notable absence, as are Computer God and Master of Insanity from Dehumanizer, the latter of which was a single. But the unexpected inclusions of Falling Off The Edge of The World and Lonely Is The Word near enough make up for that.

On the remastering side there is little noticeable difference between these versions and the originals. The tracks from Heaven And Hell, in particular Neon Knights still sound a little quiet and slightly muddy, as they always have. This isn't really a problem. They are meant to sound like that and never has there been a complaint from fans about the sound of any of the Dio era albums. It's hard to imagine the Dehumanizer tracks needing any work at all, coming out as it did in 1992.

What is missing from this release are the live b-sides from the various singles released from these albums. Versions of Heaven And Hell, The Mob Rules, Computer God and even Paranoid have been released on various 7"s and the occasional CD recorded in '80, '81 and '92. With the rare alternate version of Letters From Earth and the Wayne's World soundtrack version of Time Machine there's certainly enough material for a bonus rarities CD. Perhaps the Heaven And Hell tour and subsequent live release will prove as popular as expected and the demand for a rarities album will exist.

And so, the new songs. Stylistically an almost equal mix of Dio's current sound with his band (Master of The Moon etc) and Tony Iommi's post-Sabbath solo albums, particularly the guitar tone on Fused. In interviews, before any of the new songs had been heard (each has since been made available either to stream or to buy as a download single), Ronnie stated that there would be one slow song, one fast and one mid-paced. None of them are really mid-paced; two slow and one fast is more accurate.

The Devil Cried, which many die hard fans will certainly have heard, since it was released as a bona fide download single, is certainly a slow song. A classic Black Sabbath doomy number, with a similar riff to some of Iommi's solo work, and absolutely perfect vocals from Dio. Shadow of The Wind is arguably slower than The Devil Cried and Butler's classic trick of mirroring Iommi's riffs adds astonishing power to Appice's drum rhythms and fills. The climax of this is even stronger than The Devil Cried, with a big vocal build-up to the closing choruses.

The last one is the fast one. A typical high-tempo Iommi riff and vocals from Dio that are equally doomy as the previous pair, Ear In The Wall is another classic slab of Sabbath metal - the kind they did with Neon Nights, Die Young and Turn Up The Night that made this line-up of Sabbath sound so different to the Ozzy-led material. Any one of these tracks could be dropped onto the classic pair of early '80s releases without trouble.

These three tracks show this line-up can still produce first-class metal together, and indicate that perhaps the forthcoming tour could lead to a full new album under the new name. In the mean time, this is a timely reminder of the quality of the material they already have.

“ undoubted strength ”

Tracklist: Neon Knights / Lady Evil / Heaven And Hell / Die Young / Lonely Is The Word / The Mob Rules / Turn Up The Night / Voodoo / Falling Off The Edge of The World / After All (The Dead) / TV Crimes / I / Children of The Sea (Live) / The Devil Cried / Shadow of The Wind / Ear In The Wall

Written by Andy Lye
More: 2007, Compilation Albums, Heavy Metal,

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