|Black Sabbath – ‘Heaven And Hell/Mob Rules/Live Evil' Expanded Editions (Universal)|
|Written by Johnny H|
|Tuesday, 06 April 2010 06:00|
The early 1980's really were halcyon days for us Rock and Metal fans growing up back then. As a relative youngster just about to enter my teens, classic albums by the likes of Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Saxon, Motorhead and Judas Priest were all being released at the dawn of the decade. However it was the rebirth of Black Sabbath with the introduction of ex-Rainbow/Elf singer Ronnie James Dio that was truly life changing for me. Taking members of two of my favourite bands and fusing them into one super powered Heavy Metal entity set to rule the world was something that the great comic writers of that day couldn't have dreamed up, never mind three guys from Birmingham who had effectively seen their careers disappearing in front of their eyes amid a haze of drug and alcohol abuse.
The momentum that Dio brought to Messrs Iommi, Butler and Ward for their debut album 'Heaven And Hell' in the spring of 1980 was quite simply breathtaking. Dio's personality and voice draping the band's image and sound in a mythical shroud of melodic majesty that had long since disappeared from Ozzy's later years with the band. Take one listen to tracks like 'Die Young', 'Neon Knights' or the album's title track some thirty years on and they still sound fresh, vibrant and most importantly 'essential' Heavy Metal. Brought to life for a whole new generation to discover in 2010 via this two disc Expanded Edition, 'Heaven And Hell' ranks up there with such classics as 'Rising', 'Holy Diver' and 'Trying To Burn The Sun' as some of the frontman's greatest work of all-time. With expanded sleeve notes, a fantastic gatefold digipack and a second disc full of live B-sides, a Mono Edit and tracks from a much bootlegged Hartford show from 1980, this is as much of an essential purchase as it was when we were all saving up our pocket money for the beast the first time around.
Fast-forward to November of 1981 and Black Sabbath were selling out arenas worldwide (albeit with Vinnie Appice having replaced Bill Ward on the drums) and enjoying some of their most commercially successful years ever thanks to their reinvention and renewed musical creativity. The band were once again writing songs on the road, so the relatively short space between 'Heaven And Hell' and the band's second album 'Mob Rules' can be largely attributed to this factor. Although maybe not as rounded an offering as their debut, 'Mob Rules' still contains nine (eight if you discount 'E5150') slabs of premium quality Heavy Metal, with 'Turn Up The Night, 'Voodoo' and 'Slipping Away' all repeating the riff-tastic formula the band had always been associated with. But it was on tracks like 'The Sign Of The Southern Cross' and 'Falling Off The Edge Of The World' where the riff took more of a backseat to Dio's epic voice and the band for me truly soared. The basic album is expanded here with a live B-side of 'Die Young' and a demo of 'The Mob Rules'. Along with the expanded sleeve notes and the fantastic gatefold digipack, it will be the second disc of this set that will have most Black Sabbath collectors getting very excited indeed, as this disc is the deleted on the day of release (and fetching upwards of £70 on Ebay) Rhino Records 'Live at Hammersmith Odeon' album, and hence making this 'Mob Rules' an absolutely essential purchase.
Which leads me rather nicely to the 'Live Evil' set from April 1982, which the press release accompanying it proudly proclaims as capturing the band at the height of their powers. Commercially at this time the band was most definitely at that pinnacle, but for me musically, this album never really captured the energy of the legendary line up. There were simply far too many ponderous versions of otherwise classic tracks with seemingly unnecessary solos. Coupled with the rumours circulating in the press of inter band tensions around the album's mix ahead of its release, the band were never going to engender the album to the record buying public. Restored to a double disc set for the first time in the UK (the Rhino Records 'Rules Of Hell' US box had previously done this in 2008) and complete with the extended sleeve notes and gatefold packaging, 'Live Evil' may be the least essential of the three Expanded Editions on offer here but it is an album I can now listen to with a certain fondness rather than my initial disappointment.
Continuing in the tradition of Universal's award winning Ozzy Osbourne era Black Sabbath Expanded Edition CD's, these three Ronnie James Dio era Black Sabbath albums will give that Heavy Metal teenager in us all a reason to turn it up loud and strap on that air guitar just one more time.