One of my biggest fears in writing this review is the perception that I am the site’s lone Ronnie James Dio fan and that role puts me in a category of irrelevance. Kind of like the irrelevance that Dio himself faced about ten years ago when he was playing the shtick in clubs and secondary markets. Only the faithful showed up then and I would probably count myself as one of those vocal naysayers, laughing at every one of those few hundred patrons coming to get a glimpse at this tiny old man.
Tenacious D may have relegated Dio to a pop culture joke, but it was a re-examination of his work with Black Sabbath in the early 80s that resurrected him to a credible and influential voice in metal.
The reunion shows were supposed to be a swan song, a final glimpse at a band that was on its own deathbed at the time of conception. But there were reports during the tour that the band—now named Heaven & Hell thanks to the endless meddling of Sharon Osbourne—was preparing to record a new album together, the second reunion of this line-up.
Initially, I found myself as a naysayer, rolling my eyes at the notion of a disc of new material, envisioning a slow death of decreasing popularity and smaller venues. The fellas seemed intent on exiting the metal arena in embarrassing fashion, too old to know when it’s time to put away the gargoyles and call it a day.
The Devil You Know should be the sad remnants of that union, the document that tells us that the moment ended decades ago and, while reminiscing among the old farts is fine, the idea that they can translate it into credible new material is silly.
Well Holy Diver, the joke is squarely on me as Heaven & Hell deliver their heaviest recordings closer to the age of seventy than they did at twenty-one. It’s an effort that provides them with a reason to exist—albeit under a new name—and it should provide an inspiring reference point to anyone considering what the shelf life of a metal band should be.
Dio, who’s voice is still impressive at his advanced age, has moved from an egotistical bellower to one that has transitioned his talents into an ominous howl. The end of days is written all over this record, and Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler work each riff like it will be their last with Vinny Appice plodding along at a snails pace. Seriously: the album is more than half over before the band kicks it into second gear with “Eating The Cannibals.” All of this dirge and slow motion head banging begins to sound the same by the end of the album, and repeated listening had me reaching for the remote so that I could program only the best songs on the album.
One of those is “Bible Black.” It begins as a forlorn acoustic number until the ninety-second mark. At which time the band unleashes into a menacing refute of Christianity. “Let me go! / I’ve seen religion, but the light has left me blind!” Dio roars while Iommi delivers another worthy riff underneath the sacrilege.
While not as noteworthy as Heaven & Hell or Mob Rules, the fourth installment of this Sabbath line-up is most surprising for its consistency. Not even I imagined that these four old-timers would have been album to create an album that matches the releases that are already available, particularly since it’s been over fifteen years since the previous installment. It also annihilates practically everything that Sabbath’s more notorious frontman has released during that time. Which begs the question: shouldn’t Sharon be doing more to make sure her husband is contributing to his own legacy than worrying about what his former bandmates are doing? Because, judging from The Devil You Know, Heaven & Hell is doing more to retain Sabbath’s lofty stature than Ozzy is.