Black Sabbath needs no introduction. They are the de facto fathers (grandfathers?) of heavy metal. Even if you aren't that familiar with all their work, you are undoubtedly familiar with the band. But what many people might not realize is that Black Sabbath has been a revolving cast over the years, with 22 musicians having been in the band at some point. Too often, people think of Ozzy when they think of Sabbath. The real person to think of is Tony Iommi. Over the past 42 years, he has been the single constant in the band.
I mention this for those unfamiliar with Heaven & Hell. Named after the 1980 album from Black Sabbath (the first with Ronnie James Dio as vocalist) of the same name, the band is, for all intents and purposes, Black Sabbath. Comprised of Dio, Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Apice, this is the group from the early 80s (and again in the early 90s). What resulted was The Devil You Know.
As such, I was anticipating some straight up heavy metal. You know, down-tuned guitars, plodding, ethereal tempos, and somewhat theatrical vocals (thanks to the inimitable Dio). However, what I did not anticipate was just how much this album would rock. Right from the start, the guitars and deep, throaty and thundering. This is trademark Sabbath.
Some of the tracks are a touch faster (the energetic "Eating the Cannibals" for one), and others are funereal in the pace (the standouts "Bible Black" and "Breaking into Heaven"). In between you have the expected mid-tempo tracks. They never veer too far from the template, but hey, this is a template these guys freaking created, so they can stick with it. Especially when done so well.
As mentioned, the guitars have a fantastic heavy metal sound. The drums and bass fill out the rhythm perfectly. And Dio's voice sounds as good as it ever has. Powerful, rich, somewhat operatic in nature, it is everything that made Dio such a respected vocalist. It is a shame to have lost him, but what an album to go out on.
Final Verdict: Adore it (and relish in the celebration of heavy freaking metal)
Honestly, there isn't much to say that my counterpart here hasn't said. Sabbath is wonderful; Dio era Sabbath all the more so. Ronnie James just had a voice that was perfect for heavy metal - it soars, it's emotive, and it rocks.
I mean, this is essentially the guy who introduced the devil's horns symbol to heavy metal. He is metal incarnate - and this album showcases it more than almost any other I can think of.
Whew. It's big, ugly, and wonderful.
Final Verdict: Adore it (I'm pouring drops of (root) beer out for you, Dio. You will be missed)