Heaven & Hell – “The Devil You Know” (2009)

January 16, 2010 at 3:34 pm (Black Sabbath, Music, Reviews & Articles)

This April 27, 2009 Sputnik Music review was written by Tyler Munro. Heaven & Hell, of course, is simply the Mob Rules-era version of Black Sabbath, featuring the incomparable and ageless Ronnie James Dio. This was a great comeback for Tony Iommi and the boys. Hopefully more is to come…

 

Heaven and Hell’s The Devil You Know is an album based on lies and misdirection. First and perhaps most notably is the band’s line-up. While they are of course a Dio-fronted four-piece consisting of Black Sabbath alumni Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice, the incarnation of Heaven and Hell that appears on The Devil You Know is not the line-up that recorded Heaven and Hell, but instead the line-up from its 1981 follow-up Mob Rules (as well as its 1992 follow-up Dehumanizer). Then there’s the misdirection. To put it plainly, a four-piece band with a combined age of 235 should not be relevant in a post-9/11 heavy metal scene. More specifically, they shouldn’t be good. Heaven and Hell is both of these and more. The Devil You Know is better than good (see: great) and it proves that these old geezers (one of whom is named Geezer) are as relevant and powerful as ever.

Somewhat of an Italian Bilbo Baggins, Ronnie James Dio is undoubtedly Heaven and Hell’s main selling point. In spite of his undeniable oldness, Dio can still belt with the best of them, something he demonstrates with ageless vigour throughout The Devil You Know‘s 53-minutes. While Dio does at times sound like his lungs are on the verge of exploding, fans of the New Hampshire born singer know that it’s because of how much he puts into his vocals and not so much because of the fact that he’s on the wrong side of 60. And let’s put that in perspective for a second: Ronnie James Dio is, at the time of writing, 66 years old. I think that’s what establishes consistency, though. He was pushing forty when Heaven and Hell’s fake-eponymous album was released, so really, Dio has sounded old for the last 30 years. In a lot of ways, that’s what makes The Devil You Know such a natural listen. The return of Geezer Butler certainly helps. Reuniting with pseudo-Sabbath for the first time since 1994’s Cross Purposes, Butler’s trademark paradoxical bass-work provides a sturdy spine for his band mates to build off. He’s still a master of deception, which I guess is why he fits so well with the band. As always, Butler has the ability to play root notes 98% of the time and still sound impressive because he has an unmistakable sense of melody. When he deviates, it’s worth it.

It’s hard to mistake The Devil You Know for anything but a comeback album, but what’s impressive is that it doesn’t sound like one. Unlike most comeback or anniversary releases, The Devil You Know isn’t superfluous. It comes off as more than fodder for a live-show. It doesn’t sound like a comeback album, it is a comeback album—and a hell of a good one at that. Instead of following a formula: a little “Heaven and Hell” here, a little “Neon Knights” there, The Devil You Know successfully carves out a sound for the band. They don’t re-create anything, they build off of it. While that may lessen certain tracks’ individual impact, it makes the album stronger as a whole. I could go on to explain how shocking the initial oomph of “Atom & Evil” is; I could talk about the excellent vocal harmonies in “Double the Pain”; I could talk about a lot of things, but in the end the specifics don’t matter. What matters is that The Devil You Know is exactly what heavy metal needs: Rob Lowe, the current queen of doom metal melodrama, loses his crown with the Return of the King Ronnie James Dio; Tony Iommi comes out and proves that his fingers aren’t as old as his hair plugs; Geezer Butler proves that bass can be both understated impressive and Vinnie Appice makes us miss Bill Ward. See, Vinnie Appice is a good drummer, but his drumming lacks personality. Unlike Dio, Iommi and Butler, Appice is far from distinguishable. Luckily he’s far from terrible and perfectly adequate: I’d rather have him be inconsequential than overbearingly awful.

The Devil You Know invites both shock and reassurance. Shockingly good but reassuringly gimmick-free, The Devil You Know is not only the best Dio or Sabbath release in over a decade but a front-runner for heavy metal album of the year.

Tyler Munro

http://www.sputnikmusic.com/album.php?reviewid=30344

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