May 16…this is a tough one for me every year. On this day six years ago something terrible happened. On this day six years ago I fell to my knees and cried. On this day six years ago we lost one of the greatest voices in Heavy Metal history, Ronnie James Dio. Every year I struggle to hold it together all day long, and when no one’s watching I cry my eyes out. A&GS does a video tribute on our Facebook page on the anniversary, but this year I decided to do a Classic Albums dedicated to the man, much like one of the very first ones I ever wrote. And this week, we will look at the first BLACK SABBATH album he recorded, Heaven and Hell.
In 2005 my dear friend Keith came over and we spent several hours trading music from bands we loved, something we did often. He happened to be on a huge DIO kick at the time, which was fine by me. Now, I hadn’t really given BLACK SABBATH much thought in a long time, but he was adamant that I take a few albums that night, one of which was Heaven and Hell. I had a shitty taped copy from years past, but it was awful to listen to at that point, and it was kind of filed away with the intention of upgrading at a later date. All I know is, when I put it into my iTunes and made a disc for myself, that bitch didn’t leave the CD player in the car for weeks!
And really, are any of you surprised? Let’s face it, as soon as “Neon Knights” starts we all wanna just floor it going down the highway, don’t we? This has to be one of the all-time greatest album openers in recorded history, and it pumps the blood through my veins at a mile a minute every single time I hear it. From here we go into “Children of the Sea” which is the first song Ronnie wrote with the band, and it’s sheer greatness from start to finish, with a clean, quiet start and then full-on riff assault throughout.
“Lady Evil” is a rocker that has this energy you just can’t help but get into, and title track “Heaven and Hell” is one of the most iconic SABBATH songs ever written. If you’re looking for the point at which the revamped band arrived, then THIS is it. “Wishing Well” is the closest sounding thing to the band of old, and Tony Iommi’s guitar solos are fluid and powerful while “Die Young” takes off at a full gallop and never lets up for a moment. Geezer butler’s bass and the drums of Bill Ward are on display from note one, not just on this song but the entire record. Still, here they have a veritable field day.
“Walk Away” is a mid-tempo rocker that always gets my head bobbin’ and is another great driving song. The record closes with “Lonely Is the Word” featuring some of Iommi’s best guitar work that I’ve ever heard. From the awesome riff to the surgically precise solo, this is one of the album’s best tunes. And let’s not forget the fact that Ronnie sings his fucking ass off on this one. People always gravitate towards the more well-known tracks on this disc, but this last song is without a doubt a personal favorite because everyone to a man is hitting their marks and making history. And when it’s over all you’ll want to do is press PLAY again, as I do every single time.
I know this isn’t a popular stance, but I much prefer the DIO-era BLACK SABBATH over anything else. The songwriting was a thousand times better, and the band had a newfound focus that was sorely missing since Sabotage. Ronnie James Dio was and still is one of the greatest singers and frontmen of all time, and his death hurts me to this day. I’m not sure it is something I will ever get over. What I do know is this: Heaven and Hell is an incredible listening experience, and the world is a much better place for Ronnie having been in this band. And THAT’S why it has now joined the Amps and Green Screens list of Classic Albums, where it shall remain forever. ~dc
IN LOVING MEMORY OF RONNIE JAMES DIO (JULY 10, 1942 – MAY 16, 2010)