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Album Review

Black Sabbath – ‘Heaven and Hell’ [Retro Album Review]



It was the dawn of a new day, especially for the music world. What felt so fresh during the ‘70s suddenly sounded stale. And from country to rock, from new wave to punk, from jazz to R&B, everything was going pop. While metal also would take the pop plunge a couple of years down the road, it remained reasonably authentic in 1980. However, many leading metal acts of the era were upping the ante in order to withstand the mighty winds of change. A prime example — the legendary British band, Black Sabbath.

Simply put, Black Sabbath was pretty darn cool. But after a decade of solid success, even the band itself seemed to be exhausted by its droning riffs and dark lyrics — the random musical experimentation on recent releases left fans confused, even disappointed. As a result, record sales were tanking. To add insult to injury, Black Sabbath’s ass had been kicked nightly by the opening act on its last tour — a brash new California-based collective called, Van Halen. Oh yeah, Black Sabbath also had just fired iconic frontman, Ozzy Osbourne. “Up the ante,” indeed.

While Ozzy was holed up somewhere in a Hollywood hotel, doing whatever it was Ozzy did in those days, his former bandmates were forging ahead in a Florida studio creating their ninth record — with famed producer, Martin Birch (Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Blue Öyster Cult, Iron Maiden), and newly-acquired frontman, former Rainbow singer, Ronnie James Dio. And 40 years ago this week (April 25, 1980), Heaven and Hell arrived worldwide via Warner Bros. and Vertigo Records.

Packing unrelenting rib-cracking punch and brimming with heart-stopping melodies that ooze magical imagery, Heaven and Hell bitch-slapped unsuspecting fans right out of the box. Dio wasn’t Ozzy. It’s not fair to either singer to pit one against the other, but the record does benefit enormously from what Dio brings to the table. In short, founding members, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward sound energized from start to finish.

There are several key components that make Heaven and Hell a powerful and enduring statement. Dio’s performance on “Neon Knights” is fiery and furious — as if he had a Marshall stack stuck in his throat — combined with Iommi’s urgent riffage, it’s a chilling record opener — Time again to save us from the jackals of the street, dude.

Heaven and Hell possesses the unique ability to prompt the toughest hard rock aficionado to pump their fist one minute, then blubber like a baby the next — often in the same song — case in point, “Children of the Sea.” LOOK OUT!

For his part, Butler’s signature swagger, particularly on “Lady Evil,” as well as the title track makes you almost forget about any sensation above the waist. Furthermore, the value of Ward’s neck-breaking kick/snare/hi-hat combo throughout is immeasurable.

Black Sabbath circa 1980

The succeeding Sab slab, Mob Rules (1981) certainly has its moments. In fact, the title track is arguably one of the mightiest metal anthems of all time. And the band’s earlier solid gold efforts remain classic rock staples. However, four decades later, its Heaven and Hell that can still take you, “higher than stardust.”

Heaven and Hell Track Listing:

Side One:
1. Neon Knights (3:53)
2. Children of the Sea (5:34)
3. Lady Evil (4:26)
4. Heaven and Hell (6:59)

Side Two:
1. Wishing Well (4:07)
2. Die Young (4:45)
3. Walk Away (4:25)
4. Lonely Is the Word (5:51)

Run Time 39:46
Release Date April 25, 1980
Record Label Vertigo Records / Warner Bros.

Christopher Long is an author, show biz analyst, TV / radio contributor, award-winning musician and entertainment personality. Referred to once as “the rock and roll Erma Bombeck,” Long is known for his conversational, common sense writing style and passion for sharing his unique perspectives on pop culture. Raised in Missouri's rugged Ozark Mountains and on Florida's sunny Space Coast, Long currently lives in Cocoa Beach. (