Dio-era Black Sabbath deluxe editions

As the 1970s were drawing to a close there was a massive upheaval in rock circles. Most of the behemoths from the early part of the decade had either split up, made dodgy records or were in the process of imploding. It could be said that Black Sabbath were doing their very best to do all three. They had recently released two rather lacklustre albums and been outshone on tour by their young support band, some no hopers called Van Halen. To cap it all the increasingly erratic behaviour of frontman Ozzy Osbourne led to him be ejected from the band in April 1979.

Soon after Ozzy’s dismissal he was replaced by Ronnie James Dio, recently departed from Rainbow, and the band headed back to the studio to mastermind a rather surprising rebirth. Now, some 30 years later, the two studio and one live albums from that era have received the deluxe edition treatment.

Originally released in April 1980, Heaven And Hell would see Sabbath back to writing killer singles combined with lengthy tales that had become their trademark. The opening chords of ‘Neon Knights’ are enough to send anyone into full on head banging and devil horns mode. ‘Children of the Sea’ soon follows and it is clear that this is going to be no ordinary Black Sabbath album. Dio had reinvigorated them to such a degree that, as the album progresses through the likes of the blistering ‘Die Young’ and the simply brilliant epic title track, we are left in no doubt that Black Sabbath album had restored their rightful spot at the very top of the heavy rock tree. The bonus disc contains the b-sides from the single releases along with some additional live tracks that are a nice bonus but are merely a sideshow to the unexpected brilliance of the main event.

An alcohol addiction, combined with him missing the presence of his old pal Ozzy, saw Bill Ward vacate his drum stool part way through the Heaven and Hell tour. He was soon replaced by Vinnie Appice who would also take on that role for the recording session that would result in the release of Mob Rules in November 1981. While not quite as stunning as its predecessor, Mob Rules, is still a great album. The opening duo of ‘Turn Up The Night’ and ‘Voodoo’ power us in to the highpoint of the album, ‘The Sign of the Southern Cross’ which is yet another wonderfully crafted epic from the masters of the art. The rest of the album just keeps the listener enthralled until the final strains of ‘Over and Over’ fade away, leaving a slightly maudlin feeling knowing that internal strife would mean this line–up of the band would not see the light of day again for another decade.

Then we come to the bonus disc that provides us with perhaps the most interesting element of these reissues. Live at Hammersmith was originally released as a limited edition in 2007 so its inclusion here is likely to cause the hardcore collectors some angst. That aside it is a glorious record of the Sabbath live juggernaut as it hit Hammersmith Odeon around New Year 1981/1982. The beefy sound and obvious enjoyment heard as the band belt through songs old and new leaves us in no doubt that this is the best of the official live recordings from the Dio-era Black Sabbath.

Finally, we have the enigma that is Live Evil. As the first official Black Sabbath live album it was eagerly awaited but turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment as the sound didn’t seem to really capture the raw power of the live show. Perhaps this was because the band was being torn apart by internal wrangling that would see them split from Dio and Appice at the end of the accompanying tour. Even though this new edition looks and sounds great that cannot mask those original failings and leaves Live Evil seeming slightly redundant now that the Live at Hammersmithset is freely available.

The key question now is should you fork out for these deluxe editions when there are so many previous editions already available? The simple answer is yes. The remastering is brilliant and I doubt these albums have sounded better. The lack of any lyrics is the only minor quibble but the superb foldout packaging and extensive, specially created, new liner notes make it a no-brainer for the avid fan and newcomer alike.

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