BLACK SABBATH – Heaven And Hell

BLACK SABBATH - Heaven And Hell


Release date: April 21, 1980

Guitars & Bass: B+
Percussion: B
Vocals: A-
Lyrics: A-
Recording Quality: B+
Originality: A
Overall Rating: A

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The 1970s ran its course with synthesized dance beats and polyester shirts, so it really came as no surprise that 1980 was primed and ready for something real, new, and wholesome musically. Enter the unlikely candidate of Black Sabbath. Coming off a piss poor effort with Never Say Die in 1978, and parting ways with their infamous front man, John “Ozzy” Osbourne a year after in 1979 (for the 2nd time), Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Mike Ward surely must have felt it was indeed “do or die” time for the band. Luckily for us all, Black Sabbath completely rejuvenated and reinvented itself when Ronnie James Dio was signed on to man the microphone…and the band had the exact same impact on the music industry while successfully whetting the public’s appetite for what was ahead for years to come.

Black Sabbath simply scored huge with Heaven and Hell. The first track, “Neon Knights” (probably the best song on the album), shows Black Sabbath was anxious to show they were ready to rock. When you spin this album, “Neon Knights” almost catches the listener off guard. It starts off midstream as if the song had already begun; with Bill Ward’s drum kit in full stride, Tony Iommi’s guitar already cranking out the riff, and Geezer Butler providing his characteristic bass groove that carries the direction of oh so many Black Sabbath tunes of old. This time, though, there is something completely different…instead of a treble-influenced voice, the voice resonating from the speakers is the goldenly full voice of Ronnie James Dio, which melds extraordinarily well with the heavy bass undertones that have always gone hand in hand with Black Sabbath’s style. Iommi, never particularly known for his creative guitar work (or skills for that matter), fills the middle of “Neon Knights” with a well-crafted solo, and shows throughout the album that he can indeed do more with less.

Listening to Heaven and Hell multiple times, one comes to realize there is nothing overly fancy here. Heaven and Hell is just a great Hard Rock album that was able to immediately grab the attention of the music world because of its quality, energy, and tightness. Martin Birch, Producer for Heaven and Hell (also for Deep Purple and Whitesnake later down the road), deserves huge credit too. Many in the past have referred back to this album as the “true birth” of Heavy Metal. Although a number of quality albums arrived around the time of Heaven and Hell, I can hardly disagree with this notion. It indeed initiated a whirlwind impact to the benefit of the Heavy Metal genre similar to what Never Mind the Bullocks by the Sex Pistols and Nevermind by Nirvana did for the Punk Rock and Grunge Rock movements, respectively.

Musically, this album is not substantially different from the efforts considered strong in Black Sabbath’s past (although recorded with more clarity), however, lyrically, this effort definitely took Black Sabbath down a new course. Lyrics while fronted by Osbourne were generally skillfully written, but were deliberately written without complexity. Dio, entrusted with writing all lyrics to Heaven and Hell, flexed his muscles and showed a strong penchant towards writing about wizardry and an eerie, evil dreamland filled with obscure settings and themes. Remarkably, Dio shows he too was up for the challenge of this album by masterfully mixing this complex lyrical style into the basic mechanical structure of each song. One of my favorite lyrical quotes ever written comes in the “Heaven and Hell” track when Dio writes: “The world is full of kings and queens who blind your eyes and steal your dreams, it’s Heaven and Hell”…hmmmm…how true…and not bad for a genre that would later be classified by naysayers as shallow and without substance! Dio delivers vocally and shows true substance on all tracks…with the possible exception of “Walk Away,” a song with a much more mainstream flavor than anything else on the album (yet still good!).

Although the title track is a lyrical masterpiece, the only “imperfection” on the album also manifests itself here. Heaven and Hell, the album, generally wastes none of the listener’s time until “Heaven and Hell,” the song. More specifically, the middle of the song contains some musical “wadding” similar to what was sometimes resorted to by bands in the 70s when vinyl album sides periodically contained just 1 or 2 songs…unfortunately pointless, however, providing a good opportunity to go to the refrigerator to grab another cold one! The final track, Lonely is the Word, also has a definite 70s flavor to it, however, is much more successful in avoiding the dreaded “wadding” monogram, especially when it fades out quite effectively with a repetitive off-key keyboard/guitar riff.

All in all, if this album is not part of your collection, get off your ass and buy it today! Actually, any person who is a fan of music and music history should look into owning this album. It’s hard to truly pinpoint the time Heavy Metal was born and coined, however, if Heaven and Hell was really that point, then we as Heavy Metal fans clearly owe our musical happiness and countless hours of sonic enjoyment over the last 20-some years to Black Sabbath for this 1980 release. Heaven and Hell was a very solid, inspired, skillfully written and produced album that can be listened to over and over without becoming stale.


  • Dan Skiba

    Dan is a former partner at Metal Express Radio, and also served as a reviewer, photographer and interviewer on occasions. Based out of Indianapolis, USA he was first turned on to Hard Rock music in the mid-1970s when he purchased Deep Purple's Machine Head as his first album. He was immediately enthralled with the powerful guitar sound and pronounced drumbeat, and had to get more! His collection quickly expanded to include as many of Heavy Rock bands of the time that he could get his hands on, such as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, to name just a few.

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