Heaven And Hell (2CD, also 2LP)
Mob Rules (2CD, also 2LP)
Continuing their run of Black Sabbath remasters, BMG kick off the turn of the 80s and the Dio period with these two albums, regressing back to the 2CD format of the previous remasters of 12 years ago, and while they provide genuinely lovely packages and expansions to two classic albums, they also have their limitations.
1980’s Heaven And Hell was a bona fide game changer. There was a lot to compete with back then; the NWoBHM was charging full steam, even Atomic Rooster had reformed with a harsh fire cracker of an album to compete with the movement, and Ian Gillan’s eponymous band had moved from jazz fusion to a blistering hard rock direction. On top of that Thin Lizzy and Rainbow had their own agendas. What were Black Sabbath to do? After two excellent but ultimately disappointing albums, stale live performances, a band nearly destroyed by drugs, and then vocalist Ozzy and bassist Geezer Bulter out of the band (the first had been fired, for a second time, the latter going through some personal issues), it was a state of flux. But oh boy didn’t things work out well.
Although the writing sessions had started with Ozzy still in the band (I guess we’ll never know how many recordings exist from then), he was soon replaced by former Elf and fresh out of Rainbow vocalist Ronnie Dio. Work was done with bassist Geoff Nicholls (who would stay on as the band’s keyboard player) and also with Dio on bass (he’d played bass in the pre Elf band The Electric Elves). Then the album was pretty much completed with Elf/Rainbow bassist Craig Gruber, whose bass lines were rerecorded by a returning Butler. All this, and Bill Ward vocalising doubts because of the change of direction, he didn’t know which band he was in, we get an album that just about blew everybody’s socks off, without exception.
While the music is just as heavy, it is more upbeat than earlier albums and Dio’s vocals, while very different from Ozzy’s, fit the music perfectly. He has a higher range, and it’s often been said that his early work as a trumpet player (on dozens of country records in the late 50s and early 60s) would have helped discipline his breathing, thus his singing strength and style.
If you’re a rock fan, you will be (or should be) familiar with the album; Neon Knights is a classic rocker, Children Of The Sea a little slower and chunkier, and the title track is, well, just go listen. Dio and Iommi at their best. The gentle break in Die Young sees Dio at his most emotive too. Butler’s bass lines support the songs in a more traditional way, rather than providing a lead doomy riff they did (or do) on other albums.
Bonus tracks – always a bone of contention something that is, especially in the case of Black Sabbath, rarely done right.
The first seven tracks on disc 2 match those on the 2010 remaster, so we start with two live b-sides and a mono 7” edit, and 4 live tracks from CT, USA (tracks from the album). Then in addition there are another 4 tracks from the album recorded live at Hammersmith, London, 31 Dec 1981 – 2 Jan 1982. These were originally released as part of the 2010 Mob Rules remaster. Surely if you’re going to expand, why not the whole CT show from August 1980?
Good and extensive sleevenotes, that mention Nicholls’ and Gruber’s contribution but doesn’t clarify what demos were made or still exist. Lots of pictures of rare releases, something fans and collectors like myself like to see.
The band were clearly energised, but Ward’s alcoholism was worsening, largely due to his mother’s passing and coping with the loss of Ozzy; Ward left the tour at no notice so Vinny Appice was brought in to finish the live shows, at 2 days’ notice.
The following year’s Mob Rules, with drummer Appice still on board, and although an excellent album still loved by many (including Iommi), there was a distinct shift in dynamics. For one, Ozzy had often left much of the song writing to Iommi and Butler, but here Dio was much more forward (forceful?). Not quite haphazard, but while there is a nod to being a Heaven & Hell part 2, there is a distinct shift from the more traditional Sabbath sound. More straight metal? It’s hard to describe.
The title track was originally used for the Heavy Metal film soundtrack and remixed for the album (and like the 2010 release, the OST version is added here). There is much to love here, Sign Of The Southern Cross and the title track stand out. Although the album received mixed reviews at the time, listening to it now I still love many tracks, but it doesn’t stand out as solid, unique and cohesive as Heaven And Hell. But like the aforementioned album, an essential part of the collection.
Bonus tracks kick off with the original version of the title track and a live Die Young (a single b-side), as does the 2010 release. Here we then get a new 2021 mix of the title track. Then, split over the 2 discs are 15 tracks from Portland 1982. All good so far. But then we’re into the missed opportunities.
The 2010 release featured the 14 track live at Hammersmith 1981/82; 4 of those tracks are added to the 2021 Heaven And Hell, another four (from this album) are added here. That leaves another 6 tracks now omitted. Go figure?
These albums were remastered back in 2010, so these 2021 remasters do sound excellent but there wasn’t a great deal more to be done. The music is clear, loud, bright (but not too much so). A definite difference in the drum sound on Heaven And Hell.
Both these albums look, feel and sound excellent, the packing is great and booklets expanded and informative. Top marks there, genuinely. A lot of good hard work. The format follows the same as the previous 2CDs, so nice fold out digipaks, decent booklets, lots of extra info and rare pics.
There are also vinyl versions for both. Double LPs in both cases. These sound excellent, in fact they sound as good as they look. The packaging and vinyl is thick and heavy duty, and in each case the second LP reproduces some of the CD bonuses. Not all, but better than none. Swings and roundabouts. But if you are partial to a slab of (sonically and physically) heavy vinyl, these are great because of the sound, feel, and the reproduction of the sleeve notes and some of the pics inside the gatefold.
But marvellous these CDs and LPs are, the downside is the missed opportunity with the bonus tracks; firstly there is much more available not even considered, whether live or in demo form, and secondly (most importantly) there is no consistency with what was previously issued. We are in the realm of the (plethora of) Uriah Heep reissues with different bonus tracks; there is (certainly with Mob Rules) no definitive edition and fans will feel the need for multiple remasters at huge financial and space cost.
A lot more plusses than minuses, there is genuinely lots to enjoy.
Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine