The Dio Years
9/21/2007 - Review by: Vinaya Saksena
Black Sabbath - The Dio Years - 2007 - Rhino/Warner
For those who love the era of Black Sabbathís career that this disc celebrates, this is indeed long-awaited vindication. For much of the past decade, fans of Ronnie James Dio-era Sabbath could only reminisce about their favorite incarnation of the band, while the reunited lineup with Ozzy Osbourne enjoyed returning hero status despite overt reliance on the same tired old "greatest hits" live set. Now, at long last, it seems a lull in action for the Oz-man has allowed Sabbath and the industry in general to escape this endless hype parade and re-assess the bandís career.
By now, most of you who regularly visit Maximum Metal and other sites of its ilk know the drill: Dio gets back in contact with his former Sabbath colleagues to confer on this compilation, songwriting takes place, talk of a tour starts...a live album (or two), possibly a new studio album... It all apparently works out with fairytale-like perfection, despite the strange decision to tour under the moniker of their classic 1980 album Heaven and Hell, which interestingly coincides with a press release from the Osbourne camp politely reminding us that there is no Sabbath but the original lineup (Yeah, okay). This compilation, however, appears under the Sabbath name, despite the presence of new material from the lineup now known as Heaven and Hell. Go figure.
And as for the material included here, thirteen of sixteen tracks are previously released, sampling the three studio albums (plus Live Evil) that Sabbath made with Dio at the mic. The other three are the requisite new tunes that serve to justify the existence of both this compilation and the awesome, if curiously monikered tour that has followed in its wake.
So are those tracks up to the task? Strictly speaking, yes, although they do not score high marks for innovation or risk-taking. This is mostly more of the same slow, sludgy but imposing riff-based monsters that guitarist Tony Iommi has been churning out for years, and which made his last solo album, Fused, a pleasant but somewhat redundant affair to my ears. And this is the one thing that really irks me about both these new tunes and the aforementioned Fused. It is as if Iommi himself has started to believe the words of all those ignorant writers in the mainstream music press who focus myopically on his gargantuan power chord riffs, while paying no attention to his other considerable skills, which produced brilliant, eclectic metal classics like "Symptom of the Universe" and "Heaven and Hell." Thus, there are no delicately plucked acoustic guitar parts, jazzy chord voicings, or other signs of diversity and versatility that Iommi has shown in the past; just plain, simple power chord sandwiches target-marketed for those who will simply go gaga over anything loud with a known brand name on it.
But Iím being a bit harsh here, given how much I enjoyed the bandís live performance-including these songs- this past summer. And of course, even rote, rumbling riffs like those on "The Devil Cried" and "Shadow of the Wind" can become so much more when coupled with a solid band performance, great singing and great lyrics. And indeed, Ronnie Dio in particular provides a creative spark that makes these tunes, plus the faster "Ear in the Wall," worthwhile for listeners, offering the manís signature knack for powerful, expressive vocals combined with engaging and clever storytelling. Compare that to the cheesy nursery rhymes that passed for lyrics on, say, the Ozzy-fronted reunion tune "Psycho Man" (which was no better musically either), and these new tunes look like the beginning of a return to form. And Tonyís inspired leads on "Shadow" and "Ear" demonstrate that he too has some musical fire left in his belly. Talk has already circulated about the possibility of a new studio album. If this revered gathering of metal pioneers continues to demonstrate the chemistry they did on stage this year- and stretch out a bit creatively- this could bode very well for the bandís future indeedÖ Whatever they decide to call the band.
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