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Heaven & Hell - "The Devil You Know" (CD)

Heaven & Hell - "The Devil You Know" CD cover image

"The Devil You Know" track listing:

1. Atom And Evil
2. Fear
3. Bible Black
4. Double The Pain
5. Rock And Roll Angel
6. The Turn Of The Screw
7. Eating The Cannibals
8. Follow The Tears
9. Neverwhere
10. Breaking Into Heaven

Reviewed by on May 6, 2009

"Sabbath's real secret weapon, in any of the incarnations he played with, is Geezer Butler, whose bass lines slither like the serpent of Eden around Iommi's tree of riffs. "

I remember when every third desk I sat at in junior high and high school had the immortal "OZZY RULES! DIO DROOLS!" or some variant of that phrase scrawled on it. It's amazing how times seem to have changed, with an army of metalheads now championing the Dio-fronted lineup of Black Sabbath. That lineup provides plenty of ammunition for that argument with its latest album, "The Devil You Know."

Of course, now that lineup is called Heaven & Hell, in order to avoid confusion with the Ozzy Osbourne-Bill Ward version of the band, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago. I must admit that the name change had one interesting effect on me as I listened to this album — I never thought of Ozzy Osbourne once.

A die-hard fan of the Ozzy era, I can't say that Dio's the best vocalist for Sabbath, but what I can say is that Tony Iommi is definitely the guitarist that brings out the best in Dio. The album's opener, "Atom And Evil," features Iommi laying down an old-school Sabbath riff before Dio comes in with vocals, conveying a sinister charm as he sings of the dangers of gaining too much knowledge of the universe. Is the pun in the title a little too on the nose? Sure, but that's part of the fun.

As for Iommi, he's definitely continuing a late-career revival that started with his self-titled solo album a few years ago, and continued with his "Fused" project with ex-Sabbath vocalist Glenn Hughes. The man's a human riff factory, pumping out endless varieties of 4/4 gloom and doom, and the slightly middle-eastern sounding riff that opens "Fear" is one of the best of his career.

Iommi's (and the album's) high point comes, paradoxically, on the fastest song, "Eating The Cannibals," in which Iommi takes several wild solos as Dio sings of the ultimate in greed. One of the advantages of the Dio era was that the band was a little freer to speed things up, and this song definitely benefits from that. The song is a little reminiscent of Dio-era greats like "Neon Knights," "Mob Rules," and "Die Young."

Sabbath's real secret weapon, in any of the incarnations he played with, is Geezer Butler, whose bass lines slither like the serpent of Eden around Iommi's tree of riffs. He's in excellent form here, playing fills that perfectly accent the guitar lines in songs like "Eating The Cannibals" and "Neverwhere."

Vinny Appice's drumming is adequate, but sometimes feels just a bit uninspired. Just because most of the songs are slower doesn't necessarily mean that the drums have to plod. I did find myself wondering what Bill Ward might have done with some of these songs in Sabbath's heyday.

Iommi's weakest moment comes with "Double The Pain," which has a riff right out of the late 1980s, and sounds dated as a result (Geezer's bass in the beginning is awesome, though).

Dio's lyrics are much better this time around than on "Dehumanizer," the band's last album together, but he stumbles badly on "Rock And Roll Angel," with mentions of a "shining star" and a "caravan to Superman" that make no sense at all.

That said, the album's closer, the epic "Breaking Into Heaven," will make you forget all about any shortcomings as it envelops you in the pure majesty of metal. Dio's delivery of the lyrics, from the point of view of fallen angels preparing to storm the pearly gates, is both thrilling and chilling. Iommi and Butler's guitar and bass lines sink into the depths and then soar in the choruses.

Dio once said that this band is the one he'd like to end his career with. If this was his last musical statement, or the last from Iommi and Butler, for that matter, it'd be a fantastic one to go out on — and much better than "Dehumanizer." Is it as great as "Heaven & Hell" or "Mob Rules?" No — but those albums also have the benefit of nearly 30 years of legend built up around them.

If you're looking for a superb old-school metal experience, served up by some of the founders of the genre, go with "The Devil You Know."

Highs: Excellence all around, but Dio's singing on "Atom And Evil," and Iommi's playing on "Eating The Cannibals" especially stand out.

Lows: "Rock And Roll Angel" and "Double The Pain" aren't terrible — but they are the album's two weak tracks.

Bottom line: A superb album from what some would argue is the best incarnation of Black Sabbath.

Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls
4.5 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)