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Music Review: Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know

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I have to be honest, I never really got into Black Sabbath. A combination of being slightly too young for the original incarnation and a general disinterest in the doom laden, bombastic grooves of the band in general. By the time I reached an age where I might appreciate them, Sabbath operated such a revolving door policy with regards to band members that even founder member Geezer Butler quit the band in disgust.

On the other hand, I've always been a fan of Ronnie James Dio, so when Black Sabbath, the Dio Years was released in 2007, I snapped a copy up immediately and was blow away by just how much quality material they managed to produce in the Dio era (Dehumaniser apart). Equally interesting were the four new tracks the band recorded for the double CD album. A successful world tour under the moniker "Heaven and Hell" swiftly followed (presumably due to the fact that Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward are still part of the reformed Black Sabbath lineup).

Two years later, with some reports putting Ronnie James Dio at the ripe old age of 67, the Mob Rules line-up of Black Sabbath, now "Heaven and Hell", (Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice) have released their debut album The Devil You Know. And it's pretty damn brilliant.

From the opener "Atom and Evil" to the closer "Breaking into Heaven", this album rocks and is sure to be one of the heaviest releases of the year. The crushing weight of Iommi's guitar is underpinned by Butler's pounding bass lines and Appice's steady beat. Dio's menacing vocals soar over the riffs in terrifying fashion.

The Devil You Know is an unusual album in the sense that there are no obvious weak tracks. Tony Iommi seems to have thrown off the shackles of recent years and indulges both himself and the album's listeners with some of the heaviest Sabbath guitar riffs heard in many a long year as well as some excellent solos.

Dio's influence is heavy on this album as well. Dio-esque lyrics are present at every turn. No bad thing in my opinion. Pompous and preposterous lyrics they may be at times, but they are ideally suited to the music.

The Devil You Know isn't an album that grabs you by the scruff of the neck first time out. It's too subtle for that. It's what you would call a grower. As it grows, it wraps itself around you and squeezes you into submission.

Stand out tracks so far include the superb single "Bible Black", which starts with a tantalizing acoustic intro and "The Turn Of The Screw". "Eating the Cannibals", a tongue in cheek statement on the fact that we feed animals on the remains of their own kind, is a killer track as well and picks up the pace considerably from the slower, more pounding tracks early on in the track listing.

All in all, a brilliant piece of work from a band (with the exception of Appice, who didn't join the lineup until The Mob Rules) who sound as fresh on this release as they did back on 1980s Heaven and Hell album from which they take their name.

Now, repeat after me "Ozzy who?"

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About Mark Palmer