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Music Review: Heaven & Hell – Neon Knights: Live At Wacken

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When Heaven & Hell got back together to record three new songs for the 2006 compilation album, Black Sabbath: The Dio Years, it seemed that we were in for a final flourish of heavy metal glory from the old campaigners. When they decided to stick together for a tour, it was a monumental moment, and on said reunion tour grown men were spotted crying at the majesty that was being unfurled before them.

Rather than a one-off flourish they stayed together to record a reunion studio album, The Devil You Know which, if not great, was certainly good enough to be filed alongside their all-too-brief musical history from Heaven and Hell through Mob Rules and even the later Dehumaniser.

It’s inevitable that this final release is overshadowed by the death of Ronnie James Dio from cancer earlier this year, but at least we have a farewell performance from the man, recorded in 2009 at the Wacken Festival in Germany, shortly before he was diagnosed with cancer. That alone makes it hard to be objective, especially as there are a few strained vocal lines here and there, most notably on “Time Machine”. which is not something you associate vocalist supreme Dio with, but hindsight does make those few moments all the more poignant.

However, in general, this is a fairly worthy addition to the catalogue of Heaven & Hell / Black Sabbath, call them what you will, with riffmeister Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice in impeccable form, augmented by Scott Warren from Dio’s solo band on keyboards. Having said that, I’d be hard pushed to recommend this above Heaven & Hell: Live from Radio City Music Hall, the double CD and DVD that came out back in 2007. If it weren’t for the inclusion of a couple of tunes from their reunion studio album The Devil You Know in the shape of “Bible Black” and “Fear”, along with the under-appreciated “Time Machine” from the Dehumaniser album, then I doubt I would have bothered.

But I’m glad I did as the band thunder through stone-cold classics like “Mob Rules”, “Children Of The Sea” and “Falling Off The Edge Of The World”, before heading off into a blistering “Die Young” and a seventeen-minute version of “Heaven And Hell”. Things do sag a bit in the middle when they play the new songs, but by the time they bring things to a close with am immense take on “Neon Knights”, you’re left in no doubt that you were in the presence of heavy metal greatness.

This concert has also been released as a DVD, with two tracks not on the audio (the prerecorded intro bit, “E5150″ and the rarely performed “Country Girl”), alongside some bonus interviews featuring all four band members looking back over the 30 years since Heaven and Hell the album. Additionally, there are newly recorded personal tributes from Tony Iommi, Vinnie Appice and Geezer Butler in memory of their friend and colleague, the late, great, Ronnie James Dio.

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About Stuart A Hamilton