Album Review :: Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of its original release, Ronnie James Dio’s Black Sabbath debut gets the deluxe and double disk treatment.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath - Heaven and Hell © Universal Music

With the 30th anniversary of its release having just passed, Black Sabbath’s seminal 1980 album Heaven and Hell is treated to a deluxe edition revamp from good folks at Universal Music. The album, the first since the unceremonious firing of charismatic front man Ozzy Osbourne, the Birmingham metal gods produce a stand up early 80s metal masterpiece despite the numerous trials and tribulations each of the members were suffering through at the time.

Replacing a front man is never an easy task for anybody to achieve. It is even more difficult when the man you are replacing is Ozzy Osbourne, the self styled Prince of Darkness and general, all round hell raiser extraordinaire. This was the task that befell seminal second division screamer Ronnie James Dio as he was approached in 1979 to replace Osbourne, the departure the result of his growing unreliability mainly put down to his excessive substance and alcohol abuse, a mighty task considering the band as a whole were no angels in that field anyway. Combined with remaining original members Tony Iommi on guitars, Geezer Butler on bass, Bill Ward on drums and the inclusion of Geoff Nichols on keyboards, Black Sabbath entered the 1980s seeking some retribution and a fresh start from their rather stagnant act that had plagued them for much of the 1970s, their initial success having worn off a long time previous.

Heaven and Hell is very much a heavy metal album, not surprising coming form one of the genres biggest and best pioneers. Debuting in 1980 it should be noted that of the three bands who sought the heavy metal sound that is known now, the others being Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Sabbath always considered themselves the hardest and, arguably, darkest, certainly from a lyrical point of view. Songs like “Lady Evil” and “Neon Knights” are classic sounding Sabbath numbers, Iommi’s dark and heavy riffing combined with the distinctly different approach to singing provided by Dio make the whole album gel together nicely, percussion is on course as ever from Sabbath, Butler’s blistering bass not letting up at all and the thrashing of Ward’s drumming providing the spine on which the whole outfit projects from. Ward in 1980 was arguably one of the best rock and metal drummers in the world, a feat he is not often considered for due to what can only be described as his extra curricular activities off, and sometimes on, stage.

The true beauty of Heaven and Hell lies in the band’s ability in versatility. As a genre, heavy metal especially in its infancy is not often citied for such things as dynamic versatility but Sabbath are more than capable of breaking tradition. At the dawn of the decade the so called New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) was introducing bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, bands who took heavy metal in a much more epic direction, big, arena sized songs and huge scoped lyrics that spoke of legends and myths and creatures of the night. No longer would metal be reserved to the dank and rather small, graveyard sized topics, fans wanted their metal large and they were happily fed it. It is therefore pleasant to hear songs like “Wishing Well” and “Children of the Sea”, songs that hold a much more grandous sense of scale, the latter being inspiration for Iron Maiden’s “Children of the Damned” from 1982s Number of the Beast.

Included in the deluxe re-issue of Heaven and Hell is a bonus disk featuring live editions of the more popular songs from the album. Spanning across different performances, all from 1980, it should be important to note that out of the seven additional tracks, two of which are “Heaven and Hell”, another two tracks are “Children of the Sea” making the thought that although this deluxe edition of the album is not quite as full as previously thought. Although the production has been stepped up, cleaning the songs which are now three decades old, the fact that Sabbath are pumping this and the rest of the Dio years albums seems to be a rather callous money making scheme from Dio who is and has been reportedly dying for the past decade it would seem. None the less, Heaven and Hell is a worthy album of metal standing that should be enjoyed by fans.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The album is on general release in all major record shops and check out the band’s official website:

One Response to “Album Review :: Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell”

  1. Wizzo says:

    bit of bad timing that penultimate sentence, really.

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