Judge Bill Gibron "dug" this thrilling testament to the talent of Ronnie James Dio.
If you listen to fools…the MOB RULES!
Heaven and Hell is actually Black Sabbath Mach 2.0. Come to think of it, that's not fair. The seminal super group, consisting of the late, uber-great Ronnie James Dio (vocals), Tony Iommi (guitars), Geezer Butler (bass), and Vinnie Appice (drums) is actually the second mock up of the post-Ozzy era. The first featured original Sabbath drummer Bill Ward, but when his life started to spiral out of control, he was replaced as well. Like horror movies, there are fans who prefer the classic '70s incarnation of the foundational heavy metal quartet (you know, the version that came up with "War Pigs," "Paranoid," and "Iron Man") and many who love what Dio added to the outfit. As part of a promotional package deal highlighting a greatest hits box set for this particular permutation of the group, Dio, Butler, Iommi, and Cappice got together and recorded three new songs. Inspired by the reunion, they decided to tour. Instead of using the name "Black Sabbath" (Iommi and Butler were still working and playing with Ozzy and Ward at the time), they decided to reference the name of their first album together. Thus Heaven and Hell was (re)born.
This concert, captured in 2007 as the band was playing Radio City Musical Hall, is a revelation…for many reasons. First, it's fantastic to see Dio alive and in amazing voice. Always one of the most spellbinding singers in all of metal, he makes this presentation. Sure, Iommi is still a seasoned axeman and no one can thump a bass like Butler, but it's the spry, spirited sonic salesmanship of that amazing Italian icon that really works here. Since this is not a Sabbath revamp, so to speak, there are no bows to the official Ozzy era. Instead, the band works through their LPs together—Heaven and Hell (1980), Mob Rules (1981), and Dehumanizer (1992)—and only misses a few songs from each along the way. In fact, it's easier to discuss the material they leave out than all the tunes kept in. From Heaven, the tracks "Wishing Well" and "Walk Away" are absent. From Mob, "Turn Up the Night," "Country Girl," "Slipping Away," and "Over and Over" are MIA. Granted, much of Dehumanizer is not present, but the songs included ("Computer God," "I," and "After All (The Dead)") and the newer inclusions ("Shadow on the Wind" and "The Devil Cried") make for a stellar set list.
The first thing you notice about this version of Black Sabbath as Heaven and Hell is how absolutely and undeniably heavy and dark the music is. Songs thump and chug away like ancient titans going to battle with riffs that ricochet off your bones and bury themselves in your marrow. This is not an upbeat "rock" experience as much as a surreal combination of prog and slog. In the bonus features included on this Blu-ray set (mostly interviews and behind the scenes stuff), Iommi discusses his love for this incarnation of the band. It allows him to be the guitar virtuoso he truly is, and not the nostalgia act the other version of Black Sabbath always demands. Indeed, one of the best things about the Heaven and Hell show at Radio City is that it gives those who don't know Dio's involvement a chance to relish how really, really good he is. Sure, there is flamboyance in his performance and a tad too much of the "Devil Horns" hand sign, but with the rest of the band merely standing still and making music, someone has to play the role of pied piper. This amazing man (who died far too young) is indeed a skilled and substantial central focus.
As for the technical specifications, the concert itself looks terrific. The MPEG-4 AVC transfer (in 1080i vs. 1080p) offers a "live" look, meaning no post-production tweaking taints the 1.78:1 image. We feel we are part of the audience and can see intricate details that otherwise would go missing. This includes the finger prosthetics that Iommi uses, Appice's mechanical marvel of a drum kit, and Dio's dainty hairline. As for the sonic situation here, it's equally impressive. Eagle Rock gives the listener three choices—DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM 2.0—and all are pretty impressive. The high definition mix is the cleanest and most "concert-like." The other offerings are good, but less expansive. As for the added content, we get rehearsal footage, fan interviews, a look at Radio City, and a tribute to Dio himself. Overall, it's a nice high end format presentation.
It's a shame that Heaven and Hell couldn't continue to prosper under its newfound arrangement. While clearly connected to the music they made in the past, this modified Sabbath could have continued on into the new millennium making amazing music. Sadly, life had other plans, but at least we have this excellent record of what we are missing. It's a truly amazing testament.
Not Guilty; 2+ hours of heavy metal godliness.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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