DB HOF NO. 43
The making of Black Sabbath’s “Heaven and Hell”
released: April 25, 1980
label: Warner Bros.
As far as Hall of Fame inductees go, the making of Black Sabbath’s ninth album, their first with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio, easily ranks as one of the most drama-filled. Though the title Heaven and Hell was lifted from one of the record’s more epic songs, it also accurately sums up the highs and lows the band experienced while making it.
The original Sabbath foursome—vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Terry “Geezer” Butler, drummer Bill Ward and guitarist Tony Iommi—nearly snuffed the band’s already diminishing career in the fall of 1978 with the horrendous, and ironically titled, Never Say Die album. Osbourne, who had already left the band once prior to recording Never Say Die, was in bad shape and when it came time to do a follow-up in 1979, he simply wasn’t up to the task. The band, living together in a house in Bel Air, CA, reluctantly fired their longtime friend and hired Dio.
In retrospect, Dio’s hiring seems like a stroke of genius—his melodic, powerful voice and mystical lyrics were a perfect match for Iommi’s crushing riffs. Yet, at the time, the change in frontman would also help further splinter the remaining original trio as they struggled to come to terms with continuing Black Sabbath without Ozzy. One member would leave shortly after Dio was hired and another was so incapacitated by drugs and alcohol he has no memory of recording the album.
Once Heaven and Hell dropped in the spring of 1980, however, the “new” Black Sabbath—more melodic, more dynamic, yet still decidedly heavy—was embraced by a younger generation of metal fans who had little knowledge of the band’s Ozzy-led past. The plodding dinosaur Sabbath had become in the late ’70s was reinvented as a modern metallic juggernaut on Dio’s Sabbath debut, still one of the most beloved and influential albums in their entire catalog. Though he went on to record two other studio and one live album with the band (Mob Rules, Dehumanizer and Live Evil, respectively, which, along with Heaven and Hell, have been re-mastered for The Rules of Hell box set on Rhino), Dio’s first effort, sparkling with a newfound chemistry and creativity, is clearly that incarnation of Sabbath’s finest.
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