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Black Sabbath

Live at Hammersmith Odeon

Review by Rick Damigella

While the reformed Dio-era Black Sabbath (under the moniker Heaven & Hell) are touring to packed venues across the country right now, Rhino Handmade (the short-run, collector’s edition division of Rhino Records) has just released, and sold out of, Black Sabbath Live at Hammersmith Odeon to a rabid Sabbath following. The limited edition of 5,000 copies sold out on the very same day the disc was released and contains an absolutely amazing live performance of the second-coming of Sabbath. Recorded live at one of England’s premiere concert halls, this previously unreleased performance spotlights the entire band in top form, and shows just how diabolically magical the line up of Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinnie Appice as Black Sabbath were, and still are.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
E5150
The ominous and downright hellish sounds of The Mob Rules side two opening track became the demonic call to the stage for Sabbath on their 1981 tour. This coded word for “evil” would announce the band and segue straight into a barn burner of an opening number. The recording here threw me at first as it sounded downright like a bootleg; thin, recorded from the audience. This was obviously an intentional trick of the producers who quickly mix the levels up to speaker-shredding volume.
Neon Knights
From Dio’s debut fronting Sabbath, this fast-paced pounder would launch Sabbath’s live assault during the ’81 tour and set the tone for the evening’s worship at the dark altar of metal. Where he normally sang this number clean, on this evening, Ronnie James Dio positively snarls and growls the opening lines, giving the song even sharper teeth than normal.
N.I.B.
I don’t want to start an Ozzy/Dio debate here, but there is something amazing about the way RJD puts his own spin on the vocals of Ozzy-era Sabbath songs. This number especially feels like it was written for Ronnie all along. Whether it is the dark subject matter of the nativity in black or just the fact that he is that good a vocalist, Dio’s vocals along with an inspired performance by the band make this number feel like it could have been recorded for Heaven and Hell.
Children of the Sea
The band mellows for a moment during the melodic opening chords of this Dio original. The dramatic balladry of the opening guitar gives way quickly to an amps-set-on-11 mid-tempo metal riff. Vinnie Appice sounds like he will punch through the heads of his drums with each hit. The mix here is fantastic, especially during the guitar solo where the bass of Geezer Butler and the offstage synth colorings of Geoff Nichols shine through instead of being buried in a wall of sound.
Country Girl
This rare gem from The Mob Rules sounds even better live than from the studio. Iommi’s underrated and wicked intro riff is simple yet immediately screams Sabbath. It is truly a deep cut classic from this line up.
Black Sabbath
It had been eleven years since Sabbath first kicked open the gates of the underworld and unleashed this slow, grinding metal classic upon the world. Again, Ronnie James Dio puts his own unique vocal approach against a number which wasn’t his originally to fantastic effect. Whether it is his growl-to-a-scream delivery or his adlibbed devilish laughter, this performance is all together perfect for taking a leisurely drive into the Seventh Circle.
War Pigs
Another early Sabbath classic is given the Dio-live spin, with adlibbed new lyrics over the grinding opening riff. Written during the Vietnam era, this anti-war number doesn’t sound dated in the dawning of the 1980’s when it was recorded (or even now in the opening decade of the 21st Century). Dio’s oooh’s, ahh’s and added lyrics throughout the number further the singer’s credibility of making numbers not originally written for him his own when he takes them to the stage.
Slipping Away
Another number from the Martin Birch produced The Mob Rules, this shortened performance ultimately is a segue between Vinnie Appice’s drum solo and the opening stomp of the next number.
Iron Man
This might be the one performance on the album by Dio of an Ozzy song where he doesn’t turn it into something wholly his own. The adlibs are there, but this number is so purely Ozzy that it would be hard for anyone else to perform it. The performance itself is not bad. Far from it, but this is one of Ozzy’s signature numbers written for his own unique vocal style, making this particular Dio performance the exception to the rule.
The Mob Rules
And that rule is this; if you listen to fools, the mob rules, or in this case, Sabbath rules. Arguably among their fastest and heaviest numbers, the title track of the ’81 album and tour explodes with its signature opening guitar assault and never lets up throughout the performance. Barely given enough time to wipe down the sweat from their brows or take a sip of something offstage, the band embarks on what would be highlight of Dio-era Sabbath live performances with the next medley of songs.
Heaven and Hell
If there is a song by Dio that would be hard/blasphemous for anyone else to perform this is it. This shifting tempo metal classic showcases the entire band at their live best. Iommi’s six-strings are pristine, Appice’s pounding propels it as much as the guitar and Butler’s thud holds it all together. And then there are Dio’s vocals: otherworldly and familiar - Evil and divine - Heaven and hell. This marquee moment in Black Sabbath’s live shows of the era would often involve audience participation, a guitar solo and sometimes even extending the song through another and then revisiting this one with a new lyrical passage involving “a little white shape looking down” and the positively chilling response by Dio embracing a desire to burn in hell with the audience. This over 14 minute long performance is a classic example of the live Sabbath experience.
Paranoid
Shifting immediately into the quintessential Sabbath number, the band plays this already high speed number seemingly even faster than the original arrangement. Though this is the second of the Ozzy-signature numbers, Dio holds his own better here than on Iron Man.
Voodoo
The second song from The Mob Rules album is a welcome addition here and was also featured on Live Evil, the first official Sabbath live album (also documented from the same tour as this release). This a much more modern sounding number in terms of its arrangement, made even more obvious by its set list location between two early Sabbath classics.
Children of the Grave
The ominous guitar/bass/drum march riff that opens this number is instantly recognizable as Black Sabbath even by those unfamiliar with the song itself. Again, Dio’s vocal performance here makes it sound like it was written for him. This truly amazing rendition of a Sabbath classic caps off not only a great release, but goes to show the amazing talents of this group of musicians both at the time and even now as they tour like the intervening quarter of a century never happened.
 
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