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Black Sabbath

The Rules of Hell

Review by Rick Damigella

Like the opening of an arcane tome of eldritch and forbidden knowledge, Black Sabbath’s The Rules of Hell have been put forth. After a seeming eternity of a wait, every album from the Ronnie James Dio-era of Black Sabbath have finally been given a proper re-mastering and re-release in this must have box set.  Regrettably relegated to using a different moniker now as they have reformed to record new material, the alliance of Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice formed one of the most powerful sounding line ups ever in the lore of heavy metal. While their original time together was short, the end results of these recordings run the realm of legend.

The box includes Heaven and Hell, The Mob Rules, Live Evil and Dehumanizer, with some editions getting a bonus fifth disc featuring an edited down version of Live at Hammersmith Odeon. Except for the three new songs recorded for last year’s Best of album, every Dio-era recording is here. The re-mastering across all four albums is exquisite. While the original releases were not bad per se, Dan Hersch has brought these recordings into the 21st century masterfully, with discreet space in the sound spectrum for each instrument and voice to stand on its own, whilst preserving the overall sonic assault.

My fellow metal fans, with this review I may commit what some of you will call blasphemy when I say that two of Black Sabbath’s best albums ever are included here. Know that I am a Sabbath fan, with love for the band which extends from Ozzy Osbourne to Tony Martin, but to me, Sabbath’s first two studio albums of the 1980’s are among the best examples of what heavy metal is. Released when the metal genre was truly at its zenith, these recordings hold up better now than even before, from first note to last fade.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1: Heaven and Hell
Neon Knights
Mount your stead and ride forth gallant warriors. And I dare you not to head bang from the get go when you spin this classic song. It is based on one of the best riffs Tony Iommi has committed to tape. No song was probably spun at more teenage D&D gatherings in the 80’s than this one.
Children of the Sea
Only Black Sabbath could pull off a full-bore rocker segueing into an acoustic led piece like this so successfully. The lighter intro turns into a mid-paced pounder with Dio’s epic lyrics meshing perfectly with the core group of Iommi, Butler and original Sabbath drummer Bill Ward.
Lady Evil
Ladies and gentlemen… here is Geezer Butler! The plunk of the four-string sets the groove of this number from the start.

Heaven and Hell
One should not try to put new spin on something legendary. The only thing I can say is the re-mastering of this track is simply stunning. Each instrument’s place in the spectrum is precise, giving an even more epic feel than before.
Wishing Well
Back in the day, I would rarely even listen to side 2 of this album because I would constantly rewind my tape and play through side 1 over and over. Play this one through some good headphones and relish in the separation of the instruments and the mix of them as a whole.

Die Young
The ubiquitous fifth member of Sabbath, keyboardist Geoff Nichols leads off this number with his unique sound. This piece still encapsulates everything about this incarnation of Sabbath. A fast paced rocker, beautiful guitar lines, Dio’s signature lyrics and that overall Black Sabbath sound.

Walk Away
A slightly brighter sound comes from Iommi’s amps at the outset of this mid-tempo rocker. The feel reminds me a bit more of Dio’s band Elf in style, though considerably heavier.
Lonely Is The Word
In 1980, there were albums and cassettes. Eight to nine songs was considered an ideal album length. No bonus tracks. And every track had to be good to make an album legendary. This number caps off the first of Black Sabbath’s legendary 80’s releases. However, vastly better, and louder material was to come.
Disc 2: Mob Rules
Turn Up The Night
This album, my friends, is arguably the best example of the heavy metal genre. Cliché as it sounds, if I was marooned forever on a forsaken island with only one Sabbath album to listen to, this would be it. As with its predecessor, a full tilt metallic assault launches this album. Original drummer Bill Ward had departed and skin pounder Vinny Appice took the throne behind the band, bringing his signature heavy style to the band. Producer Martin Birch is back and perfects what he began with Heaven and Hell, by taking Sabbath’s sound and expanding it even further into an epic scope fitting of the material on this album.
Voodoo
This mid-paced rocker opens with some truly gnarly guitar riffing (I think that may be the first time I have used that word in a review!). The re-mastering throughout this disc brings Geezer Butler back up in the mix better than I remember from the original release, especially evident here.

The Sign of the Southern Cross
I used the word "epic" to describe this album. This is the reason why. Always one of my absolute favorite songs ever by Sabbath, this is required headphone listening to appreciate the full effect. The acoustic guitars and Dio’s gentle singing in the intro belie what awaits you after the first minute and fourteen seconds. Like an evil wind blowing in from the East, the guitar, drums and bass slam you in the face as Dio unleashes his hellish wail. You will be compelled to throw the horns as you listen. Vinny Appice’s drums sound like thunder across the steppes of a forsaken land. Geezer Butler’s arcane string manipulations during the lyrical portions presage the sonic evil awaiting as the song transitions to the next piece.
EV150
The instrumental passage bridging “TSOTSC” and the next number features a deliberately hidden title translating as “Evil.” This is what a soundtrack for a descent into Hell would sound like.
The Mob Rules
Once you have survived your trip through the nine circles, you are assaulted with one of the heaviest riffs ever created by Tony Iommi. Played at neck breaking speed, this is one of Sabbath’s best songs - hands down. If you’ve never seen the classic animated cult film “Heavy Metal,” go get a copy and watch the sequence where this plays to get the visual of what the lyrics are about.
Country Girl
Like this album’s predecessor, I would often play side one of The Mob Rules relentlessly. This one has always reminded me a bit of “Voodoo” with its in the pocket metal groove.
Slipping Away
Similar in feeling to “Walk Away” from Heaven and Hell, this song rocks with a slightly brighter feel, especially in the lyrics and multitracked chorus. Geezer Butler riffs furiously in a short, rare solo section.
Falling Off The Edge of the World
There is always room for another epic rocker. Starting off slow and melodically, with the rare inclusion of violins, the piece shifts slowly. It builds up with a Geoff Nichols key section, followed by the slow and fierce crunch of Sabbath firing on all cylinders, in loud, epic glory. At the two minute mark, the song explodes into its full gallop.
Over and Over
The album closer is a slower number, with similar dark and downer lyrical imagery as the previous number. It was perhaps an unintentional foreshadowing that all was not well in Sabbath-land.

Disc 3: Live Evil
E5150
The first official live album released by the band at the time kicks off with the sonic descent into the netherworld, which loses none of its malevolence in a live setting.
Neon Knights
The segue from the concert opener into this number plays equally as well as it does leading into “The Mob Rules.” Dio rips right into the vocals and Vinny Appice’s heavy drumming style emboldens this fast paced rocker even more so.
N. I. B.
The first of the live numbers where Dio gets into Ozzy’s territory. Frankly, this one feels like it could have been recorded originally by Dio himself, as he assumes the vocals commandingly. The “my name is Lucifer” line is given significantly darker punch under the command of his otherworldly vocals.
Children of the Sea
The re-mastering of this live album is quite excellent throughout, and especially evident here.
Voodoo
Another number from the Heaven and Hell album is given an even punchier performance in the live setting.

Black Sabbath
Going back to their debut album for one of the darkest moments in Sabbath lore, their signature song plays much heavier after a decade plus and under the recharged and thunderous Dio/Appice line-up changes. Again, Dio takes on the role of the evil voiced narrator of doom quite handily.

War Pigs
One of my favorite original Sabbath songs holds up fantastically with Dio on the mic.
Iron Man
Though I have often thought Dio’s affected “I am Iron Man” declaration here seemed a bit on the over the top side, for the rest of the song he is quite solid throughout.

Disc 4: Live Evil
The Mob Rules
One of the fixtures of a live Sabbath show from that era, the song blazes just as ferociously live as on the original album.
Heaven and Hell
Thankfully the re-mastering brings back some of the audience noise lost in earlier editions of this album. This number kicks off the legendary high point of shows on this tour, where the band’s signature number (and future new name) is mixed into a long medley with “The Sign of The Southern Cross” into an expansive concert center piece. Geoff Nichols’ keys have never sounded better than on this edition.
The Sign of The Southern Cross/Heaven and Hell (Continued)
This epic piece gets shortened slightly to make way for the live version lyrics of “Heaven and Hell” which ends with Dio’s exaltation to burn in hell with the audience.

Paranoid
Butler and Iommi fare the best on the re-master on this classic number. Dio delivers powerful vocals, but this being Ozzy’s signature song, it doesn’t play quite as well as the original.
Children of the Grave
But then again, certain early era Sabbath numbers fare much better under the voice of Ronnie James Dio. The pounding march of this song in particular works well. Dio belts forth with uncanny precision and originality in his voicing.
Fluff
The disc closes with a short piece of the instrumental from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. There has been much said about why this incarnation of Black Sabbath came to such a quick end. None of which really needs repeating. Suffice it to say, this would not be the last we would hear from this line up.
Disc 5: Dehumanizer
Computer God
Flash forward a whole decade since their last release together and the second incarnation of Black Sabbath are back together. Three vocalists have come and gone (four if you count the abandoned recordings done by Ray Gillen), along with countless other musicians. Unfortunately, so have the glory days of metal. It is now 1992 and Nirvana’s Nevermind has singlehandedly ushered in a new heavy music era. Which is why, in my opinion, this album got largely overlooked when it was released, and unfairly so as it is quite a good. Granted, it charted to 44 in the US and went platinum in the UK. Presaging the popular rise of the internet and countless millions worshiping at the gentle glow of screens the world over by a good five years, this opening number has become a staple in Heaven and Hell’s live sets over the past year.
After All (The Dead)
Opening with an uncannily dark and eerie riff, this cut harkens back in style to some of Sabbath’s earliest numbers. Dio’s vocals take on an even more ominous quality here. The song shifts into a more middle paced metal throb as it progresses and features an almost sing-a-long quality in the chorus.
TV Crimes
This is similar to the first song on the album in both its dark outlook and overall pacing.
Letters From Earth
One thing a first time listener of this album will note is how much darker and heavier the material is on this album. It’s dark by even Sabbath’s standards. Dio’s lyrics are much less in the realm of fantasy and tread into truly downer territory, even more so than some of the mopier lyrics churned out in the early days grunge.
Master of Insanity
The aforementioned note about doomy and dark music and lyrics is even more prevalent on this next piece, despite the catchy chorus.
Time Machine
This fast paced song harkens back to the quick pace of “Neon Knights” and “The Mob Rules.” In a similar attempt to capture some of the same attention the band received with including a song in a movie soundtrack in 1981, a different version of this number appeared in the movie “Wayne’s World.”
Sins of The Father
One of Iommi’s rarer lighter toned riffs and a different level of tonal production make this number stand out starkly in comparison to the other moodier numbers.

Too Late
The riffs and mood are reminiscent (perhaps on purpose) to “Die Young.” Dio ditches the evil growl that dominates this album for a lighter approach on this one until the number kicks in harder and he goes back to that same doomier sound.
I
One of the best numbers on the album, this one feels like it could have been a left over from the Mob Rules sessions. When they played it live on the Heaven and Hell ’07 tour it felt very much that way. The production is quite a bit better than the rest of the album, almost capturing the Martin Birch sound of the 80’s compared to the slightly sludgier approach in the other songs.
Buried Alive
Iommi’s solo on this one is quite inspired, sitting starkly against the overall bad feelings behind the main riff and lyrics.
Time Machine (Wayne’s World Version)
Here is the aforementioned song from the comedy film’s soundtrack album. Like “The Mob Rules” before it, this is a different version which appeared in the movie than on the original release of the album. More mainstream production values, vocal delivery and more pronounced keys separate this from the rest of the album considerably.
Disc 6: Live at Hammersmith Odeon (edited)
Neon Knights
For those of us who missed out on Rhino Handmade’s limited edition release from last year, five of the performances from the 1981 Hammersmith Odeon show make up the bonus disc for this set. I have included the song descriptions from my original review of that album from Music Street Journal: 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 alter 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.
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.

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.
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.

Country Girl
This rare live 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. Truly a deep cut classic from this line up. End note: If you have read all the way to the bottom of this page, thank you! This was the longest review I have written to date and frankly, even I think it is a bit over the top in terms of length, but that is how we review things at Music Street! As we all know, this incarnation of Sabbath are back on tour and in the studio under the appellation Heaven and Hell. If you have read this far, you are obviously a huge fan, and I think we all can agree that there should be more great things to come from this legendary troupe of metal masters.

 
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