This story takes us back exactly 30 years ago. Black Sabbath have finished their tour for ”Never Say Die” and the situation inside the band is full of tension. Drugs, alcohol, lack of communication and many more set the stage of Ozzy Osbourne’s departure. Tony Iommi had to come to this decision, as Ozzy had lost the fire inside of him.
Rehearsals were becoming more and more rare, the group was on a point where no songs were written for the next album, no ideas were coming across. Everything was left unfinished. So it was about time that some changes had to take place. Ozzy’s wife today, Sharon Osbourne, came to the decision that the most suitable singer for the band was Rainbow’s former singer, Ronnie James Dio.
Having a completely different style comparing to Ozzy, Dio marked the beginning of a big change in Black Sabbath. His voice, his presence on the scene, turned the band into something completely new, a rebirth was made inside the group. The style of song-writing became more song-oriented, it was Dio’s undoubted ability to sing everything that made this happen. Some problems though, still existed, as Geezer Butler left the band for a while, replaced by Geoff Nichols, only to return four months later, so Nichols was moved into keyboards.
It’s Heaven and Hell…
On April 25 of 1980, one of the best recordings of all times was released and some pages in the book of history were written differently since then. ”Heaven and Hell” is still today, 29 years after its release a fresh and powerful album, to many people the best album of what they consider, the best band to have ever existed. So, it is easy to understand its importance. With songs like ”Neon Knights”, which set the stage of what later became power metal, the emotional ”Children of the Sea”, which was the first song the new line-up wrote together, the powerful ”Die Young” and of course, the title track. Easily one of the best songs in music’s history, with the memorable bass line in the beginning, the great lyrics and Dio’s comfortable and convincing voice making everything easier. And better of course. The album sold a million copies in the United States, it was highly acclaimed by fans, the best charting album since ”Sabotage”. The tour began on April, in Germany.
Later, they toured the States with Blue Oyster Cult, on a tour named ”Black & Blue”. This tour was a big success, as the band did a lot of sold out shows and feedback was really awesome. Unfortunately, on August of the same year, Bill Ward had to leave the band. He felt even worse each day that was passing, and that reflected on his drumming also. Ozzy’s absence was a critical hit for his close friend, who just couldn’t bear this any longer. Alcohol didn’t make things easier in all these. So, the rest, without informing him, found Vinny Appice and saved the tour. ”It hurt a lot” said Bill Ward. But things just didn’t seem to leave any other choice.
If you listen to fools… The Mob Rules!
In February of 1981, the tour for ”Heaven and Hell” was over. There had to be preparation for the next album with the new line-up of Dio, Iommi, Butler and Appice. Eight months later, in October of 1981, ”The Mob Rules” was ready to be released. It eventually gained great reviews, though in the beginning things weren’t that good, as it was compared to its predecessor. But since time heals almost everything, the album hit top 20 in UK charts and was certified gold. Tracks like opener ”Turn Up the Night”, the epic ”Sign of the Southern Cross”, the godly ”Falling off the Edge of the World” and of course, the recognizable title track, were enough to prove the band’s worth once again.
Then the band decided to record a live album that would have been as they really wanted it. Another album called ”Live at Last” was released without the permission of the band, so things had to take the right turn and be original Black Sabbath performing live. Then it was when the problems started and we had the first split-up. Iommi and Butler accused Dio of sneaking in the studio at nights, raising the volumes of his voice and Appice’s drumming. On the other side, Dio was dissatisfied with the original artwork, and the engineer they had. He would always tell the engineer to do things as he wanted, since he believed that on vocal issues, none could do it better than Dio himself.
Then it was when it was over. Dio started his own career, taking Vinny Appice with him. On the other hand, only two members were left of the first Black Sabbath line-up. For the history, ”Live Evil”, as it was entitled, was underrated. What made things even worse, was that Ozzy Osbourne had released a live album, full of Sabbath songs, entitled ”Speak of the Devil”. But that was not the end of the story…
The Second Coming
In 1990, while Dio was touring for his album ”Lock Up the Wolves”, joined in stage with Geezer Butler (who was not a current member of Black Sabbath then) and after this, they both expressed interest in rejoining the band. It was Geezer who took the hard work of convincing Iommi, who broke the line-up of Tony Martin on vocals and Neil Murray on drums. Cozy Powell remained on drums, but fate had other plans for him. His horse died on November and fell on his leg, so he suffered a broken hip. He couldn’t do any work for the album at all, so the band rejoined with Viny Appice, and the line-up of ”The Mob Rules” was back again. In the writing process, the tension between Dio and Iommi was large. Many songs were written again from the beginning and the album took really long to be completed. It cost a million dollars (!!!!!!) and it was finally completed in June 22 of 1992, called ”Dehumanizer”. It was welcomed with mixed critics, but was the best selling and accepted album for the band for over a decade.
Then the band did some touring in the States but it was Ozzy Osbourne who brought the strike once again. Having announced his retirement, he asked the band to play as a support group in the last two appearances in the No More Tours package, in Costa Mesa, California.
Dio never accepted that, as his pride couldn’t bear it, and he also had the feeling of a reunion of the old line-up. The result was to quit and it was Rob Halford who saved the band at the last moment, for these two shows. Iommi later said: “I do regret this a lot of times. We were at a good point and i didn’t want to split the other line up. But i did it because i wanted to see if the old feeling could come back”. Obviously he was wrong. But for how long?
Act 3: Same members, different name!
People often say that there is no fire without a spark. How true this sounds really… Rhino Records decided to release a compilation of old Black Sabbath songs with Dio on vocals, called ”The Dio Years”. This had as a result, the four members of the four releases mentioned above, to reunite and write three new songs, to make this compilation even better. Very pleased with the result, and seeing the fire still burn after 15 years, they decided to reunite the ”Heaven and Hell” line-up. Soon this idea fell apart, as Bill Ward couldn’t make it, so Vinny Appice took his place once again behind the drums. After extensive touring, highly acclaimed by fans and journalists, the decision of a new album’s release was made a lot easier.
The old members, craving to do something new since the reunion with Ozzy, tired also from his lack of will for such a release, found in the face of Dio the driving force to get out on the road again. ”The Devil You Know”, as it is the new album’s title, will always remain in history for bringing four great personalities together after so much years. Maybe as happened in the past, it will take some more time for fans and critics to accept it as it deserves. Still, it changes history in the most convincing way. The four-piece seems in the best shape they could be, performing with dignity, respect to the fans and to themselves also. Having been twice in a Heaven and Hell show, i can assure you that they feel what they do. Appice raises his drum set as high as he can, but still he remains a steady and straight to the point drummer. Butler seems to have forgotten himself back in the 70’s. He still plays like a child full of energy and many times seems as the driving force behind all this.
Iommi always standing on the right place of the stage, remains always quiet, concentrating on some of the riffs that changed and rewrote history. As far as Dio is concerned… He is 67 years old! Well, he doesn’t even look 27, not to me but to all the people. His voice not only remains but he can always leave you stunned. A real landmark himself! This is the current basic elements that drive this great force. Let’s just hope that there won’t be any disagreements or other attempts to reunite with Ozzy, as this time, something seems to get moving better than in the old days. Whatever happens… Gentlemen, thanks for everything you have offered us!
Aggelos “Redneck” Katsouras.