Here it is, the unholy quartet back in all its glorious ugliness with the name it should have had all along. Heaven & Hell are comprised of guitarist Tony Iommi, fuzz and buzz bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Vinny Appice, and vocalist Ronnie James Dio. The former pair were founding members of doom metal lords Black Sabbath, of course. Dio is best known as the lead singer of Elf, and then Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, and Vinny Appice was Rick Derringer's drummer before joining these three lads in a new version of Sabbath after Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward left. This quartet issued a total of three recordings together, Heaven & Hell (1980), Mob Rules (1981), and Dehumanizer (1992). In between 1982 and 1993, Dio and Appice left to form the Ronnie James Dio Band, and Iommi kept the Sabbath moniker going long after he should have -- sometimes with Butler, sometimes not. In any case, this reunion gig, recorded in front of a packed house at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 2007, is a monstrously loud and proud display of 1970s hard rock and old-school heavy metal. The material comes from the three aforementioned albums, with a pair of new tracks, "The Devil Cried" and "Shadow of the Wind." Most of the material comes from the controversial Heaven & Hell disc, but there are ample contributions form Mob Rules and a track from Dehumanizer.
The verdict? Changing the name was a great thing. Even though some of this material is over 25 years old, it works phenomenally well in the context of this band. The pairing of Butler and Iommi is utterly captivating -- always has been, probably always will be. The noise they make together is wonderfully musical, and at times just devastatingly heavy. Butler's trademark bass throb, all fuzzy and dark, is the perfect foil for the riff-laden, slow to midtempo rock riffing of Iommi. No matter what you say about Ronnie James Dio, the man is one of rock & roll's great frontmen. He may not be Bruce Dickinson, but he's far more versatile and has been around a hell of a lot longer. He can project in his limited range and wail on top of that boisterous trio. Appice is a consummate big rock drummer, basic and powerful when the need arises, but he's taken a few nods from John Bonham and Keith Moon as well; his fills are colorful and dynamic, and project the tunes forward underscoring every big riff, chorus, and post-line wail from Dio. So they run the course of their recordings together and it's wildly obvious from the end of "E5150/After All (The Dead)" that these old guys are having a good time. They play like they mean it, they understand after all this time what a rock show is supposed to be (not what it is any longer), and they give it to the faithful in overdrive. There is crisp fresh energy here and the execution is nearly flawless.
Iommi's wah-wah guitar solo in "Lady Evil" is just plain nasty. "The Devil Cried," one of the new cuts, is among the best in the bunch (at east the first seven of its nearly 12-minute length -- there is a nearly three-minute loooooooong drum solo until nearly the end). Beginning with a growling open-chord guitar riff and a sub-basement bass pummel, it gets the crowd into fist-pumping mode and, if the tape is accurate, keeps them there -- yes, even through the drum solo. Thankfully, this bone and metal-crunching cut turned rock-excess orgy is at the end of the first disc, and it can be halted right as the solo begins (or before you can't stand it any longer, whichever comes first). Disc two is very much like disc one except that "Computer God," a noise-ridden track with lots of feedback that opens it, should have been left off -- just begin at cut two: "Falling Off the Edge of the World." There are no familiar Black Sabbath covers as encores, nothing but pure godless rawk power and orgiastic volume excess that somehow don't seem as menacing as they do rousing, as the freewheeling closer, "Neon Knights," finally fades. Had this band issued this kind of attack in the studio and named itself Heaven & Hell from the beginning, things might have turned out differently for the group in the 1980s. But it's live and learn; the show was reviewed glowingly, and the release of this set marked the beginning of at least a world tour in the summer of 2007. Heaven & Hell are not a guilty pleasure; the band is a riot of the greatest aspects of stadium rock power and glory.