It's almost a blessing that, for legal reasons, this four-piece can't call itself Black Sabbath. It only serves to hammer home the point that with Ronnie James Dio up front and Vinny Appice in back, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler express a very different side of their musical personalities than they ever did with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals and Bill Ward on drums. Where the original lineup was an ultra-heavy blues band, with a rhythm section that never failed to swing (OK, they failed a little bit on "Sweet Leaf"), when Dio came on board in 1980 the group was reinvented as a heavy metal juggernaut. While Iommi's riffs remained crushingly heavy, the rhythms got faster on songs like "Neon Knights," "Turn Up the Night," and "Mob Rules," and the lyrics abandoned the earthly concerns of "Paranoid" and "Hand of Doom" for Dio's abstract symbolism and myth-making. These differences became more stark with each album (Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, and 1992's reunion disc Dehumanizer), and now, The Devil You Know confirms once and for all this lineup's unique take on the genre it helped invent.
This is a heavier album than any of its three predecessors; whether it's due to the bandmembers' advancing age or the influence of anxieties felt throughout the world outside the studio, it's the closest in spirit to the first two Black Sabbath albums, themselves forged in the psychic darkness that was the tail end of the 1960s. It's not until "Eating the Cannibals," track seven of ten, that the band revs into high gear the way it did on "Neon Knights" and "Turn Up the Night" 20-plus years ago. The songs that begin the album, and make up the bulk of its running time, are like slow-motion avalanches, Iommi's riffs and Appice's drumming punishing the listener like medieval monks scourging unbelievers. Dio's lyrics, too, seem to embody an almost Old Testament world-view, positing a universe of darkness, fire, and despair. His voice is as powerful as ever, but he's no longer offering self-esteem lessons the way he once did; he seems consumed by fear and doubt. This gives The Devil You Know a feeling of genuine doom that leaves little opportunity for the catharsis provided by classic heavy metal. While the Osbourne-fronted and Dio-fronted versions of Black Sabbath are, again, very different bands, this is an album that matches its moment every bit as perfectly as Paranoid did back in 1970.