Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Devil You Know: A review

Maybe if we cry together
Maybe if we cry as one
The tears that fall can kill
the fire
And keep everyone from
Atom and evil

--Heaven and Hell, Atom and Evil

I am one of those rare breeds who prefers the Ronnie James Dio-fronted Black Sabbath to the Ozzy Osbourne years (I acknowledge Black Sabbath's early greatness, but my favorite album remains Heaven and Hell). So it was with great anticipation of another Dio-Tony Iommi collaboration that I bought The Devil You Know.

After a couple play-throughs, The Devil You Know is what I would consider a slow burn--nothing jumps out at you at first listen, but it seems to get better with each subsequent spin. Still, I can't shake the feeling that, after waiting for 14 or so years since the last Black Sabbath album (1995's Cross Purposes), and 17 years since the last Ronnie James Dio-fronted Sabbath album (1992's Dehumanizer), I wanted something that immediately grabbed me by the throat. Sadly, there's no pulse-pounding Neon Knights to be found.

There is at least one bona-fide awesome song on this album, Bible Black. If you've ever heard Sign of the Southern Cross or Children of the Sea, Bible Black is in that same epic vein--a slow, melodic, acoustic intro, followed by an explosion of sound and Dio lauching into the song with his inimitable voice. My other favorites on the album are shaping up to be Atom and Evil (both a biblical allusion and a warning about unchecked nuclear proliferation), Follow the Tears, and Neverwhere.

The rest of the songs are solid if rather unspectacular, though I hope that changes with subsequent listens. As of now, the only ones that I'd rate as sub-par are Rock and Roll Angel and Eating the Cannibals.

Dio's voice doesn't have quite its old range and power anymore, but at 66 years old he's still pretty damned amazing. And if he's lost a little off his fastball he sounds arguably more evil and "metal" than ever, if that makes sense. The guy is a metal god, as is Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, who pound out some awesome riffs on the album. The sound of the album is dark and bass-heavy, about what you'd expect. Iommi also launches into a couple memorable guitar solos (remember those?)

It's worth noting that the title of album and its artwork are a clever play on words and images--Black Sabbath is of course known for its use of satanic lyrics, but the band itself is the "devil" all metal fans know and love so well. The cover art (see below post) is exceptional, and appears to fuse both traditional Black Sabbath imagery and the Dio Sabbath/solo years. I might be reading into the image too much, but I can't help but feel that the long-horned demon bears more than a passing resemblance to the devil creature on Holy Diver and a handful of Dio's other solo albums.


Falze said...

On seeing the picture I instantly thought it was nothing more than an updating of the figure that appeared on Dio's albums. Sort of like having someone besides Riggs draw and update Eddie.

Not sure yet if this interests me at this point in my musical tastes...

Ian "No Second 'D'!" Davison said...

A great review man. Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks the Dio-fronted Sabbath albums were the best. I agreed whole-heartedly with your review: while the album featured a great deal of the doom stylings of Sabbath, it was sadly lacking in the fist-pumping, stadium-busting category (a similar complaint could also be leveled against AC/DC's Black Ice. Why do my heroes have to get old?)

An interesting note though: I also thought Dio's vocals were a tad underwhelming in this album, but I wonder if it's age at work here. I mean when I saw Heaven and Hell play a while back, he was belting it out almost note-perfect to the previous records. It would be interesting to find out who was the driving influence behind this album: perhaps Iommi was trying to bring the sound closer to the early Sabbath work? But that's just fan speculation...

andy said...

The cover is a modified version of the painting at:

by a guy named Per Haagensen.

Anonymous said...

Ian Gillan's vocals have also declined like Dio's over recent years. It's just age, unfortunately. They can still belt out a tune a helluva lot better than Ozzy EVER could though.

Anonymous said...

By the way, I'm glad you're talking about METAL again, Brian. It's been too long!

Brian Murphy said...

Yes, it has Arcona. My passion for metal has not cooled, just the time I've set aside to write about it. I like your "Metallic Monday" idea, by the way.

Falze said...

OK, so, first listen. "M'eh". That's about it. Maybe it will get better after a few more. Main thoughts:

Why is it ALL so SLOOOOOOW? Yeah, I get it, classic Black Sabbath, slow and sludgy. Fine. Great. Bo-ring. Dio's work with BS was not slow and boring. You don't have to do the same thing over again, but it should still be interesting.

Who mixed this? Too much bass. I like bass. In fact, I love bass. But this is just too much. It seems to override Iommi at times...most of the time actually, except when he plays a solo. It even seems to overwhelm RJD at times. Were there even drums? I didn't notice.

Dio's voice is nearly gone. He's running on fumes at this point. There are a couple of times that you can feel a real soaring vocal moment coming up, classic Dio, you hold your breath and...nothing. It's not that he reaches for notes he can no longer hit, thankfully, he appears to know he can't hit them and he doesn't even try. You can actually hear him holding back, keeping it in 2nd much of the time. The rare times he briefly pops it into 3rd you feel him start to crack and can hear him back off. He never even reaches for 4th, not once on the whole album. That's probably for the best.

The songwriting is a mess. Yuck. These guys can do better than this...can't they?

Iommi is still a master. He's fantastic pretty much the whole time. When you can hear him.

Well, I'll be a good little soldier and give it a few chances and even give it a legitimate chance to win me over.