Oh, they say that it's over
RONNIE JAMES DIO BARKS AT THE UNIVERSE, a darkness ensconced within the old Memorial Coliseum. It’s April 22, 1982, the evening after Black Sabbath’s only other Oregon date that year — at Central Point’s Jackson County Expo, of all places; they've leapt into double the capacity overnight.
The quartet’s (well, five-piece, counting keyboardist Geoff Nicholls, a then-fresh recruit who survived numerous iterations into the 2000s) touring Mob Rules, issued the previous November. Dio hails the Rose City between a scalding romp across “N.I.B.,” from their titular Ozzy Osbourne-fronted 1970 bow — more muscular now with rumbling crunch, the clarity of Geezer Butler’s bass throb confident — and the newer “Children of the Sea,” perfectly tailored for Dio’s pipes: sumptuous, pounding, a seamless carom through light and dark.
For us Pacific Northwesterners, this is the culmination of the Dio dynasty, when Black Sabbath entered the ’80s on two LPs that equaled its predecessor’s pioneering output while marking a ferocity at pace with the changing decade. But it lasted only two years. The momentum ceased four months after Portland. One final album came from that tour in time for Christmas: Live Evil, a sprawling, quadruple-sided goodbye. (It threaded fragments from Seattle, Dallas, and San Antonio into a complete document.)
"HEAVEN AND HELL" (1980)
"MOB RULES" (1981)
(Deluxe Editions; 2 CDs, 2 LPs)
Rhino Entertainment Company/Warner Bros.
RELEASE DATE: March 5, 2021
B Y C O R Y F R Y E
From there, the band weathered further revolving-door lineups until 2013 with Ozzy back in charge, a full circle comprised by a million half-circles — including two additional reprises with Dio, in the early ’90s (1992’s Dehumanizer, a worthy canon-feeder born prematurely in the cutout bin) and a momentary postmillennial stint as Heaven & Hell (two words: "Bible Black").
Rhino revisits this pivotal juncture, Sabbath 2.0 to 2.5, with reissues of albums most fans own in multiple forms already (the others are hit-and-miss beyond this point, unless you’re a completist like me; anyone wanna sell me a Headless Cross?): Heaven and Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981). The remastered slabs sound terrific, of course — a moment of silence for OG knob-twister Martin Birch — but the bonus live material renders both essential. In an inspired maneuver, one concert begins on Heaven and Hell and concludes on its follow-up, where the Portland show lives in its entirety. Both reissues capture the power of the band’s studio and stage rebirths, deftly eclipsing Live Evil as the era’s definitive representation.
Black Sabbath wheezed to the end of the ’70s. Its once-sinewy assault, fueled by feral protometal sludge, had morphed into a wayward largesse of addictions and misdirection, its twin sayonaras to its birth decade, Technical Ecstasy (1976) and Never Say Die! (1978), crying for euthanasia. When recklessly misbehaving (and creatively wasted) frontman Ozzy Osbourne tumbled into exile at his bandmates’ behest in April 1979, it appeared — publicly, at least — that the flame had expired. Sabs was finished.
But with a fresh decade came a fresh perspective in the person of ex-Rainbow belter Ronnie James Dio, who had closed the ’70s on that band’s Long Live Rock ’n’ Roll (1978), which, in contrast to Sabbath’s anodyne sputter, would come to be regarded as Rainbow’s best album in a never-ending discography.
Honestly. Was anyone expecting the greatness of Heaven and Hell? Its opening side rivals anything Sabbath produced in its heyday, one raucous achievement chasing the next. “Neon Knights” fully recharges a once-dead battery, stampeding on Tony Iommi’s plundering riffs and Dio’s cry raging from a distant apocalypse: “Oh, no / here it comes again” — and that it does, at a shit-hot velocity missing two years earlier. “Children of the Sea” unveils a multilayered magnificence the original band couldn’t match. “Lady Evil” squalls in flames. Side Two doesn’t quite equal that promise, but what made the cut is mostly beyond adequate: Iommi’s solo ignites the otherwise standard “Wishing Well,” and “Lonely Is the Word” still sounds fantastic, all chawing riffage and stalking vocals, abetted by a repeated dreamy Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven” lift on synthesizer.
But the title track — Jesus, what a gift, an elastic masterpiece pulled to astounding lengths in concert, granting Iommi jam-space to test his beast’s howl against Butler’s steady pulse and drummer Bill Ward’s sturdy plod. Over the two records, we witness its onstage evolution; it never sounds long enough — not even the 14-minute 1981 Hammersmith Odeon take that wraps our bulked-up Heaven and Hell. By this point, the band’s developed an audience call-and-response that extends it even further. (Portland’s Mob Rules version opens with the interaction, getting it out of the way.)
Mob Rules sees the departure of Bill Ward for the younger Vinny Appice, late of Rick Derringer and Axis. Despite the personnel swap and an altered group dynamic (Dio directed most of the lyrics), the album mirrored its predecessor's approach, launching on the explosive "Turn on the Night" and frontloading the first side with ringers, wrapping on the title track. "Voodoo" and "The Sign of the Southern Cross" became live staples, the latter a gorgeous warship on calm seas hitting a violent storm. "E5150," or "EVIL" in Roman numerals, and "The Mob Rules" were already familiar to audiences thanks to that summer's Heavy Metal, an animated feature based on the adult fantasy title. Here they work in congruity: "E5150's" electro-panic serves as paranoid, effects-heavy interlude between "Cross" and the title cut, which bursts in suddenly on a riff for the century. (The film version of the latter appears as a bonus track, paired with a 2019 remix that taps in on an Appice countoff.)
Highlights of the album's back end include another slow-burner, "Faling Off the Edge of the World," ascending to melodic majesty as its protagonist succumbs to a madness plumbed in its grinding companion, "Over and Over." The twisted ballad concludes with Dio moaning "over and over" into the fade. The mob may rule if one listens to fools, but man stands alone in the end.
The Hammersmith Odeon run ends on the expanded Mob Rules, allowing Portland to blossom uninterrupted, from "E5150" to "Children of the Grave" on breathless well-earned goodnights.The band tours its full catalog; Dio sounds just at home in "Black Sabbath," "War Pigs," and "Iron Man" as he does pummeling "Voodoo" toward the gods. In familiar demonstrations of early-decade excess, Appice and Iommi enjoy solo indulgences, the guitarist then settling into a straightforward "Southern Cross" and a pumped-up "Paranoid"; it's the sole wrong note vocally, an Ozzy vehicle through and through. Otherwise, Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules revived Black Sabbath's flagging fortunes, an explosive second chapter that kept the band alive. Its time proved short but important as the multi-tendriled legend went on and on and on.