THE MIGHTY RETURN OF BLACK SABBATH, DONE RIGHT
There are probably more old farts making relevant music than I usually give credit for. For every Ozzy or Metallica, whose later years have been more or less a total fucking disaster (creatively if not financially), there’s a Testament or Napalm Death who are still making music worth listening to after two or even three decades in the biz.
Of course, few of those artists have been at as long as the members of Black Sabbath – now re-christened Heaven & Hell – and even most of the Sabbath peers who can still pull it out live (Priest, Maiden) aren’t really releasing albums that are worth a damn these days. So the fact that The Devil You Know is so freakin’ sweet makes it feel like something of a marvel.
The riffs on this record aren’t just tasty – they’re downright delicious. Is it possible to sound evil and soulful at the same time? This record would suggest that it. Lest we forget, Tony Iommi basically invented heavy metal by accident, and his influences are, at the end of the day, the same blues-based classic rock bands as all of his peers that didn’t go into the metal world. Iommi’s riffs and solos are awesome and truly, truly classic in sound.
Geezer Butler similarly deserves praise. His bass playing here is so good that it really reminds you how little thought so many modern bands put into the use of their bassist. Butler rarely settles for simply doubling whatever Iommi or drummer Vinny Appice are playing; he always puts his own spin on it, his own little tweak.
And Dio… Dio is fucking Dio. I’d be cynical about the chances that he really can sing this well at his age, except I just heard him do it last summer. Amazing.
The record does have some weaknesses, though. Here they are:
- DIO’S LYRICS ARE CORNY. That’s not a great shock, but he really goes past the line of “cool metal corny” and into “stupid Motley Crue corny” in a few places here. Take, for example, the song “Rock N’ Roll Angel.” Can we please have a moratorium on anyone in a rock n’ roll band using the words “rock n’ roll” in their lyrics? You sound ridiculous. Thanks.
- THE SONGS ARE A LITTLE TOO REPETITIVE. When you’re working in a basic riff-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-solo-chorus-out structure, you always run the risk of running out of steam if your song goes too long, and that tends to happen here (with some obvious exceptions). If Heaven & Hell had brought the same jam band sensibility to the songwriting of this album that they’ve brought to their recent live shows – these are four of the coolest friggin’ musicians in the world, for crying out loud – this problem might have been avoided. As it stands, the album kinda starts to run out of steam in its last few songs.
How much these two issues bother you will be a simple matter of personal taste; they don’t really make me feel too down on the album, especially in light of the fact that this record could have been – and probably should have been – a total mess of millionaire rock star egos and reunion cash-in indifference.
This could be the last album by a line-up of Sabbath that anyone really cares about. If it is, everyone can pat themselves on the back that they went out on such a high note.
(four out of five horns)