“Miss this and you officially fail at metal” reckons Metal Hammer’s Malcome Dome, and he’s right! Music journalists, like everyone else, are capable of messing up. With a huge array of records to review and limited time to actually do this in, they are often prone to reject a record because it is a slow burner or over-hype something that gives up all its charms at once only to be revealed as a hollow experience on repeated listens. Heaven and Hell’s latest opus is not a victim of hype. Having been badly mauled over their last record – Dehumanizer – Black Sabbath’s instrumentalists have reconvened with Ronnie James Dio to create a record of simply awesome power.
Roaring out of the gate with the magnificently doomy ‘Atom and Evil’ it’s clear that age and experience has done nothing to dampen the infernal fire that burns within the four musicians. Dio’s voice is on top form as he chews his way through lyrics that deal with the weighty subjects of death, cannibalism and biblical imagery and he is matched every step of the way by Iommi’s towering riffs and incandescent soloing. ‘Bible Black’ is a case in point, a heavy-as-hell stomp through rock’s dark side followed by the gloomy, yet sublimely catchy ‘double the pain’ and ‘Rock and roll angel’ (a personal favourite). Choosing a highlight on this record really is tough because the quality is sustained throughout and the album’s ten songs pass in what seems like a heart beat. The musicianship is first-class and any fears that these ageing statesmen of rock could still ‘cut it’ are instantly allayed.
If this should turn out to be the final statement from a band that has steadfastly refused to die, despite myriad incarnations, controversial records and reality-TV-show singers, then what a statement it is. This is a modern metal classic fit to stand head-to-head with any of the bands that have crawled up in Sabbath’s wake (no matter how worthy they may be) and is surely a candidate for one of the album’s of the year. A metal master-class.