I’m struggling here, really struggling.
I honestly don’t know Sabbath post 1971. I’ve never gotten around to listening to those records because…well, there’s a lot of music in the world.
And I’ve been happy enough to listen to the first few albums. So I don’t know what happened to Sabbath in the late seventies. Certainly there seems to be a consensus that they sucked.
And I don’t know Dio really. I know the legend of Dio, but I don’t know him. I don’t know Elf, I don’t know Rainbow, I know maybe one song of his from movies – and honestly I don’t know whether it’s solo, Sabbath or something else. And I know of him from Tenacious D.
And so I think I can imagine how Dio fronting Sabbath was refreshing. If the Ozzy Sabbath was really sucking and descending into self-parody, then maybe this was really refreshing – it certainly doesn’t sound like the Sabbath I know, which is a good thing, at least in theory – since, you know, it’d be a rather long time for them to be sounding the exact same.
But I just can’t get my head around Dio, no matter how legendary he is. His lyrics are terrible. I know most metal lyrics are terrible but Dio’s are extra terrible. Geezer Butler certainly stood out as one of the better – if not the best – lyricists within the early genre. And it’s a real shame to me that Dio took over. (Apparently Butler almost quit the band around this time, so that helps explain it, I guess.)
Now, it’s always hard to listen listen many years in the future to a record that established conventions that have become cliches because it’s hard for us moderns to not hear them as cliches. And so I’m sure some people want to tell me that Dio did these terrible, cheesy lyrics – and the whole over-singing thing – first. And for many people I’m sure this record stays on the side of “so cheesy it’s awesome” as opposed to “so cheesy it’s cheesy.” And I would recognize the establishment of these conventions as a legitimate artistic achievement if Dio did indeed invent this kind of “fantasy” metal thing when he joined Sabbath. The problem is that even without knowing Elf and Rainbow, and without knowing what he sang about in those bands, this whole thing has indeed been done before.
Dio’s lyrics feel like the logical conclusion of Robert Plant’s viking obsession and the Tolkienisation of metal lyrics that happened in some areas of early metal. Worse, Dio makes this version of Sabbath sound like the New Wave of British Heavy Metal version of Uriah Heap. I don’t mean that as a complement.
And Dio’s voice sometimes sounds like a poor man’s Ian Gillan. “Lady Evil” in particular sounds like a NWBHM tribute to Purple – minus the Jon Lord part.
But despite my great dislike of this Dio-led Sabbath, the whole rest of the band still is (mostly) awesome. Iommi sounds like a completely different guitar player, which is to his credit. Butler and Ward also sound different. The whole band sounds as if they’ve taken the whole Priest/Motorhead revolution and fully integrated it into the Sabbath sound, virtually destroying the classic Sabbath sound. And I think that’s a good thing. It’s artistic growth! So hence my mixed review.
(I may not like Dio, but this is probably still a lot better than whatever the hell Heap was doing in 1980, if they were even still together.)