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The Devil You Know

Roadrunner (2009)
Rating: 8/10

Heaven & Hell are sure holding what cards they have left very tightly. After the miserable commercial failure of the 1992 Dehumanizer album, this Black Sabbath line-up’s first reunion, I really thought we had seen the last of the band. After a surprisingly popular run of shows, it seems the world was ready for a new Dio-era Black Sabbath record. While I appreciate the fact that they did not call this Black Sabbath, fans can expect very small doses of the mighty Sabbath here. For all intents and purposes this is a Dio album with a more famous backing band than usual.

The Devil You Know opens with the downward spiraling guitars of Tony Iommi and the thundering rhythms of Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice, resurrecting the spirit of Black Sabbath in their heyday. The track, entitled ‘Atom And Evil’, soars as Ronnie James Dio’s voice takes it to dark and evil sounding places. Dio’s in great form, arguably turning in a career defining performance. At a minimum, his vocal work here stands toe to toe with Holy Diver (1983) and Lock Up The Wolves (1990) if not the original duo of Black Sabbath albums he fronted (1980’s Heaven And Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules). The aforementioned ‘Atom And Evil’ is a prime example, but he really doesn’t have any weak performances here save for ‘Rock And Roll Angel’ which is poor all the way around.

‘Follow The Tears’ and ‘Bible Black’ are highlights here. The band sound really tight and these two songs in particular fall in line very well with the three recently recorded songs for the Black Sabbath – The Dio Years compilation (2007). They have a similar dark and evil feel, but are heavier than most Black Sabbath songs. ‘Breaking Into Heaven’ is another glimpse of what might have been. It’s very reminiscent of ‘The Devil Cried’ from the aforementioned compilation only with better lyrics. It also contains elements prevalent on Dehumanizer, which wasn’t a bad album when you consider that both Dio and Black Sabbath were at probably the lowest points in their legendary careers at the time.

‘Eating The Cannibals’ is the lone energetic number and it certainly leaves you scratching your head and asking why in the hell they didn’t do more songs like this? They sound 20 years younger on this song than on the rest of the album.

Overall, this album is enjoyable but easily relegated to the background. Like most Dio albums, everything is pristine and each element stays solidly in its place, never straying from the tradition or the expected. The only real surprise here was the lack of the trademark Black Sabbath sound that changed the world. Heaven & Hell play it plenty safe and I suppose there is no reason to think they’d have done otherwise. While longtime fans of either band will be initially pleased, they’ll soon find themselves digging out Mob Rules or Holy Diver. The Devil You Know just doesn’t have the staying power that the classics do.

Mark Fisher

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