Ginger Nuts of Horror
Depending on how you look at Heaven And Hell, it’s either an astonishing mini LP, or an album that ultimately runs out of steam
So, what in the name of Satan’s toast rack makes Dehumanizer my favourite Black Sabbath album?
First of all, I’ve always been much more of a Dio man than an Ozzy man. I appreciate the Double-O, obviously, and really like plenty of his Sabbath and solo career, but Ronnie James Dio always struck more chords with me, in pretty much every way. The first four Dio albums stole my soul, so it was a foregone conclusion that my favourite Sabbath album would be fronted by RTD.
Heaven And Hell, Ronnie’s 1980 debut with Sabbath, is Dehumanizer’s closest competition. And we’re admittedly talking very close. There’s much to commend the following year’s Mob Rules, but Heaven And Hell always had the edge. It packs four solid gold classics in Neon Knights, Children Of The Sea, the title-track and Die Young. The problem with Heaven And Hell, though, is consistency. In the valleys between those undeniably mountainous tunes, lurks the other half of the album: four pedestrian, forgettable or plain dull tracks. I mean, have you heard Walk Away lately? Sweet Jesus.
Depending on how you look at Heaven And Hell, it’s either an astonishing mini LP, or an album that ultimately runs out of steam. Dehumanizer has no such failings. It ends strong, in fact, with its two finest tracks: I and Buried Alive. Not only are these two of the most awesome Sabbath tracks in existence, but they’re two of the finest things Dio ever put his name to. I is a wonderfully malevolent steamroller, with a pleasingly direct chug from guitar lord Tony Iommi. Ronnie rants about being a one-man legion, yelling, “I’ll smash your face in”. Basically, he’s saying he’s the Devil and you’re fucked. You simply cannot get better than that.
Buried Alive must be one of the heaviest things Sabbath ever put their name to. The production is obviously an advantage here, because Iommi and Geezer Butler’s unholy fretboard union just sounds downright bigger and fatter in 1990 than it did in the 70s or 80s. But the riffing is gargantuan full-stop, and coupled with Vinny Appice’s dependably brutal drumming, the whole thing blends together so well. It’s rare to find a song whose verses, bridge and chorus are all superb, but Buried Alive belongs to that privileged club. Just amazing.
So what other delights does Dehumanizer have to offer? For a start, there’s the intensely Sabbathy dirge After All (The Dead). ‘What do you say to the dead?’ Ronnie intones, giving Ozzy a run for his money in the ominous tone stakes. The whole thing’s shot through with mausoleum darkness, which is patently for the good. It’s followed by another corker in the shape of TV Crimes, which showcases Sabbath at full throttle as they hurl sonic stones through the windows of every evangelist on the planet. I very much doubt I’ve heard a faster riff from Iommi, not to mention one which remains super heavy at such extreme velocity.
I’m still not entirely sure what Letters From Earth is about, but it’s an intriguing story and downright tremendous. The moment at the end of the middle-eighth when Ronnie sings, ‘The game is called the end’ is quite, quite wonderful. Master Of Insanity’s title may well have been drawn from a bag full of Stereotypical Sabbath Words, but it’s a spirited and riffy effort, if not one of the album’s strongest. Incidentally, you might notice I’ve skipped the opening Computer God, and that’s because I feel like it might be Dehumanizer’s least excellent thing. Which doesn’t mean it’s not excellent… just less so. I prefer to think of Computer God as a warm-up for the rest of the album.
Time Machine is one of the album’s catchier songs in the traditional sense, and probably also the lightest in tone, which no doubt explains why it was chosen for the Wayne’s World soundtrack. Sins Of The Father delivers further ominous Sabbathery-pokery, with some nice time changes. Lastly, there’s the album’s sole slow track, Too Late. Usually, slow tracks are my cue to hit Forward Skip, but I actually enjoy this one, because it seems to tell a compellingly creepy story about messing with the powers of darkness. As a result, Too Late is not so much up my street as sitting in my study, listening to itself.
The same goes for Dehumanizer as one whole, mighty beast. It’s an album of varied songs, united by their commitment to heaviness and nailing your ears to the wall behind you. An album entirely and rightly deaf to the fundamental changes which were afoot in the music world at the time. An album on which Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath are indistinguishable, working together like parts of the same glorious and thunderous machine. You owe it to yourself to get Dehumanized.
About Jason Arnopp
Jason Arnopp is a novelist and scriptwriter, currently working on the screen adaptation of his novel The Last Days Of Jack Sparks for Ron Howard. His new non-fiction book From The Front Lines Of Rock gathers his favourite interviews he wrote for Kerrang! magazine as a rock journalist. Find him at Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/jasonarnopp) and his website (http://www.jasonarnopp.com)