Ginger Nuts of Horror
Back in 1980 when HEAVEN AND HELL came out I was twelve years old. These type of records received no airplay where I lived and if one turned in late at night, the signal from a station near Chicago would pipe out hard rock, not really typed as “Heavy Metal” then. I was a big Sabbath fan for my brother Mark left 8 tracks of MASTER OF REALITY and PARANOID when he went to the army in 73. Anyhow, I recall hearing Black Sabbath had a new singer. No one my age had a fetish for the previous singer and Ozzy had not bitten his first bat head off yet.
The idea that the same guy who sang MAN ON THE SILVER MOUNTAIN would be doing vocals for Sabbath didn’t really mean much at the time, but I knew who Ronnie James Dio was…and from the moment they played NEON NIGHTS I became hooked. I really enjoyed his vocals more than the other guy. Then again, RJD sang about things I liked as a kid, as a fan of Robert E. Howard and high fantasy…rings, dragons & kings…the supernatural and all that. Plus, Sabbath sounded reborn. The music was BAM there and great. I understood nothing of the band’s politics or any of that stuff, the tunes were boundless. The older I became and more I delved into the works, the bigger fan I became.
After the opening salvo of NEON NIGHTS we move into the melodic CHILDREN OF THE SEA. I understand from Iommi’s book and other sources this tune sort of existed before in the Ozzy era, and another new singer they tried to get going, Michael Bolton (yes you read that right) even is demoed singing it someplace. I adored the grandiose sweeping tale spun in this one. The images it conjured in my head were incredible. The bluey, bass bottom heavy thud of LADY EVIL rolled out next and damn, was a string puller and cool track. Evil ladies? Yes indeed.
The title track HEAVEN AND HELL is an epic piece and probably one of Sabbath’s better songs in all their canon. Up and down, going back to hard tones, driving and then exploding. RJD wrote such great lyrics and things still guessed at, but it all worked. When I saw DIO on tour, the opening chords of this song sent the arena into bedlam.
The song WISHING WELL, another hard driving track still holds up as a kick ass tune. DIE YOUNG has an eerie structure and also is highly evocative in the mind. Hitting on all cylinders, the track WALK AWAY is a simpler one, rambling and basic, but cool to the ear. RJD even sounds happy on it. The record concludes with LONLEY IS THE WORD an almost pseudo bluesy track that shows all four band members at their peak. Sadness, creepy walls closing in and a lush landscape of possibilities spread out from the words and chords.
Produced by Martin Birch (who later went on to Iron Maiden) the sounds are sort of stuffy and stifled in mono, but the record didn’t need to be clean. It was Black Sabbath and I think this adds to the overall atmosphere.
Considering this album almost didn’t happen, it is a fine testament. Ozzy had left, Geezer Butler was getting divorced (keyboard player Geoff Nichols did bass on demos and Paul Gruber played more than any want to admit) and Bill Ward had sank into his own demons of the bottle. Iommi ran into Dio, who was in a similar position and they talked of forming a new band. There is even controversy who played bass on the record for real, be it Butler or Paul Gruber.
In the end, it is a great album. But is it truly Black Sabbath? I think so, but many will argue Sabbath is only so called with Ozzy. To each their own, but after years of experiments, abuse and varied things, Sabbath sounded strong and moving forward. Fate is a fickle bitch, I say in my fiction, and one never knows where she will dance next. And even more change loomed for the band.
I recall blasting this record on my loud car stereo as a teen when everyone else was listening to Ratt or Van Halen. HEAVEN AND HELL spoke to me, it fit my mind & spirit and still does. My 19 and 12 year old sons also think it is a great work. We like all things Sabbath, but I am glad to have this one for inspiration and the memories it evokes.
This was good music in a time before the internet, before everyone over analyzed every detail of a work and felt all snooty about that crap. It’s rock & roll. Enjoy or get the hell out.
STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives in the middle of America. He is a blue collar worker, lives on a farm and writes horror & fantasy novels…some of which are LAST MAN SCREAMING, OVERKILL, WITHIN, PHILISTINE, BORN OF SWORDS, THRALL, BAD MAGICK and KING OF THE BASTARDS with Brian Keene BEDLAM UNLEASHED with Peter Welmerink.