Album Review: Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know (2009 2LP)

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Today marks the 10th anniversary for one of the saddest days of my life. It was the Saturday on what we Canadians refer to as the May 2-4. Officially the Victoria Day long weekend. I was at the lake, hanging out with family, having a few cold beers and then I heard the news. Ronnie James Dio had died. My favourite metal singer of all time. I loved his stuff from that very first time I heard time I heard him in 1981. My family asked what was wrong, but they didn’t get it. No one I know takes their music as seriously as I do. I flashed back to 1977 and remembered hearing the screams and wailing from my aunts when they heard Elvis had died. I never understood how so many people could be brought to tears over one person. Now I got it. Dio was my Elvis. Just as John Lennon was someone else’s Buddy Holly. I lamented over which album to review as a tribute. I figured the last album he ever recorded would have to do. Hopefully I do his legacy justice.

This 2 LP set is wonderfully done. The sound is amazing. There is a sweet poster of the band members that I was tempted to hang in my house, but the collector in me would not allow it (not to mention Mrs. B). The album artwork is exquisite. The thorny, serpent headed devil is holding a man on a crucifix that has multiple nails sticking from his body. Is this Jesus? We don’t see his face. In the background there is also the shadowy image of another man on the cross. Perhaps that is Jesus. The cd version sold at Walmart has different artwork, probably to appease the religious types. Side 4 of this album features a beautiful etching with a bearded flying devil symbol (Jesus?) in the centre, (as opposed to the female winged angels on the 1980 album Heaven And Hell) and beams of light emanating out, not unlike the sun. There is also the numbers 25 and 41. I had to look this one up. It represents the Bible verse Matthew 25:41. There are numerous versions of this, but basically he tells those to his left that are cursed to go to hell, quite literally. Now for the music.

Atom and  Evil – A cool play on words. I’m assuming these lads were not invited as respected guests to any homes in the Bible Belt. Slower chugging than we were used to on Mob Rules. Unique Iommi playing here too. I almost get a very tiny Kirk Hammett-like sound. There is more diverse guitar work ahead. In fact, this album may be the most diverse in Tony’s entire catalogue.

Fear – Dio’s voice has a really cool sound on this one. For a brief second I even heard the tiniest Layne Staley growl when he sings “.. go awayyy..” I think of The Rooster. Dio and Layne Staley. Sign me up.

Bible Black – Haunting and acoustic guitars sound unique. I think this is a trend. Ok, 4 verses in and we get that good old crescendo from quiet to bombastically loud that the first 2 Dio fronted albums had. This one could have fit nicely on either one of those albums and no one would have complained. It has some of the best elements of both Sign Of The Southern Cross, and Last In Line. In other words, it’s pretty damn awesome.

While the silver disc junkies get to continue listening, I have to get up and flip over the record.

Double The Pain – Geezer’s bass is the star for me here. The guitar solo is pretty cool as well. I prefer when Dio sings alone rather than when the other members join in. A minor setback, that doesn’t really take much  away from the overall goodness of the song.

Rock And Roll Angel – My head starts to bang. Not like a Thrash song, but at a slower pace that is much more akin to my old man status. Of note is the wicked guitar riffs laid down here. Going from Jeff Beckish to Stoner doom to Flamenco. There is so much uniqueness to Tony’s guitar work on this album. He changes tone and style numerous times, even within the same song.

The Turn Of The Screw – A song about getting shafted by “the man”. I wonder if it was their way of indirectly talking about the music industry.

Eating The Cannibals – I hate to tell the lads, but if you’re eating the cannibals, you are a cannibal. The guitar solo is ace, and the drumming is pretty damn great. I read that Vinny was brought on and told exactly what to play and how to play it for this album. I doubt it though, but if that was the case, this song was not a paint by numbers drum performance.

Time to put on the 2nd slab of black goodness.

Follow The Tears – Haunting funeral organs, heaaaavy guitar riffs and horror movie like sounds begin this one off. The heavy guitar remains mixed with Dio’s wonderful voice. I could have seen this song done with either Dio or Ozzy. I wish Sabbath had done this one in concert. Ozzy could have pulled it off.

Neverwhere – Has a sort of Turn Up The Night meets Neon Knights sound to it. A bit slower than both, and Dio’s voice is a tad deeper, but if it sounds like those songs I’m  good with it.

Breaking Into Heaven – It’s almost as if Dio knew his fate. His last song recorded on his last album would be about breaking into heaven. If there really is such a place they need him up there. One can only stand so much church music. he shouldn’t have to break in. Hopefully the joy he bestowed on people such as myself for all those years gets him a special pass.

This album is, for all intents and purposes a Black Sabbath album. The Osbourne’s having some control over the band name, and the original line-up that was close to re-forming may have caused the name change, but it was Black Sabbath. Pretty much the same line up as Mob Rules and Dehumanizer (Mike Exeter in place of Geoff Nichols here on keys), so how could it not be great. If you don’t know this band, or of this album try it out. If, in 2009 this was not an album for you, try it out in 2020. I think it might surprise you. It certainly did for me.

I really enjoyed listening to this one today. My first time on vinyl. I had been saving this lp especially for today. I’m not actually sad today at all. My May 2-4 is complete garbage due to the world situation but Dio made my weekend this time around. 10 years later, it all changes, but somehow stays the same. I miss you Ronnie. Every day. But your amazing voice and the wonderful bands you were a part of help get me through.

\m/      \m/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

Album Review: Bad Company – Holy Water (1990 cd)

Last week Brian Howe (R.I.P.) passed away from a heart attack at his home in Florida. He had a stint fronting Ted Nugent, and was on the short list to replace Lou Gramm as the lead singer in Foreigner (which would have been a perfect fit in my opinion), but he is best known as Paul Rodgers’ replacement in Bad Company. Rodgers’ shoes were huge ones to try and fill, but for 8 years Brian did a pretty damn good job.

I haven’t played this cd in years, and on the first listen I notice that the lower end isn’t there. Brian has a pretty high pitched voice, and it seems that this combined with the late 80’s, early 90’s mix and early digital sound leave a bit to be desired. I crank the bass to 11 and re-listen. That is leaps and bounds better, so off we go.

Holy Water – The guitar work is ace, the drums pound, and with the aforementioned bass cranking we can actually hear hired hand bass man Felix Krish’s bottom end (huh).  This song was on all the radio stations in 1990, and for good reason. The church choir like, back and forth harmonies in the chorus, the instrumentation, and Brian’s voice elevate this one to the top.

Walk Through Fire – This reminds me of some of the better 80’s era Don Henley songs. Brian’s voice is sort of a cross between Lou Gramm and Don Henley, so this song fits right into that mold. A feel good song about doing whatever it takes for the one you love. I heard it just as I started dating my wife, and it hit the nail on the head.

Stranger Stranger – With guitar work riding along the Rocky Mountain Way and Felix Krish doing his best bass impression of David Tyson’s Black Velvet bassline. The bouncing back and forth between Brian and the background singers, and the aforementioned bassline are the tops for me on this one.

If You Needed Somebody – This was the huge single off of this album. It was in the Top 40 in both the rock and even crossed over into the pop charts. A really amazing song that still holds up today. I loved it so much that it was one of the songs in my wedding. The lyrics perfectly fit into the time in 1990 when I first saw my wife. One of those songs that throws you back to your youth, and better, less quarantined days.

Fearless – Has an almost Malcolm Young sounding guitar thing going on. When I read the credits and I see thanks being thrown out to Brian Johnson and Cliff Williams I get sort of an aha moment.

Lay Your Love On Me – I read somewhere that Mick Ralphs was especially upset that he had no songwriting duties on this album, and even refused to go on tour after the album was released(he was replaced in the videos and for the tour by Jeff Whitehorn). The credits list him as the sole writer of this song (as well as co-writer on 3 others), so I’m not sure. I will say it fits into the theme of love that this album exudes. It has a sort of 80’s Bon Jovi theme going on, which sounds really great. Lay Your Love(Hands?) On Me. Ok, I get it.

Boys Cry Tough – This is one of those songs that tell a story. In a Bon Jovi meets Skid Row kind of way. Tommy and Gena. Ricky’s the wild one. No, this time it’s Bobby and Mary, but it is a great song like the one’s mentioned.

With You In A Heartbeat – The chugging beat that the lead and rhythm guitars(done admirably by producer Terry Thomas) exude, and the vocal mixes between Brian both singing alone and with a supporting cast elevate this song for me.

I Don’t Care – More of the same vocal sparring between Brian and the background Peanut gallery and some pretty cool plinkety plinking of the cymbals set this one apart for me.

Never Too Late – If ever there was a song that sounded exactly like Lou Gramm, this is it. This song could have slipped onto Foreigner 4 and no one would have objected.

Dead Of The Night – My AC/DC like guitar riffing going on. That is always the key to success in my books. The album jacket should have been thanking Angus and Malcolm as well, if even just for the inspiration.

I Can’t Live Without You – It has kind of a weird(in a good way), sped up Night Prowler meets Richard Marx thing going on at the beginning, but morphs into a chanting fist pumper along the love theme again.

One Hundred Miles – Whoa!! This song takes a complete u turn from the rest of the album. Drummer Simon Kirke sits behind the mic on this one and does a really great job on this pretty little song. Sort of a like if The Beatles were transported to modern times and were fronted by an older James Taylor.

It’s a wonder this album was even made. There was so much in-fighting involved. Mick Ralphs and Simon Kirke were at odds with Brian Howe and producer Terry Thomas. The 2 remaining original members of the band were basically phoning it in, but yet it all worked. Apparently the band manager, Bud Prager was the key to keeping this band together. How very Van Halen sounding. It’s funny to me how albums I love (Black Sabbath – Mob Rules springs to mind) seem to have been made during great adversity. Perhaps the saying about how nothing in life comes easily is fitting.

This album has a lot of sentimental value to me. I could have easily have gave it a 10 and called it a day. It’s not entirely perfect, but it was perfect for me during the 90’s, and is pretty damn close to perfect even now. Many people will complain that this wasn’t the “real” Bad Company, or that it was maybe a little softer, but I like it anyway. The lack of a proper bottom end does knock it down a notch, but that was a sign of the times, and not the bands fault. Rest In Peace Brian, and thank you so much for fronting Bad Company during trying times, and for being a small part of my wedding day.

9.5/10