Warner Brothers, 1982
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/17/2009
By the time that Black Sabbath finally got their first officially sanctioned live album, Live Evil, released, there had been so much drama surrounding the band that anything else almost seemed boring.
Like the music on this album, for starters.
Forgetting Live At Last, which was not officially released by the band (at least, not until it was included in the Past Lives set some years ago), the stories surrounding this album are legendary. Fans have heard how Ronnie James Dio and Vinny Appice would allegedly sneak into the studio to mix their parts higher on the album, and how Tony Iommi supposedly got his revenge by crediting vocals to “Ronnie Dio” and dropped Appice to “special guest” with the band, not a member.
You know what? Forget all that stuff. If you focus instead on the music, you might be surprised to hear just how much “going through the motions” is contained therein. Oh, sure, opening with “Neon Knights” (coming out of the keyboard solo “E5150”) is a great move, as it was one of the strongest tracks Dio ever recorded with Black Sabbath. But from then on, things just don’t seem to go according to plan.
Dio, remember, only had two Sabbath albums under his belt at this time, so of course he was going to be expected to sing a lot of the songs made famous with Ozzy Osbourne as lead throat. But as tracks like “N.I.B.,” “Black Sabbath,” and “Paranoid” make painfully clear, Dio hadn’t figured a way to put his own signature on them, so the end result sounds like a second-rate cover band.
What’s a shame is that this tends to bring down the Dio-era songs on Live Evil as well. Tracks like “The Mob Rules,” “Heaven And Hell” (which is stretched out far too long for my tastes), and “The Sign Of The Southern Cross” just don’t have the freshness that one would have expected from Black Sabbath circa 1982. That said, the take on “Voodoo” – a track I wasn’t particularly enamored with on Mob Rules – does gain some extra energy, and is a surprising gem on this one.
In truth, it would be wrong to simply say that Black Sabbath dropped the ball on Live Evil, simply because – as other writers and I have stated on this site time and time again – the most difficult thing for any band to do is to capture the energy and emotion of a live show on a slab of vinyl. In this regard, Black Sabbath join a very long list of bands and artists whose true power just didn’t come out in the live album setting.
By the time that Live Evil was released, Dio and Appice had left Black Sabbath for Dio’s self-named band, the revolving door of personnel continuing to swing in the Sabbath camp. It can be said that it’s a shame they couldn’t stay together longer with this lineup so they could have tried to recapture the dark magic of Sabbath’s early days. It’s a bigger shame that they couldn’t leave behind a stronger testament to what they could accomplish live.
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