Warner Brothers, 1981
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/16/2009
A decade into their career, Black Sabbath had definitely earned the label of “survivors,” having dealt with the departure/firing – depending on whose story you believe – of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and replacing him with former Elf/Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. The fact that Black Sabbath could put out such a strong album in Heaven And Hell, Dio’s first fronting the band, was even more evidence that the group could survive tough times.
But the follow-up release, Mob Rules, dares to suggest that the decline that was seen in albums like Technical Ecstacy and Never Say Die was not only back in force, but was in high gear. It’s not that this is a bad album, but it hardly conjures up the dark images and sense of foreboding that early Black Sabbath albums just dripped. This release featured Black Sabbath more as a heavy metal band rather than a doom-and-gloom group – and the change is not welcome.
After maintaining a stable lineup for most of the ‘70s, Mob Rules is the second Black Sabbath album in a row to feature a change in personnel – something that would become rote for Tony Iommi for the remainder of Black Sabbath’s career. Out was long-time drummer Bill Ward; in was Vinny Appice. I can’t rightfully say whether the change was good or bad – honestly, it’s hardly noticeable at times. This is actually meant more as a compliment to Appice, as his traps work fits in well with the overall sound.
It’s not that the musicianship is at fault with this disc – indeed, Iommi’s transformation as a guitarist continues with this release, and his solos remain quite tasty. Nor is it any fault with Dio’s vocals, though he doesn’t sound quite as menacing on this disc as he did on Heaven And Hell.
Therein, actually, lies the problem with this album, something the listener is able to pick up on from the opening track “Turn Up The Night.” The bulk of the nine songs on this disc are written more in the vein of standard heavy metal; “Turn Up The Night” wouldn’t have sounded out of place on rock radio at the time. Tracks like “Country Girl,” “Slipping Away,” and even the title track, just don’t sound like typical Black Sabbath songs. Maybe it was that Iommi and crew were tired of writing about the darkness and wanted to brighten things up a little bit. (And I’m not putting on blinders by ignoring the fact that even some of the latter Osbourne-era work wasn’t nearly as dark as their earliest material.) Maybe it’s that a vocalist with a style like Dio’s almost seems to demand more mystic fare.
Ah, but even when Black Sabbath does turn a little more into the black, as on songs like “Voodoo” and “The Sign Of The Southern Cross,” the end results generate little more than a “meh” reaction from the listener. What happened to the Black Sabbath whose even hinting at the dark overlord could scare the hell out of – or should that be into? – the listener?
If taken merely as a metal album by a typical ‘80s metal band, Mob Rules isn’t a terrible way to spend 40 minutes. But longtime fans of Black Sabbath might find themselves questioning if this was, truly, the band they knew and loved. Heaven knows they would be asking that question for a good portion of Sabbath’s latter years.
|A C-? Really? This album is not in any way mainstream metal, in fact the mood is more Sabbath than the previous album. And no, the songs you mentioned DO NOT a get a 'meh' reaction from the listener, apparently you think you speak for everybody? Those songs, especially the latter, are considered classics by those who give the Dio era a chance.|