The Devil You Know

Heaven & Hell

Rhino, 2009

REVIEW BY: Ben McVicker


No matter what grade any reviewer assigns this disc, The Devil You Know has already secured its place in heavy metal’s history by virtue of its being the final studio album to feature the legendary Ronnie James Dio at the mic. And to be sure, it is a fine epitaph for his career, buoyed by heavy, doom-laden guitar riffs from Tony Iommi, Dio’s own trademark vocals, and a refreshingly energetic performance from longtime Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler. It seems all too fitting, in retrospect, that the album would close with a song entitled “Breaking Into Heaven.”

Whether due to the pressures of a lawsuit from Ozzy Osbourne or an effort by the band to avoid being confined to playing “Paranoid” and “War Pigs” each night, Iommi, Dio, et al decided to record this album under the moniker of Heaven And Hell.  But make no mistake about it:  The Devil You Know is a Black Sabbath album.  The question is, “Where does it rank next to the earlier albums that featured Dio on vocal duties?”.

It seems a bit trite to say that a band saved its best for last.  But in this case, Iommi and Dio have come damn close. Their debut effort, 1980’s Heaven And Hell, was a delightful piece of work with the loose-around-the-edges feel of a new lineup finding their legs. The follow-up, 1981’s Mob Rules, kept the trademark heaviness that listeners had come to associate with Sabbath mainman Tony Iommi, and successfully married it with a more mainstream sound in songs like “Turn Up The Night.” 1992’s my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Dehumanizer saw the band members feed off of a new crop of Sabbath-influenced groups such as Metallica, offering what was arguably their heaviest work to date. 

Were I asked to rank them, I would say that The Devil You Know is only behind Mob Rules as far as the Dio-Sabbath albums go, in terms of quality and consistency. True, it is lacking a ballad or an ‘epic’ track along the lines of “Sign Of The Southern Cross.” But at least three of its ten tracks deserve a spot among the best songs to come out of the Dio-Iommi partnership. “Fear” is a heavy, sinister piece of work resembling some of the better tracks on Dio’s own Strange Highways album. “Bible Black,” clocking in at over six minutes in length, offers plenty of room for Tony Iommi to showcase his guitar playing, and it’s refreshing to hear Geezer’s bass have such a prominent spot on a Sabbath record for a change. The best of the bunch is “Double The Pain.” Give the band thirty seconds to noodle out an intro, and then Dio’s voice kicks in with such power it resembles a riff in and of itself. The band locks into a real groove on this number, with each member getting to showcase their talents.

If there is one shortcoming to the album, it has to be the sterile performance of drummer Vinny Appice. Whether you’re listening to Iommi’s blistering solo on the fast-paced “Eating The Cannibals” or the great bridge to “Rock ‘N’ Roll Angel,” you’ll have Ronnie singing his heart out, Tony and Geezer just jamming away...and then there’s Vinny, playing it safe and staying in the pocket. You can argue that a drummer’s priority is to keep time, but Appice plays so by-the-numbers here that it’s borderline distracting in spots. While this is the most polished of the Dio-Sabbath albums, it is also the one with the least variation between songs. True, these guys are in their early-to-mid ‘60s now, and can’t be expected to crank out tunes like “Neon Knights” and “Die Young” to the same extent that they used to. But the overwhelming number of slow-to-mid-tempo songs on this disc makes you wonder if someone forgot to bring their walker to the studio.  The sludgy “Follow The Tears” is arguably the greatest missed opportunity. Speed up the riffing in this one, and the band might’ve had another fast-paced classic to go alongside “TV Crimes.”

Complaints aside, The Devil You Know is still a commendable, even outstanding piece of work.  That these four veterans could come together (again) at this point in their careers, and record an album that dwarfs 90% of the contemporary metal acts out there is a testament to their lasting relevance in the genre. 

Rating: B

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