Black Sabbath was on the verge of death in the late ‘70s, worn out by years of constant touring and the pressure of releasing an album every year. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne was mired in substance abuse and had become increasingly unreliable. The band’s final albums with Osbourne, Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die lacked the fire and fury of their first five records, and sold poorly. In June of 1979, the band fired Osbourne and hired ex-Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio.
The Dio era often gets overlooked, simply because the Osbourne era has been so influential. However, the Osbourne era had one distinct advantage over Dio: It had been distilled and compiled numerous times. This made it easy for new fans to get their feet wet without jumping in too deeply. The Dio Years rectifies this, giving fans their first official compilation of post-Ozzy Sabbath.
The album is in chronological order, taking five tracks from 1980’s Heaven and Hell, four tracks from 1981’s Mob Rules, three tracks from 1992’s reunion album Dehumanizer and one track from 1982’s Live Evil. The album contains three new tracks.
The Dio Years kicks off with “Neon Knights,” the explosive opener from Heaven and Hell. Tony Iommi plays with passion for the first time since 1975’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. The riff for “Neon Knights” is faster than anything from the Osbourne era, taking its cues from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal rather than the blues. The band does not completely pander to this sound, but adapts it to fit their
Although the sound of the band has changed slightly, it is Dio’s singing that carries it. Dio’s Herculean voice gives the band new life, especially after two lackluster performances from Osbourne. Dio hits some incredible notes, especially on the ballads. He knows how to get the emotion of the song across without oversinging. The only problem is that Dio’s operatic voice lacks the raw menace that Osbourne had. With Ozzy, you felt like you were in serious danger. Dio is generally unthreatening.
The band made a smart move by choosing most of the songs from Heaven and Hell. Each track shows the versatility of the band. “Neon Knights” and “Lady Evil” are both stomping rockers. “Heaven and Hell” is an old school Sabbath epic, with a slow and dramatic riff. “Lonely is the Word” is a showcase for Dio’s vocal techniques.
The Mob Rules begins with the title track, which is Sabbath at their most ferocious. The song is a showcase for drummer Vinny Appice, who replaced Bill Ward. He plays drums with alarming power and gives the band a Zeppelin-esque sound. The tracks are arranged in a similar manner; rockers up front, ballads towards the back. After Mob Rules, the album begins to fall apart.
The songs from Dehumanizer don’t have the passion of the first two albums, although “After All (the Dead)” contains a great riff, where Iommi borrows from himself. The album plunges further into the hole by including a version of “Children of the Sea” from the 1982 live album Live Evil. “Children of the Sea” is a great song, but it would have made more sense to include the studio version from Heaven and Hell
The band redeems itself with the three new songs. Things have come full circle, and once again Ronnie James Dio has revitalized the band. “The Devil Cried” is a great piece of old school Sabbath. Tony Iommi plays with all the doom and gloom of old. Dio’s voice has lowered slightly, but his older voice adds to the song. “Shadow of the Wind” is essentially a rewrite of “Black Sabbath,” and “Ear in the Wall” is a headbanger in the tradition of “Paranoid.”
The Dio Years is an incredibly effective compilation. It gives the listener an effective introduction to the Dio era of Sabbath without going overboard. If you already own Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules then there is no need to own this, but the new songs are definitely worth checking out.