Sunday, November 9, 2014

JERKING THE CIRCLE Vol IV: Heaven and Hell - The Devil You Know

Yeah I can't think of a title

This is a review I've been both dreading and dying to write.  It's weird to think that this album five years old at this point and I could very well be writing this for people who weren't metal fans when it was released, so if you fall into that category, please make sure you understand: this was the absolute biggest fucking deal in the universe when it dropped in 2009.  Not only was there all the drama surrounding the band's mere name at the time (I saw this lineup twice and still steadfastly refer to them as "Black Sabbath concerts" and I'll never, ever, ever back down from that), but pretty much all four guys in the band had done precisely nothing of note in eons.  This situation would stick most bands under these circumstances as "has beens", and no matter how true that may have been, Dio and Iommi are special.  They're both grandfathers of heavy metal, elder statesmen of an entire genre of music that had grown so much since they were young.  I don't mean to leave Geezer out of the equation since he's a massive part of Sabbath's sound, and believe me when I say that he and Vinny were just as hyped up as the two main men, but the thought of Ronnie James Dio and Tony Iommi collaborating again for the first time in nearly two decades just sent generations of metal fans slipping off their chairs.

And this is where the deification stops from me, and where the inspiration for picking up the Jerking the Circle series again begins.  I'm sorry guys, The Devil You Know is lame and boring.

This is an album that's more... I dunno, inspirational or admirable than actually any good.  See, it was great to see these shambling geriatrics wheelchair themselves on stage and then just rock the fuck out like they were in their 30s again, and it was so refreshing to see that the classic icons of the genre still gave enough of a shit about the music they helped create to continue performing and writing it.  The problem lies in the fact that, barring the flukey Dehumanizer (which in itself is only half great anyway, but I'll explain that in time here), nobody in the band had really made anything worth listening to since the early 80s.  Dio started on an incredible streak, farting out classic albums left and right with Rainbow, Black Sabbath, and his solo band in the 70s and 80s, and Sabbath was phenomenal in the 70s before a slight dip and resurfacing in the early 80s when Dio joined the fold, but after The Mob Rules, they just turned to churning out dull, skippable albums that weird people will swear up and down are among their best (you will never, ever convince me that Tony Martin is better than Dio or that The Headless Cross is better than Sabbath Bloody Sabbath). 

Basically all that history lesson was meant for was to illustrate something that most people never seem to acknowledge; Iommi/Dio hadn't touched anything other than skippable crap for almost 25 solid years before The Devil You Know. So in all honesty, I really shouldn't have been surprised that this album does next to nothing for me.  It's almost 54 minutes long but it feels like it's almost two hours before the album ends.  Most of Tony's good riffs had been used up by The Mob Rules, and no matter how good he was in his prime, this is an everlasting testament to the fact that he's just not as creative or fresh with his songwriting as he used to be.  The album is inspirational in its attitude, but not in its execution, and as a result there are a whopping six plodding snoozefests to start the album off on the worst foot possible.  I can concede that "Bible Black" has a good chorus and the verse riff of "Double the Pain" manages to get the blood moving, and I adore the main riff to "Fear", but that's three riffs across six songs that elicit any emotion out of me other than overwhelming apathy.  That's a frickin' terrible batting average.  It's sort of like Sammy Sosa coming out of retirement and leading the league in strikeouts while everybody showers him in awards and adulation because once upon a time he was super good and now here he is doing that thing again (let's just pretend the cork and the steroids never happened for the sake of argument, I'm not good at baseball dammit).

I think the biggest problem stems from the fact that the album's single focus is skull squeezing heaviness, which it does admittedly achieve to an extent with an absolutely monstrous guitar tone, but it's overall ineffective because the riffs just never go anywhere.  It's so clearly the result of four old men gathering around and trying to be all wise and weathered and whatever other positive synonyms you can think of for "so old you can see through their skin", and it just comes off like there's no vigor anywhere to be found.  Like 85% of the album lumbers around at this leisurely lurch, like an ice giant out for a stroll.  There's so little energy here, songs like "Breaking Into Heaven" and "Rock and Roll Angel" meander around for upwards of seventy six minutes with no fire or passion behind them.  Almost the entire album is full of these dull chugging exercises that have to be unbelievably boring to play on stage.  I know what they're going for, this is supposed to be pure, oppressive doom metal, full of apocalyptic dread and bone shattering crunch, and I suppose they achieve that if you really think about it.

The problem with that is that that's not what Dio does.  Absolutely not, Dio has always been at his best when he's carrying a sense of wonder and grandeur.  Really, think of all the best songs he ever sang on.  "Man on the Silver Mountain", "Die Young", "Falling Off the Edge of the World", "The Last in Line", "Rainbow in the Dark", fuckin' "Stargazer", "Kill the King".  All of those songs have one thing in common, they feel like they're showing you something greater than yourself.  They all have this indescribable sense of magic surrounding them, and they're all  just these huge sounding songs with an almost childlike sense of wonder.  Precisely zero of the best Dio songs (barring the exception in "Heaven and Hell" (and I guess "Sign of the Southern Cross" is really popular too but personally it bores me) are slow and doomy.  None of them feel like a hungover titan sleepily pawing at his alarm clock like "Atom and Evil" does.  Dio doesn't do doom, and that's why the heavier Dio albums suck and the best song on Dehumanizer is "TV Crimes".  You know, the fast one.  He's woefully miscast in this role simply because he's essentially this ancient wizard at this point in time, but his voice was still as powerful as it was during his classic era.  He didn't need to tone down his performance, but the rest of the band did, and so Dio's always immaculate voice rides dull melodies over boring, go-nowhere plod riffs.

That's not to say the whole album is bad, it's just fundamentally flawed.  There are two uptempo songs to be found in "Eating the Cannibals" and "Neverwhere", and unsurprisingly they're the best songs on the album by a long shot.  That's what Dio does best, he requires some semblance of energy behind him in order for him to reach his full potential.  "Bible Black" may be heavy and dark, but it's not energetic, and that's why the vocals fall flat when put into the whole unit.  It's so sad to say but really every member of the band brings largely an inconsequential performance to the table.  Vinny Appice plays the most standard timekeeping beats imaginable with almost no fills to speak of, Geezer has very few of his famous runs (oddly enough, the two do get some brief moments of entertaining  showboating in the background during "Bible Black" and essentially nowhere else), Iommi pens a whopping seven or eight good riffs across ten songs, and Dio stands out purely because his voice is so recognizable.  If there was a different personnel behind this album, I feel like the metal fandom as a whole would give less than a single shit about it.  The songs themselves have moments of past brilliance scattered here and there but for the most part they're devoid of enjoyment, replaced instead with an abundance of fillery non-riffs that go nowhere.

Maybe I'm wrong for wishing this album is something that it wasn't, but to be fair, isn't that the reason we don't like... well, anything?  How many times are you caught telling yourself "Well this album does exactly what I want it to do, it ticks all the boxes, buuuuuut it's lame"?  Never.  That's why the only songs worth listening to are "Eating the Cannibals" and "Neverwhere" for the heightened pace and thus thicker groove, and "Bible Black" for just being the only song to really get the formula they're going for right.  I still recommend listening to it because it's a curious little oddity at the tail end of a couple legendary careers, and the swansong of one of metal's greatest faces, and also because everybody but me seems to love it so chances are you will too.  For me?  It just reinforces my belief that Dio/Iommi/Geezer all have about thirty solid years of forgettable crap going on right now as long as you grant an exception to Dehumanizer


RATING: 29%

1 comment:

  1. You are definitely in the minority with your opinion. Having been a Sabbath fan since 1973, I can attest this is a great album. It is heavy, and it's as doomy as it gets considering Dio died the following year. Maybe morons who don't like this album have heard so much diluted crap over the years don't know what to think when the real deal comes along.

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