Rarely does an album live up to its title this well. I’ve got to give the guys credit: they delivered exactly what they promised. I’m sure music aficionados realize this disc shares a title with a live album recorded by Miles Davis. The similarities end there. This tour-de-force recorded during the Ronnie James Dio fronted incarnation of the band features some Black Sabbbath staples as well as prime cuts from Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules.
I know “purists” will argue that it’s not really Sabbath without Ozzy as the front man. I disagree. Dio (may he rest in peace) had a stronger voice and broader range as a vocalist. Much to his credit he understood he wasn’t Ozzy and decided not to try to be Ozzy. He took Sabbath gems like “Children of the Grave” and “N. I. B.” and made them uniquely his own. His ad libs on “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” gave the songs a more ominous aura lacking in the originals. I still can’t listen to this album in the dark. It makes me keep thinking that Iron Man is coming to get me.
As a bit of a purist myself, I do wish Bill Ward had been on the drums for the recording. While Vinny Appice possessed tremendous skill as a drummer, I think Ward’s style fitted Sabbath much better. His style complimented Geezer Butler’s bass playing better, as well.
Even with half the original members, the Live Evil line up delivered a solid performance. “Paranoid” is one of the greatest metal songs ever recorded: no matter who’s playing it. As remarkable a statement as this is, “Vodoo” and “Mob Rules” sound even heavier than the studio versions. These are phenomenal accomplishments even for the members of Black Sabbath.
I’d describe this album as the Live at the Regal for metal guitarists. Tony Iommi got the most wicked guitar tone I’ve ever heard. It sounded real raw, metallic and heavy. His trills gave me the mental image of his steel strings pounding against an anvil. I enjoyed listening to him stretch out on “Heaven and Hell.” He even tacked on an extended solo piece at the end of it. I also liked the way he anticipated the riff to Metallica’s “One” during his introduction to “Black Sabbath”. Keep in mind Iommi’s axe of choice has always been a Gibson SG Guitar. Let that be a lesson to all you guitarists out there buying axes made so-called “exclusively” for “metal”.
I always thought Weather Report’s Heavy Weather had the most creative album cover. That was until I saw Live Evil’s. It features figures that illustrate every song on the CD against a dark background. It’s amazing they managed to get all tracks represented so vividly.
Aside from the great musicianship, the lyrics are much better than I expected from a heavy metal band. The great alliteration “phantom figures free forever” in “Neon Knights” really set the song apart from others in the genre. Well, that and the line “bloody angels fast descending.” If Shakespeare were alive today and playing in a heavy metal band he’d be struggling to come up with words that good.
Even without Ozzy and Bill Ward, Live Evil represents the Black Sabbath brand very well. Like Miles Davis, Tony Iommy and Geezer Butler both had ears for talent. They managed to bring new capable musicians into the band and keep it relevant. It does make me wonder what might have been had Dio and Appice not left the group following its recording. In that sense this album is both “Heaven and Hell” for fans like me.