Ozzy, dear old Ozzy,
You are rock and roll to me.
Half-deaf, drunk, and drooling
With your nagging, chronic knees.
– Power Ballad For Ozzy Osbourne, Written By Dave Bidini (The Rheostatics)
Ok, I know that for the Ozzy purist’s thems is fighting words. But since discovering the Dio era of Black Sabbath a few years ago, when the reunited line-up of Dio/Iommi/Butler and drummer Vinnie Appice hit the road under the banner Heaven and Hell, I’ve really been immersed in just how much better a band they are with Dio at the helm. First of all, technically speaking, Dio is the superior singer. He holds his notes longer and stronger and he’s got a fantastic range. Even at the admittedly dizzying heights of their first four albums, I don’t think you could say that Ozzy was an awesome singer. A unique singer, sure. And his voice had character before he actually became one. But I don’t hear a great singer in there. Not like Dio, at least. Maybe it’s because songs like “Heaven and Hell”, “The Mob Rules”, and “Lady Evil” haven’t been beaten do death. Or maybe it’s because they’re just better songs than much of Ozzy’s run in Black Sabbath. I mean seriously, could you not live your life fully satisfied for the rest of your days if you never heard “Paranoid” or “War Pigs” again? I’m pretty sure I could.
So why the sudden attack on Ozzy and the impassioned love of Dio? Well there is the fact of the new Ozzy album on the way, but also because Sanctuary/Universal Music in the UK has reissued the two early 80’s classic Dio/Black Sabbath, 1980’s Heaven and Hell and the 1981 follow-up Mob Rules. These are two of the heaviest hard rock albums you’ll ever hear and stand tall beside the best music of the genre. Knowing that they had something prove following the firing of Ozzy Osbourne from the band in 1979, the combination of Tony Iommi’s riffage and Dio’s voice and lyrics crafted songs with more depth than Sabbath had demonstrated for years. Dio, straight and confident, stepped into Ozzy’s shoes and once again made the band the sum of their parts. Maybe it’s the remastering job, which brings out Butler’s jaw-dropping bass lines and Bill Ward’s swinging drums (and the power of his replacement Vinnie Appice on Mob Rules) but I’m guessing this is the best these albums have sounded since they were released some 30 years ago.
The liner notes and packaging are also top notch for these deluxe reissues, which both come with a second disc of live music from their respective tours. In the case of Mob Rules, that double disc is Live At Hammersmith Odeon, which was previously only available as a limited edition from Rhino Handmade in the U.S. and is now readily available to the masses (leaving collectors no doubt a little ticked). These reissues certainly leave me pleased that I only ever spent the some money on the digital version of The Rules Of Hell box set from 2008, which originally compiled the Dio-era Sabbath albums (including Live Evil and Dehumanizer) but offered nothing in the way of bonus tracks.
Of course, every one is going to have their preference. I know some Ozzy fans out there that, when they heard I was writing this piece, started in on me mercilessly. But there are others who proudly stand in my corner, their devil horns flying in the air while Dio wails away about the kings and queens who will blind your eyes and steal your dreams. If you’ve never heard Dio-era Black Sabbath, I heartily recommend spending the money on the Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules reissues. Buying them off Amazon.co.uk will run you roughly 30 dollars total, including shipping, which is an absolute steal for these double disc imports. But believe me, they’re worth the investment to learn just how awesome Black Sabbath was without Ozzy upfront.