photo & text by nacrowe
the narrative has long been that after OZZY OSBOURNE's firing from BLACK SABBATH for vague reasons revolving around alcohol and drug abuse, that the band began a steady decline towards cultural irrelevance while the OZZ man began one of the great solo careers in ROCK N ROLL history.
METAL fans know that is a crock because OSBOURNE's immediate replacement, the legendary RONNIE JAMES DIO of RAINBOW / ELF fame, absolutely crushed it on BLACK SABBATH debut in HEAVEN AND HELL (VERTIGO, 1980). i remember the first time i heard "NEON KNIGHTS" being absolutely floored by how powerful his operatic voice sounded with some truly inspired riffage from TONY IOMMI that i hadnt witnessed since first hearing "INTO THE VOID" off of MASTER OF REALITY (VERTIGO, 1971). that said "NEON KNIGHTS" is one of my favorite BLACK SABBATH tracks from any album and any era of the band. also noteworthy are the tracks "CHILDREN OF THE SEA," "DIE YOUNG" and "HEAVEN AND HELL" which collectively showcase the vocal, lyrical and emotional range of DIO.
its almost impossible to listen to HEAVEN AND HELL and not find yourself comparing DIO to OSBOURNE. i think where OSBOURNE channeled his everyman persona into direct hard-hitting lyrics and performances that spoke intensely to a working-class audience that viewed his vocal limitations as badges of AUTHENTICITY, in DIO you have the opposite. his operatic range allows him the opportunity to have equally outlandish and over-the-top lyrical flights of fancy, often describing dream realms and FANTASY-based morality tales. the fact that both approaches worked so well within the same band lineup just goes to prove the meddle of all musicians and singers involved during both eras. this was only further cemented decades later when the namesake band HEAVEN AND HELL reemerged later in DIO's final years.
if you are unfamiliar with HEAVEN AND HELL, definitely check it out. its a gem of an album that many look past due to it not being an OSBOURNE record. they are missing out on something special.
R.I.P. RONNIE JAMES DIO.