Heaven and Hell (Deluxe Edition)
When Ozzy Osbourne was fired by Black Sabbath in 1979, many fans thought the jig was up. How could the band possibly replace a frontman so iconic and beloved? Then guitarist Tony Iommi ran into vocalist Ronnie James Dio at a bar in Hollywood. Dio had recently been ousted from Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and was looking for a gig. Iommi knew serendipity when he saw it, and Dio was brought on as Sabbath’s new vocalist. He made his debut on Heaven and Hell, which marked an exciting new era for the band. “When Ronnie came in, it was a totally different approach to Ozzy,” Iommi tells Apple Music. “He was not only a totally different vocalist—more operatic—but the writing took a different path altogether. It was a totally different-sounding Black Sabbath, really. We had to try and get the fans to adjust to Ronnie and the new Sabbath, but those albums sparked a lot of famous musicians, like Dave Grohl and that generation. For some of them, it was the first time they heard Black Sabbath as such.” Below, Iommi discusses some of the key tracks from Heaven and Hell.
Neon Knights “I think Sabbath always have generally gone with a fast track to start an album—apart from, of course, the first album’s ‘Black Sabbath,’ which was slow. But generally, the idea was to get excited as soon as you put the album on, and ‘Neon Knights’ seemed like a good one to do that. Ronnie took the reins, and really it’s better if the singer can write his own lyrics, instead of being presented with a load of words that might be tongue-tying or not fitting the melody. Ronnie knew how to do that, and ‘Neon Knights’ was a great example.”
Children of the Sea “Originally, the idea was to do this album with Ozzy. We had a house in LA, and we were all living together. And of course, at that point, Ozzy lost interest and wasn’t into it. He wasn’t in a good frame of mind at all. Consequently, we didn’t get much done. But I came up with some riffs, and ‘Children of the Sea’ was one of the few that Ozzy did put a melody to. It wasn’t a full melody, but it was entirely different than Ronnie’s approach. And then the song was the first one we tried Ronnie out with. He came over to the house and came up with his own melody.”
Lady Evil “When you’re writing riffs, you keep in mind how the singer might approach it. Ronnie's voice was a bit more aggressive. He sort of attacked the riff. With ‘Lady Evil,’ Ronnie put this really great, aggressive melody over it and it really worked. Because sometimes you can play a great riff, and if you don't do a good vocal over it, it destroys it. Ronnie’s lyrical approach was more dragons and kings and stuff—it was different to what Geezer [Butler] would write about.”
Heaven and Hell “I think I got this riff by Bill [Ward] starting to play drumbeats and I just played to it. And the idea was to leave a gap in the verse because Ronnie’s singing was really good in a mystical kind of way. And then coming in with a heavy riff, it sounds even heavier because there’s no guitar on the verse. So it gives you a bit of light and shade. And I think Ronnie was on bass at the time, because at that point, Geezer had to leave the band because he had some personal problems going on. And when Geezer came back, of course he put his own bass bits to it.”
Die Young “I remember when we first did it, and I started playing this riff and then I suddenly dropped down to the quiet bit, Ronnie went, ‘You can't do that.’ He was new to how we write and we were new to how he sings, so it was a matter of getting used to each other. So I said, ‘You can. That's what we do. We change tempos or we drop down.’ He went, ‘I don't know if that's going to work.’ And, of course, it did work, and he loved it, then.”