It goes without saying that Black Sabbath is one of the most important and influential bands in the modern history of music. The same can be said easily of its second front man, Ronnie James Dio. The two sides came together to craft only three albums – Heaven and Hell (1980), Mob Rules (1981), and Dehumanizer (1992) – amid their tumultuous relationship. Now thanks to Rhino Records and Warner Records, the first two of those three records are newly available. Released Friday through Rhino Records and Warner Records, the re-issues will find appeal among audiences, though are imperfect. The imperfection comes from concerns raised through the incongruence of the bonus content between the re-issues’ platforms. This will be discussed a little later. The re-issues’ most important positive comes in the form of their liner notes. They will be discussed shortly. That the re-issues are available on two platforms each is its own important element that will be discussed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the re-issues’ presentations. All things considered, they make the re-issues mostly positive additions to any hard rock and Black Sabbath fan’s library.
Rhino Records and Warner Records’ new re-issues of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules are interesting new presentations of the iconic albums. The records’ re-issues stand out positively in large part due to their liner notes. The liner notes featured in the Heaven and Hell re-issue were crafted by Rolling Stone magazine writer Kory Grow and artist Lynn Curlee, who created the album’s original cover art. The duo’s notes create a solid framework for the record. One of the most interesting items that Grow points out in his notes is that apparently, Ronnie James Dio was not immediately on board when the vocalist opening came up with Black Sabbath. Grow cites comments from Dio’s wife Wendy, writing that she said of this item, “When Ronnie went into Sabbath, I don’t think he was elated about the job at first…he was more of a melodic singer and writer.” Grow goes on to note that Dio eventually found his place within the band. This is information that audiences are not going to find on Wikipedia when researching Black Sabbath, and just one of Grow’s most notable reflections. He also points out how the job of firing Ozzy Osbourne from the band ended up on then drummer Bill Ward. Grow cites Ward in the liner notes’ opening page as saying of the unenviable duty, “Sometimes I don’t know if I’ve ever actually gotten over it.” That statement would make sense, considering Ward’s own unceremonious departure from the band. The guilt he felt likely led to Ward’s own alcoholism, and the fight that led to his split from the group. As if all of that is not enough, Grow also points out that Dio’s famed devil horns sign rose to fame during his first-ever live run with Black Sabbath. The story is so interesting because, as Grow points out, the development of the hand gesture was in fact part of Dio’s much bigger attempt to separate himself as a personality from Osbourne. It shows how deeply Dio thought about making sure he was not compared to Osbourne. This is one more item that is sure to engage and entertain audiences in regards to the liner notes. When the rest of Grow’s notes are considered along with the items pointed out here, the whole of his work in this case makes for a fully engaging and entertaining introduction to the album.
Staying on the note of the liner notes, Curlee’s recollection of how she was picked to create the Heaven and Hell cover art makes for its own interest. Curlee points out that until having been commissioned to create the cover art, she had never even listened to Black Sabbath. That admission will generate its own share of laughs and appreciation for her work. Audiences will be just as interested to learn the back story on the art. She points out that it in fact was a painting that she had already created prior to having been commissioned for the Heaven and Hell project. In other words, she did not have to do but so much to create the album’s cover art. Even more interesting here is Curlee’s note that she has only listened to Heaven and Hell maybe twice in her life. There is no disrespect aimed at the band, just admission that she is more a fan of 80s new wave than metal. Curlee’s overall reflections, together with those of Grow, form a solid foundation for Heaven and Hell. They collectively show so much why the record’s liner notes are so important to its whole.
Grow also crafted the primary liner notes for the re-issue of Mob Rules. In the case of these notes, audiences will be interested to learn of the connection between Black Sabbath and The Beatles in this record. Grow tells the story here that in writing the title song for Mob Rules, the band actually used instruments that were themselves used by The Beatles at a house previously used by that band in record. As Grow points out in his liner notes, the instruments were “found lying around.” He later points out that when the band later relocated to the U.S. to finish crafting Mob Rules, the title track had to be redone because as Grow notes in using The Beatles’ old equipment, “the sound of the track was completely different from the rest of the record.” He cites bassist Geezer Butler as saying that the amp that he used at Lennon’s mansion led to sound problems. This story alone is enough to keep audiences engaged and entertained. When it is considered along with the rest of Grow’s notes, the whole makes Grow’s notes in this case just as entertaining and engaging as those that he crafted for the Heaven and Hell re-issue.
Artist Greg Hildebrandt, who created the cover art for Mob Rules adds to the engagement and entertainment through the liner notes. He points out in his commentary that as with Curlee, he knew nothing of Black Sabbath when he was tapped to create Mob Rules’ cover art. The difference here is that being commissioned for the project, his fandom for the band grew. Additionally, Hildebrandt points out in his notes, a nightmare that he had was the inspiration for the Mob Rules cover art. That anecdote will be left for audiences to learn themselves. He explains how that painting went on to become the album’s cover. Here’s a hint: It happened when Black Sabbath’s members made the first move. That will also be left for audiences to learn for themselves. Between these stories and those shared by Grow, no doubt is left as to the importance of this re-issue’s bonus liner notes. Keeping in mind the importance of these notes and those featured with the Heaven and Hell liner notes, the overall liner notes clearly prove to be an important aspect of these re-issues. They do a lot to make these re-issues a joy for audiences. For all the good that the liner notes do for the re-issues, there is one negative to the recordings. It comes believe it or not through the bonus content.
Typically when one thinks of bonus content, such content is considered a good thing. For the most part, the bonus content featured in the re-issues is good. The problem comes in comparing the bonus content featured in the re-issues in their CD and vinyl platforms. The CD platforms present more bonus content than the vinyl presentations. In the case of the Heaven and Hell re-issue, the live tracks recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London between Dec. 31, 1981 and Jan. 2 1982 are featured in the re-issue’s CD platform, but not the vinyl presentation. Everything else is there on each platform in terms of the primary and bonus content, but that one aspect separates the two platforms’ presentations. In regards to the Mob Rules re-issue, there is a discrepancy in the bonus content here, too. In this case, the discrepancy is even wider. The bonus live content from the band’s Apr. 22, 1982 show is presented only on the re-issue’s CD platform. Why the incongruence happened with the re-issues’ bonus content happened is anyone’s guess. It is not explained in either record’s liner notes. Regardless, it is a limitation that rewards only those who buy CDs versus those who prefer vinyl. It is a weird direct counter to Niji Entertainment’s recent re-issues of Dio’s Evil or Divine: Live in NYC and Holy Diver Live. Those re-issues were clearly aimed more at Dio fans who prefer vinyl to CD. These Black Sabbath re-issues, which feature Dio fronting the band, are aimed more at CD aficionados rather than vinyl fans. That there is a certain bias (intended or not) here detracts from the re-issues’ overall presentations. Of course even as much as it detracts from the re-issues’ presentations, it is not enough to make them failures. To that end, there is one more positive to note here, that being that the re-issues were made available on both platforms.
It would have been easy for officials at Rhino Records and Warner Records to limit these Black Sabbath re-issues to just one platform or another in deciding how to release them. That the decision was made to offer the records to issues on both sides of the “musical aisle” showed that those officials meant to reach as many audiences as possible. This may seem inconsequential on the surface, but the fact of the matter is that there are labels that to this day, release albums, EPs and re-issues strictly on one platform or another. Doing so limits record sales, and in turn, appeal for records and acts. So in providing the re-issues on both platforms means that equal numbers of audiences will get to experience them. It is just too bad that all of the bonus content was not presented in each platform. Even with that one negative in mind, the wide availability of the re-issues in terms of platforms, and the liner notes that accompany the re-issues more than make the re-issues positive presentations. They make the re-issues presentations that hard rock fans and Black Sabbath fans alike will mostly appreciate.
Rhino Records and Warner Records’ brand new re-issues of Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules are largely successful offerings for hard rock and Black Sabbath fans alike. That is due in part to the extensive liner notes that come with the re-issues. While the re-issues’ liner notes make for plenty of engagement and entertainment, the re-issues do have one notable negative, the incongruence of certain bonus content between the platforms on which the albums were re-issued. There is some bonus content featured in the re-issues’ CD presentations that was not featured in their vinyl presentations. Why that is the case is anyone’s guess. Regardless, it is not enough to make the re-issues failures, though it is a matter that one cannot ignore. The very fact that the recordings were re-issued on CD and vinyl ensures a far reaching appeal and potentially high sales for the records. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of the recordings. All things considered, they make the recordings welcome additions to any hard rock and Black Sabbath fan’s library. The re-issues are available now.
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