The High Points: Computer God, After All (The Dead), Sins of the Father, I
The Low Points: Ummm…
The Verdict: An overlooked masterpiece.
The Rating: 10/10
Despite a string of excellent recordings and success in places the band had failed to crack before, Sabbath circa 1991 was sucking hind tit in the all-important big-money US market. In a desperate attempt to solve this problem Iommi fired half of his band… bassist Neil Murray and singer Tony Martin were thrown under the bus to bring Ronnie James Dio and Geezer Butler back.
It wasn’t exactly a joyous reunion. All the old problems still existed, and the whole thing was exacerbated by drummer Cozy Powell. Powell was to be kept on board but there was a problem… he and Dio had worked together in Rainbow in the late 70s and they hated each other. According to Iommi, when informed that Dio would be joining Powell said “if that little cunt says anything to me I’m going to smash his face”. NOT the most auspicious way to get started. Things got so bad the band decided to try writing some stuff with Tony Martin. They told Dio they were taking a break and got a start on some material behind his back, but the record company absolutely balked… Iommi had promised Dio’s involvement and if there was going to be a substitute it had better be fucking Ozzy. Powell inadvertently solved it by sitting on a horse at the precise moment the beast chose to have a heart attack; it fell on him and injured him sufficiently that it was questionable whether he would ever drum again. He was replaced by Vinnie Appice, thus reuniting the lineup that had recorded Mob Rules in 1981. Things were still far from well, but the band was able to move forward and get an album written.
And holy shit, did they ever deliver. I’m tempted to write about how underrated this album is, but I took a look at some other reviews and have to wonder how underrated something is if everyone is giving it four and five star ratings. It may not have been anybody’s blockbuster in 1992, but time has been kind to this record. Deservedly so; this is a fucking monstrous metal BEAST.
The consistency here is startling… we just hop from one slice of beastly goodness to another. The riffs are powerful and crunchy, and the whole atmosphere is darker than the two early 80s Dio fronted efforts. It sounds kinda like what I think Sabbath might have sounded like if Dio had been there in 1975. Same doominess, but more choruses and a few fast songs. It fucking rules. Dio mercifully gives us a break from his dragons and rainbows schtick and gets grittily topical, attacking everything from technological dependence to greedy TV preachers.
The songs are just killer. I don’t even know which ones to talk about because they all rule. There’s the fast and furious TV Crimes, the dark and Brooding Letters From Earth… After All (The Dead) is one that deserves special mention. It’s Sabbath’s unique brand of downtempo darkness, and one of the best examples thereof. I is faster but just as dark, and it’s so good nobody really gives a shit that Iommi’s wah-soaked intro riff rhymes a bit with Purple Haze. Then there’s Sins of the Father, which I think of as the forgotten gem from this record. It starts off slow with one of Iommi’s great drone string riffs, then kicks into high gear a little further on. Dio’s vocal melody just kills, especially on the godlike chorus.
But if I had to pick one it would be the mighty Computer God. The riff is insanely malevolent, showcasing Iommi fooling around with the Phrygian mode. It segues seemlessly into a brilliant chorus section, and a bit later there’s an acoustic breakdown before it explodes into a fast, furious solo section. Holy hell, this is epic… one of Sabbath’s best.
The production is dark and dense, with exceptionally meaty bass and guitar tones. The performances are great as well, with Dio probably getting the man of the match award for perhaps the angriest and most passionate vocals he ever committed to tape. The album was produced by Reinhold Mack, which was a bit surprising as both Dio and Iommi had been self-producing for years. Hell, his main job was probably to keep the two of them from killing each other.
Sadly this reunion wouldn’t last… it all fell apart when Iommi allowed Sabbath to be booked as an opening act for Ozzy Osbourne’s last two No More Tours shows and seriously what the FUCK was he thinking? Dio summed it up in an interview a few years later, calling Butler and Iommi “stupid assholes” for breaking up the “best band in the world” in hopes of a reunion that didn’t even happen. I’d agree… for this moment Sabbath really was the best band in the world, even if they didn’t get much credit for it at the time. This is the best album you probably have never heard so what the fuck are you sitting around for? Go get a copy right now.