The High Points: The Mob Rules, Sign of the Southern Cross, Falling Off the Edge of the World, Country Girl
The Low Points: Slipping Away
The Verdict: Second time’s the charm…
The Rating: 8/10
Heaven and Hell, for all its, flaws, went a long way towards restoring Black Sabbath’s reputation and was part of a major resurgence in heavy music at the time. Judas Priest finally scored a hit album the same year, Ozzy had a hot ticket with his first solo effort, and Iron Maiden’s first album hit the streets. The very high quality of the album’s best cuts certainly helped things along, and Sabbath was back on it’s feet again following a successful world tour.
Sadly Bill Ward wasn’t there once the dust had settled. His longstanding struggle with the bottle finally came to a head on the road, and he was replaced by Vinnie Appice mid-tour. Appice turned out to be a great choice… arguably the better choice for this particular version of Black Sabbath.
Butler had been MIA for most of the writing of Heaven & Hell, so the follow-up marked the first time that he, Iommi, and Dio would write an entire album together. Add a new drummer to the mix and you’d expect things to change a bit, but in actual fact following Heaven & Hell with Mob Rules turned out to be the closest Sabbath has ever come to making the same album twice. The overall sound and feel of the two albums is nearly identical, and the running order is even similar in terms of the way slow, fast, and medium tempo songs are placed, Particularly amusing is opening track Turn Up the Night, which not only has the same feel as Neon Knights from the previous album but damn near the same title. Wow. It would be more of a problem except…
OK, I’m gonna say it. This is a BETTER album than Heaven and Hell. Like that album, the number of tracks that absolutely slay is very high. Mob Rules is the kind of short, high-energy rocker that Sabbath so rarely manages to pull off, and it rips like a demon. It reminds me a little of Iron Maiden when the gallop rhythm hits during the solo, and I can’t help but note the fact that producer Martin Birch had just finished overseeing Maiden’s second record. Falling Off the Edge of the World features Dio’s patented whisper to a scream formula to stunning effect, going from a gentle ballad to a raging uptempo monster. Over and Over wallows in misery. Country Girl is the one and only example of Dio borrowing Ozzy’s trick of using the riff as a vocal melody… and it totally works.
The real pick, however, is one of those slow, doomy numbers that absolutely nobody does as well as Sabbath. Sign of the Southern Cross has a riff to die for, a killer vocal melody even if I can’t figure out what the fuck Dio is trying to say with the lyrics, and the creepy center section kills me every time. Dig the weird wah wah bass part during the verses. Why this didn’t become a live standard I will never know.
So in a comparison of highlights Mob Rules scores just about as well as it’s predecessor, although it could be argued that nothing on this platter can quite compare to the mighty title track of the first Dio-fronted effort. Where Mob Rules wins out is consistency, which is my nice way of saying it lacks the handful of steaming turds that bring Heaven and Hell down a few notches. Even the lesser material here is pretty damn good; songs like Voodoo and Turn Up the Night may not be favorites, but I enjoy them while they’re on. My only complaint is the turgid and silly Slipping Away.
Performances are strong all around, and Martin Birch turns in a production effort that is basically identical to what he did on Heaven and Hell. Dig the jacket art… it’s one of Sabbath’s coolest album covers. At the end of the day this, not Heaven and Hell, is the return to form Sabbath fans had been looking for and a record that can proudly stand alongside the band’s early 70s output.