Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Black Sabbath - "Heaven and Hell" (LP Review)

Geoff Nicholls died this week.  You're probably thinking "who?" and that's ok, he was a journeyman in the NWOBHM movement, best known as the keyboardist for Black Sabbath from 1980--2004.  Most of the time he was credited as an "additional performer" but he was occasionally credited as a full-member of the band (e.g., on "Seventh Star"), his vacillating membership status serving as a metaphor for the awkward role of keyboards and heavy metal in general.  His wikipedia page states he typically played back- or side-stage during concerts -- nothing says "I'm not a full member of the band" like playing backstage (or in the bar's kitchen, but that's a story for another time). 

Black Sabbath had used keyboards on previous LPs, but fortunately they had never really been central to their sound.  1980's "Heaven and Hell" was the first LP in which Nicholls appears, but of course this LP is better known for being the LP with Ronnie James Dio replacing longtime lead singer Ozzy.  At the time there was a lot of concern about Ozzy-less Sabbath, but I think most people eventually realized that Dio had re-energized Black Sabbath -- honestly, the last two Sabbath LPs with Ozzy weren't very good.  In high school I was a huge Dio fan, so I had no qualms about him leading Sabbath, and I just considered early 80s Sabbath and early 70s Sabbath as basically two different bands.

Although I rarely listen to it now, this LP still occupies a special place for me and it is hard to overstate how important this LP was to me back in the day.  It still sounds good, but I also realize that I can not even begin to separate it from the nostalgia of the mid-80s.  I'll also admit as much as I generally dislike keyboards in metal, Nicholls does a fine job on songs like "Die Young" and "Lonely is the Word", where the keyboards are present but not central... like they're being played from back stage.

Standout songs: "Neon Knights", "Children of the Sea", "Heaven and Hell", "Wishing Well", "Die Young", "Lonely Is the Word"

Skip 'em songs: "Lady Evil"

Final score: 9/10

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