I’m sure my friends can attest to how often I use the word “awesome.” Anytime I like something, I can describe as “awesome,” and regardless of how or why, that word is the first thing that pops into my head when listening to a good album. That’s why for the first non-Archival feature on Sound Writer, I would like to use my unhealthy affection for the word “awesome” to showcase one album every week that I love, want to share with all of you, and just overall think is “awesome.” These albums will get a full review, and can be anything from a new release to an obscure classic from forty years ago. So without ado, I would like to introduce Sound Writer’s first ever “Awesome Album of the Week.”
Heaven and Hell
With the recent death of Ronnie James Dio, former Black Sabbath vocalist and one my favorite human beings to ever walk this earth, it only makes sense for Sabbath’s landmark Heaven and Hell to be the first “Awesome Album of the Week.” This is nothing less than one of the greatest heavy metal albums ever released, as well as the first Sabbath album to feature Dio in place of Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. It turned out that Dio was just the man needed to save Black Sabbath, a once great band that had released two awful albums just before this one, and even save heavy metal. The influence of Heaven and Hell was almost immediate, as bands such as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest would release albums with clear Heaven and Hell influences just a few years after its 1980 release.
Heaven and Hell starts out a bang, and only gets better from there. “Neon Knights",” one of the most recognizable heavy metal songs from the 80’s, is the opener. Its blazing riff and soaring vocals made it a huge departure from the slower and simpler style of Ozzy-era Sabbath. The rest of the album follows the same trend, as each song tops the last in terms of technicality, creating what was at the time the most musically impressive metal album yet. The lyrics were also a huge step away from past Sabbath, trading in the often drug-related subject matter for a dark fantasy setting full of ambiguity and intelligent wordplay. Songs like “Children of the Sea,” “Die Young,” and the incredible title track used religion, death, and the afterlife as major themes, resulting in a darker and more chilling mood than anything the genre had seen before.
The songwriting on Heaven and Hell is also top-notch. Sabbath originally started as a blues band, and while there are still elements of the blues rock that heavy metal grew out of, this was one of the first albums to introduce classical music into the equation. The addition of keyboardist Geoff Nicholls created another layer of melody, allowing for a perfect combination of blues and classical music. Add in some of the heaviest and darkest music to have existed as of 1980, and the result is something truly unique. It’s also astonishing that despite being a huge departure from anything the genre had seen before, Heaven and Hell is unbelievably polished. Every single track belongs on the album, resulting in no filler whatsoever. This is a masterful album from start to finish.
Heaven and Hell is an awesome album, not only for it’s influence in metal, but also because it’s just a damn great record. Black Sabbath once said that they said aimed to created “horror music.” If early Sabbath was a like a horror film, then Heaven and Hell is like an artistic ghost story that just happens to double as a horror film. It’s dark, beautiful, and one of the most “awesome” albums I’ve ever heard.