After the band lost Hughes they then recruited Ray Gillen before finally ending up with Tony Martin who, excluding this album which interrupts the five studio album and almost ten year streak, sang on every Black Sabbath studio album afterwards.
As if interrupting the Tony Martin streak didn’t already make it feel a little odd, it is also a little odd in that it both is and isn’t the band’s final album with Ronnie James Dio on vocals because they did actually reform with him again briefly over a decade and a half later to put out three new songs on a greatest hits package and then once more with a different name (Heaven And Hell) and put out another album.
The album was produced by Reinhold Mack, who is notable for his work with Queen, ELO and Deep Purple. The production job of the album however is a source of complaint among many fans and critics, who argue that the record is too muddy sounding.
The general public and critical consensus surrounding the album was that it was the weakest of the three Black Sabbath albums with Dio, but people can differ on whether that’s because this one is actually bad or because the other ones just happen to be even better.
How you feel about this subject will just come down to personal preference at the end of the day and you really have to try it for yourself to find out where you stand. The only thing I would say is that the album is a little dense and definitely a grower so if you really want the best out of it you should probably put in at least five or six serious listens before really making a judgment.
Musically, the album is very heavy, dark and doom orientated, primarily slow paced and mostly based around longer tracks; if any speed builds up its usually just for the guitar solo or the ending (with a few exceptions of course).
Fans of the album would argue that the songs are substantial, and critics of it would argue that the songs are overlong with too much repetition. Its not like the album is devoid of variety though, sometimes there are soft arpeggiated sections and there are a few tasteful touches of background keys, but to be fair it is mostly all about big riffs and Dio’s vocals.
The tracks are quite powerful, brimming with teasing potential energy, that feels intense because the song feels like it is holding back something and threatening to explode at any moment. It can be frustrating to a lot of listeners that the songs basically overuse this teasing mechanic and rarely actually do explode as promised, but again depending on your viewpoint maybe that just makes it more intense.
If you are satisfied hearing some big Iommi riffs, a few guitar solos and Dio’s inimitable vocals, then you can’t really miss out on this album. It may not rewrite history and replace Paranoid and their debut in every critic’s poll and top-100 list, nor should it be expected to, but it is another set of songs to be enjoyed in the form you already enjoy.
Stand out tracks include the musically-atypical single `TV Crime’ which is a lot faster than the rest of the album, as well as the very heavy `Letters From The Earth’ and the grand `I.’
Overall; There are certainly a lot of reasons to give this album a listen; if you are a Sabbath fan, if you are a Dio fan, if you enjoyed Heaven And Hell`s album and if you just plain like big doomy riffs and slow songs. I speculate that the album suits metal fans more so than the original rock fans, and that if you enjoy Stoner or Doom metal you’d be more accepting of the album’s production and direction.
All in all, if you have the time, money and patience for it and suspect you’d be inclined to enjoy it then you should give this album a shot. At the very worst you’ll get one or two new enjoyable tracks for your collection, and if you’re lucky then maybe you will find something that you really connect with.