Black Sabbath’s ‘Heaven and Hell’ album turns 37 this week!
Heaven and Hell is the ninth studio album by Black Sabbath, released on 25 April 1980. It is the first Black Sabbath album to feature vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who replaced Ozzy in 1979.
Dio was first introduced to Tony Iommi in 1979 by Sharon Arden, who would later marry the band’s then-recently fired original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne. Initially, Dio and Iommi discussed forming a new band, rather than a continuation of Black Sabbath. Both men were in similar situations, as Dio was seeking a new project and Iommi required a vocalist. Black Sabbath’s line-up was in chaos leading up to the recording of the album. Not only had the band recently replaced its lead singer, but drummer Bill Ward was battling personal issues that would see him eventually leave the band and original demo recordings for the album featured Geoff Nicholls on bass, as longtime bassist/lyricist Geezer Butler was going through a divorce and his future with the band was in question. In fact, when Dio first joined the band he doubled as bassist and vocalist, having played bass in the band Elf in the early 1970s. Eventually Butler returned and Nicholls stayed on as the band’s unofficial keyboardist. The album’s iconic cover art was taken from a painting by artist Lynn Curlee, called Smoking Angels, which was inspired by a 1928 photograph of women dressed as angels smoking backstage during a break at a college pageant. The album was successful, becoming their highest-charting album since 1975’s Sabotage and the third highest-selling album of Black Sabbath behind Paranoid and Master of Reality, respectively. It was eventually certified platinum in 1986 for selling 1 million copies in the United States. Regardless of what Ozzy loyalists thought, Sabbath was back and were seen as part of a widespread revival in rock fandom!
“Heaven and Hell” is the title track to Black Sabbath’s ninth studio album of the same name. The music was written mainly by guitarist Tony Iommi, but as with almost all Black Sabbath albums, credit is given to the entire band. The lyrics were written entirely by then newcomer Ronnie James Dio. In an interview for VH1’s “Heavy: The Story of Metal”, Dio stated that the song is about the ability of each human being to choose between doing good and doing evil, essentially that each person has “heaven and hell” inside themselves. When the song has been performed live by Black Sabbath, Dio or Heaven & Hell, it’s usually stretched out with an extended guitar solo, audience participation, ad-libbed lyrics, or additional lyrics regarding angelic and demonic apparitions and personal judgment. If you were ever lucky enough to catch it live … it was quite the Epic performance! Over the years, during live shows, it was sung by almost all Sabbath frontmen: Ian Gillan, Glenn Hughes, Ray Gillen, and Tony Martin, the only exception being Ozzy of course. Even Rob Halford of Judas Priest sang it with Black Sabbath in November 1992, when he filled in on vocals for two concerts.
“Neon Knights” is the opening number on Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell album, and it was actually the last song written for it. According to the band it was quickly written and recorded simply to fill time on the album’s first side. The lyrics were written by Dio. And it is the only song on this album to feature songwriting input from bassist Geezer Butler, the band’s main lyricist during the Ozzy era. Butler was absent for most of the songwriting process due to personal issues as well as his own uncertainty as to whether he wanted to remain in the band. Anthrax covered the song during live performances in tribute to Dio following his death in 2010. And in 2014, the band recorded a studio version for the tribute album Ronnie James Dio – This Is Your Life.