In 1979, Ronnie James Dio left Rainbow after the release of their third studio album Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll, due to creative differences with founder Ritchie Blackmore. It wasn’t until he met Tony Iommi at the Rainbow in L.A. and asked him to join Black Sabbath. For Dio, it was a big challenge for him to fill in the shoes of Ozzy after he embarked on a successful solo career at the beginning of the ‘80s. But he found his comfort zone once Sabbath became revitalised during that time frame.
The two albums; Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules were released from 1980 to 1981, the rest was history. My introduction to Sabbath was with Dio, thanks to the 1981 adult-animated cult classic Heavy Metal, produced by Ivan Reitman and featuring the voices of Harold Ramis, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, and John Candy. It proved to me that animation wasn’t just for kids. And it gave metalheads a chance to give Mickey Mouse, the big giant middle finger, and saying to Disney, “Fuck you, this is animation done right!”
But it had a pounding soundtrack. Thanks to bands and artists such as Blue Öyster Cult, Devo, Grand Funk Railroad, Sammy Hagar, and of course Sabbath. I wore that soundtrack out on CD like crazy. This was 1996 when I was 11 years old. But on to the Dio-era of Black Sabbath. When those two albums came out originally on the Warner Bros label in the States and on the swirling Vertigo label in the UK, Sabbath was reborn.
It gave them a chance to achieve their goal, critical success, Dio’s high-ranging vocals, selling millions of copies, and getting the recognition they deserved. Unfortunately, Bill Ward wasn’t doing well due to his alcohol abuse during the making of Heaven and Hell and left the band in 1980 as Vinny Appice (younger brother of Vanilla Fudge’s Carmine Appice) took his place.
By this time, the band wanted to do a live album. There was one that came out on the NEMS label and that was Live at Last which was recorded during the Vol. 4 tour in 1973. Sabbath were planning to release it during that time frame, but it was shelved because of the way it was recorded. It was released legally by their former manager Patrick Meehan who had the recordings of the show, but not telling the band about it.
You can imagine how pissed off Sabbath were when it was released originally, and without their knowledge. But then in 2002, it was re-released with the band’s approval for the Past Lives 2-CD set which included their performance at Brussels, Theatre 140 (Paranoid) and at Asbury Park Convention Hall in 1975 (Sabotage-era). Onto the story, the Mob Rules tour kicked off on November 15, 1981 in Quebec City and ended on August 31, 1982 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
The live set used a cross in the stage production. And that’s where the Live Evil recordings from that tour were used. Recorded in Seattle, Dallas, and San Antonio between two nights from April 23-24th and May 12-13th, you can just close your eyes and imagine yourself being at those venues, showing support for the revitalise version of Sabbath right in front of your very eyes.
Now released in a 4-CD Super Deluxe Box Set from Rhino, Live Evil is a box set that is properly well done. Not only it includes the original album remastered, but an incredible remix of the album from the analogue master tapes from long-time band associate Wyn Davis. And let’s just say, the remix is worth the wait. Despite what was going on behind the scenes during the Mob Rules tour, they were a tight band from what you’re about to explore in the Live Evil box set.
There’s a moment in ‘Heaven and Hell’ where Iommi channels Alex Lifeson’s atmospheric breeze before coming back down to earth and playing these incredible hot frets, giving audiences a chance to cheer him on before Geezer’s takes centre stage to make his Bass go into an ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ approach as they take turns with each other.
It’s not a competition, but watching those two to see who can come up with the most improvisations they can come up with. Part Zeppelin, part doom, they are a band of brothers from day one. Once Ronnie hits those pipes between ‘Neon Knights’, ‘The Mob Rules’, and the classic Sabs’ ‘N.I.B.’, ‘Paranoid’, and ‘Iron Man’ he knows he can add his own spin to the songs that metal heads will appreciate.
Ronnie wasn’t just a metal artist, but had the power, the energy, and the force that’ll send shivers down your spine. When you listen to his work between Elf, Rainbow, Sabbath, The Butterfly Ball, or his solo work, you can completely understand how much he was loved among the metal community to sing both hard rock and balladry compositions.
When I was listening to the Live Evil set, I got a little emotional hearing Dio’s voice again. Not only how much he was missed, but how much of a damn good singer he really was. But just listen to his take of ‘N.I.B.’ it has a growling tone, and Appice’s drum roll take the moment Iommi takes a solo for a stop-and-go section.
And let’s not forget Geoff Nicholls midsection organ work in the live version of the song. Once he comes in the moment takes a breather for a few seconds, he knows when to come in and when to come out. The driven rocker on ‘Voodoo’ does bear a resemblance to Dio’s time with Rainbow, but the live version knocks the studio version right out of the ball park.
I don’t just hear Rainbow, but ZZ Top’s Degüello thrown into the ring as Iommi goes into a Bluesy Sword and Sorcery approach that Dio hypnotises Tony with. Vinny deserves a huge amount of credit. He pounds the shit on his drumkit like a mad scientist creating insane experiences to make his own Frankenstein come to life.
Listen to ‘War Pigs’ for example. Vinny not only adds his own approach to the song from the tour, but adding enough electricity inside his veins to follow the rhythm section in hot pursuit. The bass drums that he pounds with Iommi and Butler bringing in the big tanks of the song and Dio’s vocalisation, is a painting brought to life.
The last section sees Appice taking centre stage as you hear audiences cheering him on. He lends them a helping hand by clapping to the beat, raising the stakes even higher for his drum roll take. There are moments where he channels Buddy Rich and Neil Peart rolled into one. It has a swing, metal, and jazz approach to his textures on his solo.
Once they head into war with ‘Children of the Grave’ that’s where the tanks come marching in, and raising hell during the Nuclear War that’s approaching. Davis’ remix for the third and fourth disc of the set, brings clarity, extending Dio’s speech before introducing the next song and the band members after their improvisation. The original version didn’t have that.
So for the remix, it’s very much a director’s cut of Live Evil during those live recordings the band did during the tour. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, it’s a remix done right. So, if you’re very new to Sabbath after discovering the Ozzy-era and want to embark on the Dio years, this is the one that is highly recommended. And if you listen to fools, The Mob Rules!