The release of Heaven & Hell's The Devil You Know marks the first time that Black Sabbath fans have an entire studio album of new material to listen to since 1995.
While they call themselves Heaven & Hell after the name of the first Sabbath album of this "era" of the band, Tony Iommi, Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice are still Black Sabbath in the minds of many fans.
Iommi stands out on this album as the true master of heavy metal guitar-playing, cranking out great new riffs after all of these years. While Appice's drumming is fairly standard heavy metal time-keeping, Butler's trademark bass playing more than makes up for it and helps create a powerful, exciting rhythm section. Although he's not as all over the fretboard as past albums, the bass still drives many of the songs.
Finally, Dio delivers an unbelievable vocal performance on this album. He was 66 at the time of recording, but he sings with pipes more powerful and technique more impressive than many rock vocalists one-third his age.
The opener, "Atom and Evil," is a heavy, mid-paced song about the negative repercussions of scientific progress.
Track two, "Fear," is built around one of the tastiest riffs Iommi has ever written. It's probably the second-best song on the album, and of the three played live on the last tour, the one that translates best into a live performance.
The third track, "Bible Black," is easily the best. A trademark tone and tempo change mark the transition from the beautiful introduction, which sees Iommi experimenting with an acoustic guitar as well as some bluesy electric guitar licks, to the main section of the song, comprised of a heavy riff and driving, bone-crushing bass line and powerful vocal performance. The solo is one of Iommi's finest, and the closing verses are Dio in truly top form.
Next up, "Double the Pain," is a great showcase of Butler's contributions to the band, as even the riff is built off of his opening bass lines. "Rock and Roll Angel," which follows, is one of the overall weaker tracks on the album, but is saved by Sabbath's trademark structural variance and a gorgeous acoustic break layered with another bluesy solo in the middle of the song.
Following "Rock and Roll Angel" is the album's weakest track, "The Turn of the Screw." It isn't bad, but it isn't good either; it sounds like filler.
The last four tracks of the album manage to reign in The Devil You Know as a quintessential metal rock album. "Eating the Cannibals" and "Neverwhere" are fast, head-banging rockers, while "Follow the Tears" and "Breaking into Heaven" are majestic, epic powerhouses.
Despite a lack of experimentation, which is understandable when the average age of your band is over 60, and a slower pace than albums past, Black Sabb - err, Heaven & Hell's new album The Devil You Know is a gem of classic heavy metal and well worth the time of any fan of the genre.