It’s Ozzy vs. Dio, 2009 Tony Iommi vs. 2013 Tony Iommi. Black Sabbath’s 13 and Heaven & Hell’s The Devil You Know are the last full-length records from the Ozzy- and Dio-eras of Black Sabbath, respectively. Both took Sabbath’s sound into different directions and were the first records for each line-up in decades, 35 years for Ozzy’s era. Since the albums came out a few years apart and contain half of the same line-up, the two of them seem pretty comparable. We are going to compare album artwork, vocal delivery, Iommi riffage, rhythm section, and overall quality.
The two differ heavily in this category. Sabbath went for a more simplistic, subdued cover that features the number 13 burning up, Wicker Man style. The Devil You Know has a huge eyeless, three-tongued demon holding up a headless Christ on the cross. Quite over-the-top. While I believe both covers represent their respective music well, I have to give it to Heaven & Hell. The painting simply looks badass and is a perfect image to go along with the hellish atmosphere that the album contains. I even bought the tour shirt that has the artwork on it.
Ozzy and Dio, two of the best voices in heavy metal also have completely different sounds. Ozzy has his wicked wailing delivery while Dio is powerful and commanding, the sound of a deity. Both voices are unique, but very different. The two men sound great considering their age at the time of recording (66 for Dio, 64 for Ozzy). It was said that there wasn’t any studio trickery to get Ozzy to sound better for 13, as his quality wasn’t the best live, but who knows what actually happened. With both frontmen’s voices sounding as good as they can at their age, I would say it comes down to who you like better, Ozzy or Dio? I’ll call this one a tie.
Tony Iommi is the master of the riff, and really of heavy metal in general. In fact, he didn’t really have cancer. Cancer had Tony Iommi. He always seems to have a stock of quality riffs like Legolas has arrows in his quiver. He played some crushing riffs with both records, but I have to give this one to Heaven & Hell. Tracks like “Rock and Roll Angel,” “Bible Black,” and “Follow the Tears,” are the best examples. Like I said before, The Devil You Know has a hellish atmosphere, and this is largely due to these mammoth riffs Iommi has to offer. 13 played it safe, with a bit too much familiarity. The best riffs on TDYK are a punch to the face from the deepest depths of hell.
We’ve got Geezer Butler on bass for both records, but Vinnie Appice on drums for TDYK and Brad Wilk from Rage Against the Machine on 13. Geezer does fine on both albums, backing his partner in shredding with ease. So it’s down to Appice and Wilk. After paying attention to both drummers on another listen for each album, it seems to be a tie. Both slammers are by-the-numbers time keepers. Though they do an admirable job, neither of them live up to Sabbath original Bill Ward, who could have helped 13 reach greater heights. This one is a tie.
The Devil You Know is the heaviest album Sabbath (and Ronnie Dio) has ever done, making it a true doom metal record. 13 has a lot to offer, but it relies too much on nostalgia. Dio, Iommi, and co. blazed new trails with their record, while the original line-up was looking backward too much. “Beginning of the End,” and “God is Dead?” sound similar to “Black Sabbath,” “Zeitgeist” is way too close to “Planet Caravan,” the throwbacks go on and on. Though I think 13 does have more variety than TDYK. Every track on the Dio record has a similar feel, the main distinction being the tempo differences. However, there is also a bit more filler on 13, so that variety angle for it is neutralized.
The bottom line is the best of TDYK is simply more interesting than 13. “Follow the Tears” has one of the best intros in all of metal. It’s basically the gates of hell opening. The main part of the song is amazing too. I’d definitely put it on a doom metal playlist introducing someone to the genre. My favorite from 13 is either “Age of Reason,” or “Dear Father,” both of which lack the punch of stuff like “Bible Black” or “Rock and Roll Angel” on the 2009 album. While the Ozzy era is my favorite of Sabbath’s, the Dio era was more consistently good with their albums (though they only did 4 as opposed to 9 for Ozzy’s time in the band).
Long live the legacy of Black Sabbath, Heaven & Hell, and Ronnie James Dio.