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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Black Sabbath: Mob Rules

BLACK SABBATH: MOB RULES (1981)

1) Turn Up The Night; 2) Voodoo; 3) The Sign Of The Southern Cross; 4) E5150; 5) The Mob Rules; 6) Country Girl; 7) Slipping Away; 8) Falling Off The Edge Of The World; 9) Over And Over.

In later years, Tony Iommi was actually a little bit embarrassed that the second album with Dio turned out to be more or less a carbon copy of the first one — something perfectly in the line of work for the average heavy metal band, but still a bit of a blemish on the so-far pioneering repu­tation of the great Sabbath. The funny thing is that he did not seem to experience the same qualms about the later fate of the band — but I guess that when you are fronted by somebody like Ronnie James Dio, expectations will always be higher than when you are fronted by somebody like Tony Martin. In any case, in the early 1980s the Dio/Iommi line-up, want it or not, was still on the cutting edge of «heavy metal», if not necessarily «classic rock».

And even if there is very little progression on Mob Rules — aside from a few novel details that we will get around to in a moment — there is no doubt that the band was still on a creative high. Having replaced the physically detrimented and psychologically battered Bill Ward with new drum­mer Vinny Appice, the «Heaven & Hell» lineup of the former Black Sabbath was now firmly in place, and although Dio had already begun vying for leadership position with Tony, the two were still enjoying the musical chemistry so much that, if anything, Mob Rules actually rocked even heavier and more viciously than its predecessor.

Maybe this impression just has to do with the title track, though. In spirit, ʽThe Mob Rulesʼ is probably the most «punkish» creation to come from this (or any other) incarnation of the band — a fast, righteously angry, brutally delivered message to the powers-that-be on the dangers of misusing and abusing said power. Except that no punk band would probably refer to the people as a «mob», something that Ronnie is not afraid to do, being an elitist escapist by nature. The melody of the song is lumpy, ugly, bursting with power chords and bass drum murders, but its spiky message fits in well with the arrangement, and it is quite refreshing to hear Dio roar "if you listen to fools, the mob rules!" for a change, instead of the usual dragon narrative.

Other minor new details of certain interest include: (a) Dio's rare use of his higher range on the medievalistic acoustic section of ʽThe Sign Of The Southern Crossʼ — a lulling introduction to the otherwise dark and doom-laden fantasy epic; (b) the thoroughly unexpected use of a Celtic folk motive for the heavy riff of ʽCountry Girlʼ, which is probably Sabbath's only direct experi­ence of completely transposing an old folk melody into a heavy metal setting; (c) the attempt at incorporating a soul-blues element into the album's conclusion — admit it, every time Dio opens his mouth to wail "sometimes I feel..." at the opening of ʽOver And Overʼ, you just want to finish with a "...like a motherless child" for him, don't you?

But my personal second favorite on the album, beyond the title track, is ʽVoodooʼ, just because it provides Dio with a perfect vehicle for unleashing some prime-time hatred on an unspecified unlucky soul — if that "say you don't know me, you'll burn!" at the beginning doesn't get you, how about the even more terrifying "bring me your children, they'll burn!" at the end? I guess all those Christian organisations did have a reason for chasing after Dio with threats of exorcism, after all, because on ʽVoodooʼ, he is slipping into this Satanic character like there was absolutely no tomor­row, not for the experienced voodooist, at least. "Call me the Devil, it's true, some can't accept but I crept inside you". It could be hilariously embarrassing, but that subliminal roar in his voice gets me every time. There is a real beast crouching here.

That said, it must also be stated that once again, the riffs in general are not too good. ʽCountry Girlʼ somewhat qualifies, but the sole innovative aspect of its melody is the application of the heavy guitar tone; elsewhere, even ʽThe Mob Rulesʼ employs a rather lackluster boogie chord sequence (though, as I said, appropriate for the occasion). The «sludge monster» riff of ʽThe Sign Of The Southern Crossʼ seems to be on about the same level of complexity and originality as, say, ʽElectric Funeralʼ, but is more of a lazy growl rather than a snappy jawbite, prowling for the lis­tener like ʽFuneralʼ did. And, weirdest of all, we might never have dreamed we'd live to see the day where Tony Iommi would be ripping off Keith Richards, but never say never — ʽSlipping Awayʼ, through and through, is dependent on a riff that is every bit the derivational function of ʽCan't You Hear Me Knockingʼ from Sticky Fingers. Which is more of a curiosity than a tragedy, but why?.. These men belong to different worlds, with hardly a hope of ever bridging them.

But yet again, flawed as it is and all, Mob Rules has its proper spirit, and when Iommi, Dio, and the proper spirit are all in their right place, a thumbs up is guaranteed by definition. When you get down to it, this half-fantasy, half-reality world turns out to be an invigorating location — so just ʽTurn Up The Nightʼ and forgive the record its occasional pathos and overdramatism so you can have some easy metal fun with it.

7 comments:

  1. Noticed that there's no mention of E5150. Is there a reason for that?

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  2. The real question is: is there a reason for mentioning it ?

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  3. So you won't review Live at Last. I can't say I regret that.
    In a few ways I like The Mob Rules better than Heaven and Hell. The riffs of the first three songs and especially Country Girl are better than everything on the predecessor bar Neon Knights. Sure The Sign of the Southern Cross has exactly the same purpose as Heaven and Hell (the song), but the latter has that rather stupid chuggachugga bass line support Dio's vocals, while Southern Cross has just drums (like in the good old days; think of Black Sabbath the song and War Pigs) plus some funny sound effects. The riff of Southern Cross is also the better one. Sure its not in the same league as say Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but it's way better than quite a lot other songs from the Ozzy Eera. Plus the acoustic intro is very good.
    I don't mind E5150 too much. Metallica would do that stuff better of course with their instrumentals, but they were not around yet in 1981.
    The title song never has done very much to me. It's riff - or what should pass for a riff - is clumsy, the melody is clumsy, the solo is clumsy.
    The last three songs are not for me. I think them way too generic.
    But yeah, I'm contemplating a nice compilation of these two Dio albums - plus I from Dehumanizer. That still would not belong to the top league, but still very good.

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    1. Probably he'll do the same thing he did last time around, and review "Past Lives" instead, which is a much better deal.

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  4. When listening the two Dio albums back to back it's striking how much better the production of The Mob Rules is. Kudos to Martin Birch - indeed, of Deep Purple and Rainbow fame.

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    1. Martin Birch produced "Heaven And Hell" as well. The major difference in sonic quality is probably due to the different studios used (Criteria in Miami for HAH vs. the Record Plant in L.A. for Mob Rules).

      As for the music itself, while HAH boasts the title track, one of Sabbath's most epic and prototypical creations, Mob Rules has higher "highs" in Voodoo, TSOFTSC, and FOTEOTW. So, I'd probably opt for Mob Rules as the better album.

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    2. Uh oh, so much for me checking facts for the gazillionth time. I'll never learn, I guess.

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