BLACK SABBATH: DEHUMANIZER (1992)
1) Computer God; 2) After All (The Dead); 3) T.V. Crimes; 4) Letter From Earth; 5) Master Of Insanity; 6) Time Machine; 7) Sins Of The Father; 8) Too Late; 9) I; 10) Buried Alive.
As the Nineties kicked in and heavy metal had pretty much exhausted its basic list of subgenres, Tony Iommi completely ceased to care about any sort of «strategy» for Black Sabbath. Having begun the decade with Tony Martin still at the wheel, the band went through a second Dio phase, a second Martin phase, and a second (third?) Ozzy phase in less than ten years (and I am not even mentioning their brief live stint with Judas Priest's Rob Halford at the mike) — clearly indicating that Iommi did not give much of a damn, and was simply happy to jam along with whoever and whatever came along.
Not that there's any use to complain, when the result is as good as Dehumanizer, unquestionably the best Sabbath album in at least ten years. The return of Dio and drummer Vinny Appice was encouraging, but even more encouraging was the return of Geezer — and with the Heaven And Hell lineup back in place, they could finally let go of Geoff Nicholls and his incessantly and increasingly annoying keyboard presence. And get down to some mean, lean, serious business.
Dehumanizer may not have the best riffs in the history of Iommi/Dio collaborations (alas, Tony's skills were so heavily damaged during the sessions for Headless Cross that repercussions would follow for ever after), but it has some of the best atmospherics. Instead of dungeons, dragons, cabbages, and kings, the album goes for a full-throttle «apocalyptic» mode — humanity doomed and destroyed by technology, media manipulation, and the seven deadly sins in general, that sort of thing, vividly illustrated by the front sleeve's imaginative reinvention of the trials of Luke Skywalker (I guess). This direction was certainly not new to Sabbath (they'd worked that way since the earliest Ozzy days), but this is the first time they really tried to go for a strictly conceptual approach with Dio at the helm, and the results are... satisfactory.
Well-produced, well-arranged, full to the brim of traditionally heavy Tony riffage and with Dio, as usual, in top vocal form, Dehumanizer just couldn't possibly fail. It could have been a masterpiece, had Tony been struck by inspirational lightning — instead, it sounds seriously «crafted», and it seems obvious that Tony spent a lot of time working out the details for those riffs, which is a better option than on Headless Cross, but still, a little bit of extra guitar genius couldn't hurt any of these songs, which have to rely upon Dio's vocal hooks instead.
Picking out individual high- or lowlights would be a waste of time: most of the numbers follow the same formula, except for the occasional speed rocker offering a welcome change of tempo (ʽT.V. Crimesʼ, grittier and snappier than ʽNeon Knightsʼ, but not necessarily more memorable), and the occasional unintentional drift into psychedelia (ʽSins Of The Fatherʼ opens with a lighter guitar tone and echoey vocals as if it were a bona fide cosmic rock jingle from 1967 — soon enough, Tony understands that they started off from the wrong foot and corrects the mode back to «metal», but the hilariousness cannot be erased).
More typically, this is just medium-quality Sabbath, but in a very, very angry mood, with Ronnie and Tony competing in who can get a «nastier» tone from his respective instrument, and this is the only thing on the album to warrant a little fascination. You just gotta love the cello-like instrumental beginning of ʽAfter All (The Dead)ʼ and how it then spills over into Ronnie's "what do you say to the dead?..", slowly and venomously roared away in his finest killer-zombie tone. Maybe Ronnie's finest moment on the record comes with ʽIʼ, a song riding on double irony (the lyrics seem to ridicule extreme egotism, but then you remember just how much of an extreme egotist the late great Ronnie actually was, and it all shines in a different light) rather than on any particular interesting riff. But then again, maybe not — I am not seriously going to try and break that promise not to mention any highlights, as even as the record is.
Funny enough, the closest album to Dehumanizer in spirit that I could think of off the top of my head would probably be Alice Cooper's Brutal Planet — also heavy, also doom-laden, also about the fall of humanity and personal degradation, so that you could see this as some sort of dress rehearsal for the Coop's (much poppier) descent into doom metal territory. However, Dehumanizer takes a much more serious tone (Black Sabbath could sometimes use irony, but very rarely pure humor or satire), and probably overestimates its own ambitions. In retrospect, it is difficult even to regard it as a «comeback», though technically, it most certainly was one. Still, it is impossible to disregard the vibe — and after Headless Cross and TZR, Dehumanizer sounds more like Revitalizer, if you ask me. The very possibility of blasting ʽT.V. Crimesʼ at full volume from your windows and terrorizing the neighbors alone should give ample grounds for a thumbs up. And you may laugh all the way to the bank at the clichéd anti-technological lyrics of ʽComputer Godʼ (writing about digital dreams and virtual reality takes a heavier toll on Ronnie's brain cells than writing about witches and demons), but hey, twenty years on down the road, they have only become more relevant, and personally, I love even the abstract idea of Ronnie the Witch-Hunter lending his talents to a song about the evil powers of computers. Whatever you might think of the album, it does have plenty of intrigue — and the last time we saw Black Sabbath mix with intrigue, I think, had to do with Ian Gillan and the absence of tequila.