Replacing a lead singer is the kiss of death in Metal. As the new singer, you must be comfortable with the knowledge that no matter how hard you wail, how tight your pants are, how BAD-ASS you are, you will never be as good as the first guy. This was the harsh reality Ronnie James Dio stepped into when he joined Black Sabbath upon Ozzy Osbourne’s departure. Even though the band had been running on fumes for some time at the point Dio came on, Ozzy was still an iconic frontman, and the pressure of replacing him might have gotten to a lesser deity. Ronnie may have been a small guy, but he had the swagger and persistence of the Devil himself, and wasted no time proving it on “Heaven and Hell,” which was the band’s best-selling record in years, and it’s even-better follow-up, “Mob Rules”.
Dio changed the dynamic of the band completely, with a style as far removed from Ozzy’s as can be. His vocals were soaring and melodic – a far cry from the Oz-man’s base mono-syllabic chanting. “Mob Rules” also featured another significant line-up change, as it was the first without drummer Bill Ward, who had issues with Dio. I’m as big a Bill fan as they come, but listening to this record, it’s Vinny Appice who inarguably helps elevate things to the next level. Bill Ward’s primitive swing was one of the trademarks of the Sabbath sound, and his successor is wise enough not to toy with this foundation. Appice has the edge though when it comes to pure chops; he’s just got more tools in his box than Ward, and the added technical prowess opens up new dark corridors for the band. You get the feeling that Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler had been waiting to flex like this for awhile, and the inventiveness of the riffs and arrangements on this record reflect the re-newed hunger of a band reborn, while laying the groundwork for the more technical, anthemic groups that would come to epitomize Metal in the ’80’s and beyond. —Jon Treneff