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Cover Story: A New Heaven & Hell

Second chances are a dicey proposition in rock ’n’ roll, especially when a famous band replaces a singer of legendary status. But Black Sabbath bucked that trend when they enlisted Ronnie James Dio to replace Ozzy Osbourne.

Second chances are a dicey proposition in rock ’n’ roll, especially when a famous band replaces a singer of legendary status. There are countless examples of rock groups that have taken this path and failed to achieve the same level of notoriety.

But, British heavy metal legends Black Sabbath bucked that trend when they enlisted former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio into their ranks after firing the drug-addled Ozzy Osbourne in 1979. Their fortunes were waning artistically and commercially, their magic chemistry had dissipated, and they desperately needed new blood.

“A lot of people felt that Dio joining Sabbath was a mistake on both parts,” recalls Malcolm Dome of London-based Internet radio station TotalRock. “Trying to replace Ozzy was an impossible task. But, Ronnie never tried to replace Ozzy. He facilitated Sabbath going in a different direction. The quality of Heaven And Hell won everyone — well, almost everyone — over. The shows were packed, and the band got a great response.”

The gambit has paid off three times now; first in 1980, again in 1992, and last year with the second reunion of the Dio lineup of Sabbath, rechristened Heaven and Hell after their first and most famous album.

Despite the upheavals that have torn them apart in the past, they keep coming back together, and, as before, this incarnation of the world’s most renowned metal group is writing a new album for release in early 2009. This isn’t merely about nostalgia; it’s about making music that the quartet — singer Ronnie James Dio, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Vinny Appice — truly loves.

“It’s a difficult band to play in musically, because the music goes to places that no one expects,” remarks Dio. “Even we didn’t expect it when we started doing it again. Once again, because they really wanted to do this and be proud of another kind of music that they were playing, it made it so much easier. Every time we’ve seen each other [over the years], nothing has changed. It’s almost as if we saw each other the day before, and that’s the mark of people who can really get along.”

Judging from the band’s onstage enthusiasm and interest in discussing their work, which includes forthcoming CD reissues of their four albums together (Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, Live Evil and Dehumanizer), they are psyched to be making music together again.

“When we started rehearsing again, within a couple of minutes it just gelled,” declares Appice. “It just locked in like we never broke up, and it got better and better and better. First, we were supposed to do the tour, and that’s it.” Having toured successfully before making a new album, the quartet is a finely tuned machine that is pumped up to record.

“Everybody over here [in the U.K.] was delighted with Heaven & Hell last year,” remarked Dome. “Not only were the older fans pleased to have them back, but they won over a lot of young devotees as well. It was the fact that they were better than ever, and also the way that young bands openly idolized them.”

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