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Interview:
Black Sabbath Vets In Heaven With Hell
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

Despite the Eagles' best efforts, hell still hasn't frozen over.

But the members of another band, Heaven and Hell, have warmed up enough towards each other to work together again for the first time in 11 years.

Of course, we know Heaven and Hell better by another name -- Black Sabbath. The quartet that's on the road now actually represents the third incarnation of the seminal heavy metal band, with founding members Tony Iommi and Terry "Geezer" Butler joined by frontman Ronnie James Dio, who replaced Ozzy Osbourne in 1979, and drummer Vinnie Appice, who stepped in for Bill Ward the following year.

They've released three fresh songs on a new compilation, "Black Sabbath: The Dio Years," and have also put out a limited edition live album. So why not just call it Black Sabbath?

"By calling it Heaven and Hell," explains guitarist Iommi, 59, "you know exactly what you're getting and it doesn't interfere with anything. There's no, 'Is it really Black Sabbath?' and all that rubbish.

"Of course we have been out as Black Sabbath with this lineup, so we could do it. But I think it's best to go as Heaven and Hell."

Iommi says that the original Black Sabbath lineup's recent work, mostly on Osbourne's OZZFest tours, might have made the appearance of another Sabbath somewhat confusing. And Dio says that after Sabbath's 2006 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, "we wanted to put a bit more finality on Black Sabbath with Ozzy and go for a fresher approach."

But he's confident the fans still know exactly what Heaven and Hell -- which took its name from his first album with Black Sabbath -- is.

"I think if we called it Popeye and Olive Oil people would still know it's Sabbath," says Dio, 58, who was born Ronald James Padavona and joined Sabbath after a tenure as the founding singer of Rainbow. "The reputation precedes us and precludes anyone from saying this isn't Black Sabbath."

Osbourne himself has given the group his blessing, calling Dio "a great singer" and saying that "I have no axes to grind with them anymore. If they're having fun, who am I to say no?"

And bassist Butler, 57, says that after playing several years of static Black Sabbath sets on OZZFest, he's happy to be playing some different songs.

"It really is a different kind of music," he explains. "The music's a lot more complicated. The themes are different, lyrically, and it's more open to improvisation, whereas the original lineup was more formatted."

Black Sabbath actually considered changing its name back in 1979, when Dio first joined. Other parties -- especially the group's management and record company -- prevailed, and their decision seemed wise when the "Heaven and Hell" album soared into the Billboard Top 30 and went platinum, followed by 1981's gold-certified "Mob Rules." The group had splintered by the time 1982's "Live Evil" concert album was released, but it regrouped briefly for the 1992 reunion effort "Dehumanizer."

Iommi takes credit for this year's reunion, having suggested the idea to Butler in 2006. Meanwhile, Rhino Records, which controls Black Sabbath's catalog, began talking with the band about a reissue campaign for its music from that period.

Then Dio came to England on tour with his own band, and Iommi attended a show. The two had a pleasant meeting, and the reunited quartet very nearly made an entire album of new material before opting to just do the new songs for the compilation.

"It just went from strength to strength," Iommi notes. "It really worked out well working together again, and we just did it in stages -- some recording, and now we're touring. It doesn't feel particularly contrived or planned."

It also doesn't feel like a long-term commitment -- at least as far as Dio is concerned.

"We've approached this as having an ending period," he says. "It must have an ending period because we all have other commitments." Those include a reported new album and tour by the original Black Sabbath lineup some time in the next two years.

Butler concurs that "we know it's only going to be together for 10 months," but Iommi isn't convinced that Heaven and Hell can't have some life beyond this year's planned activities.

"It's great for Geezer and myself," he says, "because the last 10 years we've been out playing Sabbath stuff, which is great but it's nice to stretch ourselves a bit and play other stuff. It's brand new for us 'cause we haven't played these songs for a long time.

"So we haven't locked the doors to anything. It's just one of those 'Let's see how it goes' things, you know?"



Heaven and Hell, Megadeth and Machine Head perform at 7 p.m. Saturday (May 11th) at Cobo Arena, 301 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $59.50, $49.50 and $39.50. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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