Album of the Week 17-2019: Black Sabbath – Mob Rules


Black Sabbath completely reinvented itself when Ozzy Osbourne left and Ronnie James Dio took over. ‘Heaven And Hell’ turned out to be one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time and made Sabbath catch up with the blossoming NWOBHM scene with class and conviction. Its follow-up ‘Mob Rules’ is often seen as more of the same. But while the album still mostly relies on the perfect blend of Sabbath’s at the time unprecedented heaviness and Dio’s more melodic hardrock sensibilities, it’s also quite a bit heavier than ‘Heaven And Hell’. ‘Mob Rules’ is an excellent album in its own right.

Looking back, it does seem like remaining original members Tony Iommi (guitar) and Geezer Butler (bass) tried to inject some more of the slow, heavy doom metal (although it was not yet known as such) that Black Sabbath was renowned for in the Ozzy-era back into their sound. Though to be fair, the arrival of new drummer Vinny Appice probably contributed to that as well, as he is a more straightforward power hitter than Bill Ward. I have once seen the album described as Iommi and Dio trying to blow each other off the record and though that description is apt, it also suggests less cohesion than actually can be heard.

‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’ is far and away the longest and heaviest track on ‘Mob Rules’. It is built upon simple, but monstrous riffs that don’t contain a lot of notes, but wring everything out of those that are there. It also is the perfect rebuttal for the previous statement, as the band leaves plenty of room for Dio’s majestic voice in the verses. This also does wonders for the dynamics of the song. Following it, however, is ‘The Mob Rules’, which injects Sabbath’s music with the savage aggression of the punk era. In a way, ‘Mob Rules’ marries what were the best elements of past and present when the album came out in 1981.

One often heard complaint is that ‘Mob Rules’ follows the sequencing of ‘Heaven And Hell’ a little too closely, but that may originate from staunch critics of the band. Sure, ‘Turn Up The Night’ is stylistically similar to ‘Neon Knights’ – uptempo, powerful and romantic – and tracks like ‘Voodoo’ and ‘Country Girl’ reprise the loose, rocky vibe of the likes of ‘Lady Evil’, but the sound of ‘Mob Rules’ is so characteristic that nobody would mistake them for ‘Heaven And Hell’ tracks. In addition, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’ and ‘Over And Over’ don’t sound like anything Black Sabbath has done before or since. The latter is an impressive doom metal ballad, unlikely as that sounds, and the former an epic heavy metal track that would not sound out of place on one of Dio’s first two albums, had it not been for the main riff that just screams Iommi.

Ultimately, ‘Mob Rules’ does in deed fall somewhat short of ‘Heaven And Hell’. The interlude ‘E5150’ is much too long, especially considering its place on the album, and ‘Slipping Away’ isn’t exactly the most inspired Black Sabbath track to date. Give it some time, however, and the album will proof it has a lot of merit on its own. Some of the songs are quite unique entries into the Black Sabbath catalog and worthy of being heard. There is simply too much good stuff on this record to be dismissed as the lesser Black Sabbath album with Dio.

Recommended tracks: ‘The Sign Of The Southern Cross’, ‘Falling Off The Edge Of The World’, ‘Turn Up The Night’

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