Rob Halford looks back on Black Sabbath's Heaven And Hell

A photograph of Ronnie James Dio with Black Sabbath
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Black Sabbath’s Heaven And Hell has been voted in at number one in our countdown of the 100 Greatest Albums Of The 1980s. Check out the full list here.

“Heaven And Hell is a classic. It’s one of the great heavy metal albums, period. And it’s an album that has really stood the test of time. It sounds as fresh and powerful now as when it came out in 1980.

“I can still remember the sense of anticipation waiting to hear what Sabbath and Ronnie would create together. Ronnie had done such amazing work with Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow, here were these metal giants coming together in a new creation. There was a lot of preemptive thinking: what’s it going to sound like? And the album turned out to be absolutely stellar. It was just fantastic.

“Heaven And Hell brought a different dimension to Black Sabbath, with Ronnie’s voice and lyrics and the way Tony [Iommi] wrote for him. When you’re writing as a team, which is what Ronnie and Tony were doing, you put a different metal head on, and that album has an overall texture and atmosphere that pulls it away from the Ozzy-era Sabbath. In that sense, listening to Sabbath with Ozzy and Sabbath with Ronnie are two different experiences.

“Heaven And Hell had a different dimension, but it stayed within the framework of what Black Sabbath was all about. It was still Tony on guitar, Geezer [Butler] on bass, Bill [Ward] on drums, but overall the two worlds are separate. It’s not just Ronnie’s voice, but the whole sound of the band is more melodic.

“The writing and production and the overall presentation still had its roots in the British heavy metal vibe. And Ronnie was obviously greatly attached to British heavy metal from his days with Rainbow. But as an American, he brought a different inflection to Sabbath. He gave the band his stamp. And as much as I’m a huge fan of the stuff that Ronnie did with the band Dio, I think he really went the extra mile in his vocal performances on Heaven And Hell.

“I’m sure Ronnie had as much determination as Tony, Geezer and Bill had to make the album special. They knew the world was waiting for that record. And it really was special. The title of the album was so great. It’s a brilliant concept – heaven and hell, a little bit similar to ‘Judas’ and ‘Priest’. Neon Knights was perfect to kick the whole thing off, so fast and heavy, and then you had Children Of The Sea and Heaven And Hell itself. All the songs are just magical.

“It was such a thrill for me to sing these songs with Sabbath in 1992 [Halford performed two shows with the band in Costa Mesa, California when they opened for Ozzy – a decision that led Dio to quit Sabbath]. I was able to step in and do what needed to be done, and to get the opportunity to sing with Sabbath was just incredible. As everybody knows, the first love of my life is Priest and the second is Sabbath. We’re mates. We’ve been in each other’s lives since both bands started. So when Tony called me and told me what was going on with Ronnie, I just said: ‘Yeah, I’m in!’ I didn’t have to think twice about it. And there wasn’t time to think. They came to my place in Phoenix on the way to Costa Mesa. I’d had a couple of days at home to prepare – singing a cappella with a lot of the old Sabbath stuff and Heaven And Hell. We had one run-through – jamming and picking the set-list – and then we dived straight into those two shows.

“We did four songs from Heaven And Hell – the title track, Children Of The Sea, Die Young and Neon Knights. Those are not easy songs to sing. Ronnie had this incredibly distinctive voice and it’s practically impossible to emulate him. I just did my best to try to do justice to the songs. For me it was such a rush of energy to sing with Sabbath that when it was all over and done it seemed crazy, almost like a dream.

“I went through such an extreme set of emotions doing those gigs. I’m just so glad that somebody did an amazing bootleg job, shooting the shows from up in the rafters. I’ve got that on my laptop, and it’s only when I watch it that I know I was there.

“It was an honour to sing Ronnie’s songs, and I will always love Heaven And Hell for what he gave to Sabbath. You put on that first Sabbath album, an album they made in a day or two, and it’s mind-blowing. But the way the band grew and developed with Heaven And Hell made it ultra-special. What that album offers within the sphere of Black Sabbath is, I think, unique. It’s an absolute classic – for Sabbath and for metal music.”

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Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”