Fell in love with a country girl, morning sunshine
She was up from a nether world, just to bust another soul
Her eyes were an endless flame, holy lightning
Desire with a special name, made to snatch your soul away
Only one man in the history of our planet could have written those words, raise a toast to Ronnie James Dio and while you’re at it, raise another one to Black Sabbath Mob Rules, which is getting some major 1537 rotation at the moment. Having been raised on the wisdom that Ozzy Sabbath was the only real Sabbath I only bought this LP in 2010 from Hairy Records in Liverpool, rather sadly only the week before Dio died. I’m not saying its my favourite Black Sabbath LP, but it’s definitely the one I play most often.
There’s something about the cover of this LP, those ominous shapeless whip-toting robed figures which always put me off buying Mob Rules if I ever found myself alone in a record shop with it, I only found out recently that the artwork dated from 1971 and is called Dream 1: Crucifiers – heavy.
I absolutely love the way Mob Rules just goes straight for the jugular with ‘Turn Up The Night’, the band with Vinnie Appice now on drums* just sound so fresh and energized. Tony Iomni’s riffing has a certain rough edge, but his melodic playing on this song is awesome, I know that his playing on the early sabbath LP’s is more inventive but I think that overall this LP has his best technical playing on it. Once you glide past all the hair-frizzing solos my favourite bit of this song and one of my favourite bits on the whole LP is where Dio sings ‘Like a Fire Needs a Spark’** as a bridge just content to lift the whole song on those mighty, mighty pipes, his voice actually sounds muscular.
Next up ‘Voodoo’, apart from John Bonham-like drum fills is for my money possibly the weakest track on the LP and sounds like the sort of song Dio (the band) were pushing out around the time of Dream Evil and I should know, I owned a Dream Evil T-shirt, which I wore until it got so grey and shapeless it had to be humanely put to sleep. It stands in stark straight contrast to by far the best track on the LP, ‘The Sign of the Southern Cross’, my favourite Dio vocal ever. Starting with some high-pitched trilling and acoustics which prompted a passing Mrs 1537 to ask me if I was playing that ‘awful folk band you like’^ , the guitars just take this track on a brilliantly atmospheric descent, whilst Dio spouts his own particular brand of nonsense poetry over the top but as always with such strength and conviction, you only really notice until you see it written down. I love the way the guitar is used to underline certain words and phrases in the song, I love the way Dio sings, ‘Somewhere, Nowhere, All’ like it was the most meaningful thing in the world and I challenge any rocker to sit through it on their own without playing air guitar, or air Dioing along. It segues into the keyboard instrumental ‘E5150’, an intriguing track the band used as an intro tape apparently, the way the title track just explodes afterwards, complete with another brilliant Iomni solo, keeps the energy levels from flagging.
The second side starts with the awesome ‘Country Girl’, the source of those lyrics above. As always for Dio the world was populated by evil ladies, unholy maidens one and all, dancers in the dark, or more usually, gypsy dancers in the dark ready to bring a righteous man down and rob him of his soul in a trice. The riff and the rhythm section’s swing on this track is just immense. The next track ‘Slipping Away’ sounds to me as a straight-up Led Zeppelin impression, complete with tons more swing and sway and a stop/start riff. ‘Falling Off The Edge of the World’ is yet another awesome track, Dio really opening up towards the end at the coda, again just flexing that voice, for all it’s worth. Obviously there would be a connection later through Martin Birch, but Dio’s vocals on this track really put me in mind of Bruce Dickinson, circa Piece of Mind. Martin Birch’s production is absolutely perfect on this LP, strong, crisp, clear everything a top drawer metal LP needs.
The last track ‘Over and Over’ is a bit of a uncelebrated one in Sabbath’s canon, but I really rate it. Dio finds a real emotional range, in fact I’m fairly obsessed with the idea that this song could easily be sung by a woman in a torch-song style. True. The remarkable thing about this track is Tony Iomni’s playing, it’s melodic, graceful and again carries a real emotional punch, more like Gary Moore or, dare I say it, Dave Gilmour.
So there you have it a truly excellent LP, full of Dio’s best singing and some of Tony Iomni’s most adventurous playing, it’s an old joke but Mob Rules rules!!
P.S- a very nasty PC virus has laid my computer low and I’ve had to type this on my phone, hence the less than exciting layout and, possible spelling mistakes. This was probably how they used to do it in Renaissance times, or something.
*Black Sabbath were allegedly referred to at the time by their former singer as ‘Geezer and the three wops’.
**Dio actually sings the capital letters on each word. True.
^The Smoke Fairies – and she’s wrong about them. Huh, wives!!