Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath first rained down upon us mere mortals on April 25, 1980. Hard to believe it’s been 35 years since the band that invented heavy metal re-invented itself after crashing and burning in a manner that can—and did—sink any number of their hardest rocking contemporaries.
In honor of Heaven and Hell, here are 35 facts regarding Sabbath’s landmark LP. Put the record on, turn it up, and read along as Ronnie, Tony, Geezer, and Bill take you from the heights of divine ecstasy to the flaming nadirs of infinite damnation—and all the way back up again.
1. Heaven and Hell is the ninth studio album by Black Sabbath, and the first not to feature Ozzy Osbourne on vocals.
2. In 1979, Ozzy began recording the album with the band in Los Angeles. Alas, after an arduous, counterproductive period of chemical-inflamed insanity, Sabbath gave their frontman the boot.
3. The only remnant of Ozzy’s Heaven and Hell sessions is said to be a tape of him singing “Children of the Sea,” utilizing other lyrics and a different vocal line than that which appears in the finally released version.
4. Guitarist Tony Iommi makes reference to the alternate recording, as well as much of the madness surrounding Ozzy’s departure, in his 2012 autobiography, Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell With Black Sabbath. It is a must-read.
5. Ronnie James Dio replaced Ozzy Osbourne as Black Sabbath’s lead vocalist in 1979.
6. Dio not only sings on Heaven and Hell, he composed each song’s lyrics.
7. Although they had run in similar circles and shared numerous confidants and collaborators in common, Dio and Tony Iommi didn’t formally meet until the late 1970s, when they introduced by a mutual friend, Sharon Arden.
8. Sharon Arden would go on to change her last name after getting married. The world knows her now as Sharon Osbourne. That’s correct: Ozzy’s future wife hooked up his replacement singer with the band who had fired him.
9. Born in New Hampshire and raised in upstate New York, Ronnie James Dio fronted several groups before finding his niche in 1967 with the heavy-blues, boogie-rock, proto-metal outfit Elf.
10. In 1972, Elf came under the tutelage of Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover after they wowed him in concert. Ultimately, Glover and Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice produced Elf’s self-titled 1972 debut.
11. For the next couple of years, Elf regularly opened for Deep Purple on tour. They garnered their own following and attracting serious attention from Purple guitar guru Ritchie Blackmore.
12. Ritchie Blackmore departed Deep Purple in 1974 to form the group Rainbow, with Dio manning the microphone. “I left Deep Purple because I’d met up with Ronnie Dio, and he was so easy to work with,” Blackmore said. “He was originally just going to do one track of a solo LP, but we ended up doing the whole LP in three weeks, which I was very excited about.”
13. After five years and a number of classic releases, Blackmore aimed to take Rainbow in a more arena-rock direction, while Dio sought to delve deeper into the heavier aspects of pure metal. As a result, the singer became available to join Black Sabbath in 1979.
14. Aside from switching singers, the membership of Black Sabbath was by and large a mess as they headed into making Heaven and Hell. Tony Iommi proved to be the exception and he managed, remarkably, to hold the various crumbling pieces together long enough to bring forth a new classic and emerge reenergized and ready to re-conquer the universe.
15. Drummer Bill Ward battled severe alcoholism and would leave the band before the next album, 1981’s Mob Rules. Ward has subsequently reported that he has “no memory” of participating in Heaven and Hell.
16. Bill Ward semi-spectacularly broke down while on tour to promote Heaven and Hell. Eventually, he just left. Ronnie James Dio remembered calling Bill’s hotel room one morning and having the drummer say, “I’m off then, Ron.” Dio responded, “That’s nice Bill, where are you going?” Ward replied: “No, I’m off mate. I’m at the airport now.” That, as is said, was that.
17. Vinny Appice, a powerhouse American session drummer and member of the band Axis, came on board to finish the Heaven and Hell Tour. Appice remained a fixture of Black Sabbath, off and on, for the next sixteen years.
18. Amidst Ward’s issues, bassist Geezer Butler’s ferocious divorce proceedings largely sidelined him while recording Heaven and Hell. Longtime sideman and keyboardist Geoff Nichols was brought in to play bass on the record’s initial demos.
19. Tony Iommi sought counsel from longtime Sabbath booster Frank Zappa, who offered to temporarily lend his bass player to the group. Iommi preferred instead to either stick with Butler or find a permanent replacement. In time, Butler returned to the fold at full-strength.
20. Somewhere in all this bass-based chaos, Craig Gruber, who played bass in both Elf and Rainbow, went into the studio with Sabbath.
21. Although Tony Iommi maintains that Gruber only jammed with the group “for a bit,” Gruber contended that he, and not Geezer Butler, actually played bass on Heaven and Hell. In addition, Gruber states that he co-wrote the bulk of the album’s songs. To date, Gruber’s contributions remain uncredited, but the bass player ultimately backed off after, as he put it, “we came to a suitable financial arrangement.”
22. Heaven and Hell’s instantly iconic cover image is a painting titled “Smoking Angels” by American artist Lynn Curlee. It’s based on a 1920s-era photograph of women dressed as heavenly bodies and succumbing to all-too-human vices. The subjects in the picture were, in fact, members of a small-town Christmas pageant who were snapped blowing off steam and relaxing backstage.
23. Lynn Curlee had previously painted the famous magician image that appears on the cover of Blue Öyster Cult’s 1976 magnum opus, Agents of Fortune. He says he’d like to have done more album covers, but he simply wasn’t asked to again.
24. Upon its April 25, 1980 release, Heaven and Hell stunned longtime Sabbath fans and won over countless new converts. It reached #28 on the U.S. Billboard charts and sold steadily enough to be certified platinum in 1986.
25. Heaven and Hell proved that an A-list band could successfully move forward after replacing their signature frontman. Just a few months later, AC/DC pulled off the same trick by way of Back in Black, their blockbuster first releases with new vocalist Brian Johnson, who had replaced the tragically deceased Bon Scott. 1980 was one remarkable year for transformative heavy metal.
26. Running concurrent to Black Sabbath’s rebirth via Heaven and Hell was a phenomenon in the band’s home country known as the New Wave of Heavy Metal (NWOBHM). Super-charged by upstarts on the order of Iron Maiden, Saxon, Def Leppard, and Witchfinder General, NWOBHM represented “heavy metal played with punk attitude.”
27. Just as Judas Priest’s simultaneous 1980 masterwork British Steel transported that veteran band to the head of the NWOBHM pack, Heaven and Hell also announced that Black Sabbath remained the mightiest of all metal titans. The album’s opening track, “Neon Knights,” is an electrifying, punk-paced onslaught that rampages` forth from Iommi’s lightning guitar and Dio’s skyward-soaring vocals. It’s a knockout punch right up front. From there, the pummeling just continues—brilliantly.
28. The 1980-81 Heaven and Hell Tour took Black Sabbath around the world and newly reignited the band’s fire. It was not without some initial bumps. As Tony Iommi recalls: “We were doing big shows and it was difficult for Ronnie to go out and stand in front of people who had seen Ozzy in that spot for ten years. Some of the kids hated it and they’d shout: ’Ozzy, Ozzy!’ But eventually Ronnie won them over.”
29. Among the acts opening for Sabbath in 1980-81 were Alice Cooper, Blue Öyster Cult, Sammy Hagar, Journey, Cheap Trick, Billy Squier, Molly Hatchet, Saxon, Nazareth, Humble Pie, Angel Witch, Rose Tattoo, Girlschool, and Shakin’ Street.
30. Black and Blue (1981) is a big-screen concert film documenting a particularly epic 1980 Black Sabbath-Blue Öyster Cult gig at Long Island, New York’s Nassau Coliseum. It opened in wide release to the delight of stoner audiences and then remained on the suburban midnight movie circuit for the next half-decade or so before becoming a now highly collectible VHS staple. To date, Black and Blue has not received an official U.S. DVD release.
31. The title song “Heaven and Hell” is a mammoth, pitch-black, brontosaurus-stomp of doom metal perfection. It has been covered by (among many others) from two far ends of heavy metal’s furthest extremes: the beefed-up barbarian bruisers of Manowar and Christianity’s premiere metal missionaries, Stryper.
32. After working wonders with Deep Purple, Rainbow, Whitesnake, and Wishbone Ash, super-producer Martin Birch oversaw the recording process of Heaven and Hell. He went on to produce BÖC’s 1981 smash Fire of Unknown Origin, as well as virtually all of Iron Maiden’s output throughout their first decade.
33. Invigorated by Heaven and Hell’s success, Sabbath re-entered the studio with producer Martin Birch to create 1981’s equally phenomenal follow-up firestorm, Mob Rules.
34. Mob Rules’ title track was the first song Sabbath recorded post-Heaven and Hell. It was commissioned for the 1981 animated movie classic Heavy Metal, and the rest of the album grew from there. The scene that incorporates “Mob Rules,” in which battle mutants brandish ray guns and ride laser dragons and invade a space city, ranks high among the most absolutely metal moments in all of cinema.
35. In 2006, Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell-era incarnation reunited under a highly appropriate new name: Heaven and Hell. Ronnie James Dio, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice recorded the acclaimed 2007 album The Devil You Know, and toured on and off for the next few years.
Only true cosmic tragedy could shorten the reign Heaven and Hell. That occurred on May 16, 2010, when Ronnie James Dio succumbed to cancer and crossed over. Horns up now—and forever—to one of metal’s true originals and creative giants. This article is dedicated to Dio’s lifetime of achievements and our shared ongoing memories of all that he gave us.