In his review, Rolling Stone Magazine’s J.D. Considine wrote “Mob Rules finds the band as dull-witted and flatulent as ever.”
With great respect to Mr. Considine, I wondered if he was listening to the wrong album. I don’t hear any gas passing or dull moments on the entire record.
The Mob Rules, still rules, forty years after it’s release. Much like the previous record “Heaven and Hell” , Mob Rules is a start-to-finish storybook of music.
Tony Iommi time and again proves that so many of metal’s best riffs started with his guitar work. The re-mastered 40th Anniversary Edition feels like the raw sound of the original release is more polished without losing any punch in the power.
One of the many great things that makes Mob Rules a legendary record is the charge right out of the gate with “Turn Up The Night”. It’s a dark riff that jumps a bit before landing on a solid foundation. It is a track well deserving of loud play from the stereo. I’ve heard it referred to as a rock and metal anthem. Turn up your night by turning of the volume. Embrace the present.
The riff in “Voodoo” still is a bit of a surprise to hear four decades later. I say surprise because it does not take the direction musically one might expect. There are a few great riffs from the Sabbath catalogue that share this characteristic. I’m of the belief that live versions of this track stand out more than the album version. Iommi’s lead guitar sails effortlessly over the bass and Geoff Nicholls’s keyboards. To date, I have not heard one live version that was not worth repeated listens.
“The Sign of the Southern Cross” is a melodic marriage of doom and power metal with a theatrical-style vocal performance from Ronnie James Dio. It is one of the many compositions that define Sabbath for its’ powerful influence beyond the Ozzy Osbourne era. During verses, sustained guitars and a echoing, effect-driven bass part paint the soundscape, leaving no empty spaces. Vinny Appice adds perfect drum fills that have a percussively melodic sensibility to them.
The mystical instrumental “E5150” is an interesting, space rock style piece that links brilliantly to the high-energy title track. Both songs would appear in the animated cult classic “Heavy Metal”, with “The Mob Rules” appearing on the soundtrack. The title track is a high-speed train of sound, slicing through stereo speakers with frantic burst of steady energy. It is a call to action. Is it a call to anarchy? Is it an insightful look of the growing cynicism people were feeling about elected officials? If we listen to the fools without using our voices to speak out against bad policy, against violence, then it’s an acknowledgment of the Mob of Fools being in charge. If we continue to listen to many of those Fools, then The Mob Rules. It could draw attention to countries that are dictatorships. Where people are silenced because of what could be referenced as Mob Rule. It’s one of many lyrics that left Sabbath listeners feeling their voice matters. That someone is hearing and feeling pain. It is saying you can listen to yourself and your instincts, you do not have to follow the Mob (the crowd). “Falling Off the Edge of The World” and “Over and Over” are additional examples from this album that touch on possible themes of internal battles and mental health.
“Country Girl” is not just a great riff with a great vocal melody. It starts side two of the record with a similar level of heavy energy that opens the album, albeit pulled back a bit with more down-tempo structure. It’s a classic story of falling in and out of love quickly. It’s the album’s break point away from the main lyrical topics.
“Slipping Away” remains one of my absolute favourite compositions from the entire Sabbath story. It is one of the strongest individual instrumental performances from all of this lineup. The guitar and bass lead trade-offs from Iommi and Geezer Butler are not just perfect fits within the tune’s bars. They are musically entertaining and enjoyable.
The 40th Anniversary edition of Mob Rules was released earlier in the year. It contains a bevy of bonus material including great live performances from this lineup, including some of Dio’s under-appreciated takes on Ozzy era Sabbath songs. I’ve come to appreciate Tony Iommi’s desire to remix and remaster the Sabbath albums. It’s not just about making them sound better. It’s about keeping them in the front pages of heavy music websites for generations to come. No matter the lineup, Sabbath’s staying power is evident with the continual influence on newer generations of heavy metal fans. They continue to enjoy steady airplay on terrestrial and satellite radio. All of the Ronnie James Dio era albums deserve to be on equal footing as the best releases of the Ozzy era. They represent two distinct periods of time in Black Sabbath’s stories history. They need to be looked at and listened to through more critical viewing and listening.