[Editor's note: Deathmatch pairs two artists who have something in common, and determines who is better. It's a concept we sort-of ripped off from MTV, except that instead of claymation it's the printed word!]
A singer's voice impacts a band's sound so much that a replacement basically creates a new group. Black Sabbath, who single-handedly charted a course for dark and evil metal, replaced Dark Prince Ozzy Osbourne with Elven Wizard Ronnie James Dio. Ozzy reigns supreme among many Sabbath fans, but the late great Dio has his admirers. Let's stack the two up against one another using the DeathmatchTron 6000.
Most Ozzy-era Black Sabbath is unfuckwitable. Black Sabbath might be the first true heavy metal record. Paranoid and Master of Reality offer up dirty, doomy, dirgy riffs that peel paint. However, the outfit also gave us Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die. The less said about those, the better. And, let's face it, Ozzy can't really sing. He just follows the riff.
The RJD-era catalog is slimmer, but contains no duds. “Neon Knights” showed the band was paying attention to the new wave of British heavy metal. If any of these new jack doom metal bands wrote anything as evil as “The Sign of the Southern Cross,” I've yet to hear it. Also, RJD invented the metal horns' hand gesture. Not to mention the fact that he wailed like a demon.
Heaven and Hell were a metal band. Black Sabbath (because seriously, do you want to think of that Ozzfest abortion as the Real McCoy?) is a reality show. The leather-lunged Dio had it until the day he died in 2010. Ozzy lost it somewhere around the time Sharon forbid him from blowing lines of ants.
The original Black Sabbath lineup didn't cut a real live album (Live At Last was released without the band's knowledge and they hated it) until the wretched Reunion. This album showcases Sabbath doing their heavy metal oldies circuit thing, complete with Ozzy playing a low-rent Bowser. The live version of “Iron Man” won a Grammy, putting it in the same category as “Spoonman” and “St. Anger.” Compare that with Live Evil. The record documents the RJD-era band at their best. The guys sound great and the crowd is barely audible. As it should be.
Ozzy had his post-Sabbath moments. “Crazy Train” is a great track, as is “Flying High.” But then he pissed all over that with stuff like “Mama I'm Coming Home,” “No More Tears” and (seriously?) a fucking duet with Lita Ford. RJD made at least two totally indispensible rock and roll records, Holy Diver and Last In Line. Can Ozzy say the same?
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like doom. Cathedral's work is a testament to great rock made while smoking weed and listening to Hawkwind. Sleep's Holy Mountain is great fun and I can't imagine a world without the Melvins.
But speed metal is better, and so is the current speed metal revival. Holy Grail have basically nailed “doing it right” and owe a ton to RJD-era Black Sabbath, as do bands like Cauldron, White Wizzard, Steelwing and Enforcer.
The original Ozzy era was great. Top-notch stuff. It's just that the RJD catalog is better. Particularly when the legacy is taken into account, there's not much of a contest here. We miss you, Ronnie.