The follow-up to the album that, in all truth, saved Black Sabbath in the form of the magnificent Heaven And Hell, 1981s Mob Rules had a mountainous task to match. Fortunately, the band were on a roll, and with newly installed drummer Vinnie Appice joining their ranks, there was a seemingly new, fresh atmosphere to the band.
Black Sabbath – Mob Rules 40th Anniversary Edition
Release Date: Out Now
Words: Paul Monkhouse
It wasn’t quite so straightforward, though, and background issues with drugs made it’s birth a torturous one. Despite this, the resulting album is one of the high points of their career.
Famously, the starting point for Mob Rules was the title track, recorded initially for the animated film Heavy Metal along with E5150, and things went from there. Interestingly, the songs for the album weren’t put together in Sabbath’s usual way but as the results of jams rather than meticulous planning.
This looser arrangement meant that the whole was more collaborative, the band putting some added fire into the process that would come across in the record. With Martin Birch in the producer’s chair again, following on from his work on Heaven And Hell, Messrs Iommi, Butler, Dio and Appice set up camp at the Record Plant in L.A. and put their all into nine incendiary new tracks.
With the sound of cymbals being hit, the driving riff kicking in and the intonation “A rumble of thunder and suddenly I’m under your spell,” we’re off with Turn Up the Night. From the vaguely Thin Lizzy-like double-tracked guitar work of the opening few bars through to its breathless finish, we’re into prime Sabbath territory, the power and force here like a locomotive but full of some really satisfying touches.
Slightly slower, Voodoo still grinds with a menace that their early material had and illustrates they still had the ability to send chills down the spine and make your hair stand on end.
In the same vein, The Sign Of The Southern Cross is an epic exercise in atmosphere and one of the key tracks from the album. With its huge groove by Butler and Appice, outstanding vocals by Dio and the inventive fretwork of Iommi all brought together in a perfect storm by Birch. It builds into something truly titanic that reaches the same heights as Heaven And Hell’s titular track.
The ominous instrumental E5150 brings a touch of deep space fear before The Mob Rules comes roaring in, Dio’s yell and the wrecking ball force of the riff announcing one of the most visceral and untamed tracks the band have ever recorded. Heavy Metal, indeed.
In marked contrast, the second half starts with the jaunty but heavy Country Girl, and its occasionally semi-Folk feel is worlds away from the crushing power of the track preceding it. Still very much Black Sabbath, there’s a style and darkness under the surface that gives it an elusive air of something unsettling.
Slipping Away could be seen as something even more off the wall, its echoes of Rush and Boston showing that the band were always pushing boundaries of what was expected of them. The Lively, atmospheric hard rocker Falling Off the Edge Of The World must have been a massive influence for Iron Maiden, Birch potentially carrying on this feel from Mob Rules over to his work with Steve Harris and company.
The album closes with Over And Over, its bluesy tone and Dave Gilmouresque guitar work showing both a hark back to their roots and more experimentation, those twin Sabbath trademarks of their craft making the band stand out from their peers and casting them as leaders of the pack.
Is Mob Rules as good an album as Heaven And Hell? Well, if it’s not, then it comes a close second and remains a solid gold entry into their ground-breaking back catalogue. Given the rife drug taking during its recording, including that of Birch, it’s a miracle that it turned out as good as it did, but Sabbath always did beat the odds and somehow came out on top.
There was also tension caused when Dio was approached to start his own solo career, and the die was cast for this to be the only pair of releases by this line-up until they reconvened for Dehumanizer eleven years later in 1992.
As well as a sparkling remastered sound that adds more fuel to the fire, this fortieth-anniversary edition of the album adds an additional raft of extras with the double vinyl edition adding different takes and live tracks, the double CD boasting a further thirteen live cuts in addition.
There’s an extra fizz of energy with the version of The Mob Rules from the Heavy Metal soundtrack that speaks of a slightly rawer approach as the band attack the song with a renewed spark and anger, the 2021 remix offering a slightly different but less feral version.
Of the live material, the sets taken from Hammersmith Odeon and a later show at Portland on the Mob Rules tour both bristle with power and attitude, the band having truly regained their crown and the bulk taken from the two most recent albums with some Sabbath classics thrown in.
Whilst Dio claimed he didn’t like singing Paranoid as he had to try to emulate something of Ozzy’s vocal style, he makes a good fist of it and Iron Man, War Pigs and Black Sabbath itself all sound immense. Full of the thrill of a live show, these recordings put you right at the centre of the action. The lights dim, and you join the voices of two thousand other people, roaring as the band unleashes the fury of their earth-shattering attack.
Whilst so many younger bands at the time were snapping at their heels, Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest all vying for the crown, Sabbath remained the King of Heavy Metal, and Mob Rules, along with its predecessor, cemented their place at the top.
For a band who’d already been together for over a decade, not just keeping up with the newer crop but beating them at their own game showed just how determined and powerful the veterans were.
Mob Rules still sounds as powerful today as it ever was, and this chance to revisit it and truly take in all its wonders is one not to be missed. A vital addition to every rock fan’s collection.
MetalTalk has a CD set of Mob Rules 40th Anniversary Edition to give away. Simply tell us when the album was first released in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, we will need your address. UK only, sorry.
Winner will be drawn on Friday 16 December.