30 Years Ago: Black Sabbath Release ‘Dehumanizer’
When Ronnie James Dio was fired from Black Sabbath during the creation of the band’s concert album Live Evil, it seemed unlikely that he would ever return to the legendary band. But when it comes to Sabbath the operative slogan is their own: Never Say Die.
While Dio was on tour supporting 1990’s Lock Up the Wolves, Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler joined Dio onstage in Minneapolis for a version of the Sabbath song “Neon Nights.” After the show, the two decided to get together with guitarist Tony Iommi and record another album; Dehumanizer came out on June 22, 1992.
The disc served as Sabbath's first studio album with Dio since 1981’s The Mob Rules, and featured a blend of upbeat metal tunes like “TV Crimes” and “Time Machine,” mid-paced chuggers such as “Computer God” and "Master of Insanity” and trudging doom-laden tunes including “After All (The Dead)” and “Letters From Earth.”
Black Sabbath, "TV Crimes"
While Dio was enjoying his solo career when Butler asked if he wanted to work on another Sabbath record, he couldn’t turn down the opportunity to make another classic album with the masters of metal even if there were still unhealed wounds from the last time the musicians had worked together.
“I thought we quit way too early, even after [1982's concert disc] Live Evil,” Dio told me in 2008. “I thought we’d do another blockbuster album and carry on for the rest of our lives. Maybe that was naïve. But after Geezer came to me and said Tony wanted to work together again I jumped at the opportunity and one thing led to another.”
If the songs on Dehumanizer weren’t as strong as those on The Mob Rules, they weren’t far behind. In fact, Dio considered it one of the best albums he has been a part of. That said, it wasn’t the most enjoyable album to make and some of the ego battles that tore the band apart after The Mob Rules resurfaced. “I have to admit, it wasn’t easy and it wasn’t a lot of fun to do, but I think it was a great album,” Dio said. “It’s one of my absolute favorites and one of the heaviest albums I’ve ever heard. But it was something we had to really wring out of ourselves, and I think that’s why it works. Sometimes you need that kind of tension or else you end up making a Christmas album.”
Originally, legendary drummer Cozy Powell was scheduled to play drums on Dehumanizer and rehearsals began at Rich Bitch studios in Birmingham. But during rehearsals in November, Powell suffered a bizarre injury when his horse died and collapsed on him, breaking his hip. Dio wanted Simon Wright, who was playing with Dio at the time, to fill the drum seat, but Butler and Iommi vetoed him, opting instead to go with Vinny Appice, who had played in the lineup for The Mob Rules. It was a good move. Appice’s consistently steady beat and simple, effective fills brought out the galvanic energy of his bandmates, resulting in what some consider one of Black Sabbath’s heaviest albums.
At one point, Iommi and Butler also considered replacing Dio because of personality conflicts. So they invited their prior vocalist Tony Martin to sit in on the sessions and try singing a few of the songs. In the end, they opted to return to Dio and try to smooth over the chemistry issues.
Black Sabbath, "Master of Insanity"
Black Sabbath recorded Dehumanizer in Wales at Rockfield Studios with producer Reinhold Mack (Billy Squier, Queen) between the fall of 1991 and the winter of 1992. While on tour for the album, the band told Dio that Black Sabbath would be opening for Ozzy Osbourne in Los Angeles as part of his farewell tour.
“I said, ‘No, sorry. I have more pride than that,’" Dio said. “A lot of bad things were being said from camp to camp and it created this horrible schism. So, by them agreeing to play the shows in LA with Ozzy, that, to me, spelled out ‘reunion with Ozzy.' And that obviously meant the end of our particular project.”
Dio left Black Sabbath before the LA show and Judas Priest vocalist Rob Halford filled in. It would be another 14 years before Dio played again with Iommi and Butler in Heaven & Hell.
In retrospect, Iommi said he and Butler had no intention of reuniting with Ozzy right away and considered the whole debacle a “dreadful case of miscommunication.” “Really, I suppose it was our fault because we agreed to do that show, with Ozzy,” Iommi said. “We didn’t see any harm in it at the time. Ozzy said he was going to retire and wanted us to do his final show. And we assumed Ronnie would do it with us. He was upset because we didn’t ask him, initially. That was the big boo-boo.”
Loudwire contributor Jon Wiederhorn is the author of Raising Hell: Backstage Tales From the Lives of Metal Legends, co-author of Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, as well as the co-author of Scott Ian’s autobiography, I’m the Man: The Story of That Guy From Anthrax, and Al Jourgensen’s autobiography, Ministry: The Lost Gospels According to Al Jourgensen and the Agnostic Front book My Riot! Grit, Guts and Glory.