They said Ozzy’s departure would be the end of Black Sabbath but for many fans it was just the beginning as Ronnie James Dio added a fresh melodic edge to the heavy metal masters.

With the three Dio-era Sabbath albums given the full deluxe expanded edition treatment this month we take a closer look at the cracking hat-trick that was Heaven And Hell, Mob Rules and Live Evil. All three go on sale on Easter Monday.

Black Sabbath – Heaven And Hell (Deluxe Expanded Edition)

Right from the moment former Elf and Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio bursts into life on the magnificent Neon Knights it’s clear this isn’t Sabbath as it used to be – it’s probably even better!

Stripped of Ozzy’s trademark whine and enhanced by the little man’s perfect set of melodic rock pipes the band enjoys a new lease of life with Tony Iommi, in particular, an axeman reborn. The riffmeister supreme still unleashes a series of heavy tunes and yet his playing thrives alongside Dio’s accomplished vocals, giving Sabbath a wider appeal and a greater ‘wow factor’.

The first four songs are all killer and no filler with the title track a mammoth slab of heavy rock. The 12 inch single version, reproduced here on Disc Two and recorded live in Hartford, CN, clocks in at a brain crunching 12 minutes 34 seconds and this is where the H&H expanded edition comes into its own – allowing the Dio/Iommi era classics the opportunity to breathe.

Back to the original album and the average Wishing Well and Walk Away sandwich what may well be the best track the second gen Sabbath ever penned in the shape of Die Young. Dio’s performance raises the hairs on the back of your neck and Iommi’s solo is the business – the slightly shorter live version is just as emotive.

Check out the mono edit of Lady Evil (another Disc Two highlight) for a very different take on early 80s rock and lose yourself in the Dave Ling-penned sleeve notes which add an expert touch to a perfectly produced package. If you buy one reissue this year buy this.

rushonrock rated: 10/10 Metal Heaven, Ozzy Hell

Black Sabbath – Mob Rules (Deluxe Expanded Edition)

Confidence coursing through their veins in the wake of the critically acclaimed Heaven And Hell, the revamped and refocused Sabbath pulled out all the stops on the magnificent Mob Rules.

It’s no wonder this hard rock fest went on to sell more than a million copies following its November 1981 release. It may not have matched the chart success of its polished predecessor but Mob Rules is an example of four fantastic musicians singing from the same metal hymn sheet and producing a career defining work.

The epic Sign Of The Southern Cross is laced with typical Ronnie James Dio passion and some frighteningly adept fret work from Tony Iommi makes this the standout track on a revelation of a record. It’s just a shame this is the only version of a classic track and why it doesn’t make the Hammersmith Odeon recordings on Disc Two is a mystery.

The Mob Rules is a short and sweet anthem designed to transport the listener into a segment of wide and varied Sabbath including the pre-grunge of Country Girl and the urgent Slipping Away – think Whitesnake on steroids with a cracking rhythm section courtesy of Vinny Appice and Geezer Butler.

A bumper 14 tracks sprawled across Disc Two are culled from three Hammy Odeon dates and were originally released as a limited edition run of 5,000 CD copies. If you didn’t get your hands on one of those then this is reason alone to invest in the expanded edition of a monster album.

rushonrock rated: 9/10 Sabbath Rules

Black Sabbath – Live Evil (Deluxe Expanded Edition)

With 21 live tracks bringing the expanded editions of Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules to life you might wonder what’s the point when faced with another 14 on the Dio-era Sabbath’s definitive original live record.

Well, the point is the original tapes from Seattle, San Antonio and Dallas are given a great remastering job by Andy Pearce. In addition you get a live taste of The Sign Of The Southern Cross (see Mob Rules review above), albeit fused with segments of Heaven And Hell. And after all of that there’s the opportunity to judge Ronnie tackling all of the Ozzy standards.

It is weird hearing the pint-sized vocal dynamo rifle his way through War Pigs, Iron Man and Paranoid but like all great singers should he gives all three tracks a fresh impetus and a new identity. And come the final bars of album closer Fluff you feel these songs, in particular, were made for the former Rainbow man.

Almost 30 years on from this landmark album, which peaked at number 13 in the UK charts after its 1983 release, it’s exciting to think Sabbath with Dio are back as a gigging entity and still capable of producing the new tracks to complement a brief but brilliant back catalogue.

If you’re going to High Voltage this summer this is the warm-up CD of choice. This is good but there’s every chance the 2010 version of Sabbath will be just as good.

rushonrock rated: 7/10 Ronnie Does Ozzy (and then some)