The track was sourced from what appears to be a cassette recording of Black Sabbath’s 1979 “Bel Air” rehearsals for their seminal 1980 album Heaven and Hell. It was uploaded by the estate of longtime Sabbath keyboardist, the late Geoff Nicholls.
Nicholls’ stepson and executor of his estate Gary Rees offered some background on the unearthed recording in the video description: “This latest upload from the Geoff Nicholls estate I believe is called ‘Slapback’ from the scrawling on the cassette and the chorus. This is from the same cassette as the ‘Heaven & Hell’ upload on this channel. It doesn’t sound like a typical SABBATH song, if it is them, but it does sound like Ronnie James Dio.”
Indeed, “Slapback” doesn’t quite capture the surging power metal of Heaven and Hell, instead traversing bluesier hard-rock terrain. Despite being sourced from an old rehearsal tape, the sound quality is clear and punchy.
It’s the second such upload from Nicholls’ estate; previously, a rehearsal of the title track “Heaven and Hell” from this same session tape was uploaded by the account. Since Geezer Butler wasn’t available for most of the preliminary jams, Rees hypothesizes that Dio himself may have handled bass duties on “Slapback”.
Update, March 10th: Geezer Butler has confirmed that “Slapback” is indeed an unearthed Black Sabbath demo, and that he played bass on the track before he briefly left the band due to personal reasons. “Yeah, that was one of the songs that we did before I left,” the bassist told SiriusXM’s Trunk Nation with Eddie Trunk. “It’s probably the reason I did leave. [Laughs] It was just one of those songs that didn’t make the grade.” He went on to commend the quality of the recording.
The unreleased recordings come during a time of renewed interest in Dio-era Black Sabbath. Their classic albums Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules were recently reissued in expanded deluxe editions and also include previously unheard tracks and rare live recordings.
When we recently spoke with Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi about the reissues, he talked about how Dio played bass on some of the early “Heaven and Hell” sessions.
Meanwhile, a Ronnie James Dio autobiography has been posthumously completed. It’s titled Rainbow in the Dark, and is set for a July 27th release.
Listen to the unearthed track “Slapback” below.