Live photos/review: Heaven and Hell brings dignified metal to WaMu Theater

Photographs by Hank Shteamer.

"Heaven, or hell?" said the ticket-taker at Madison Square Garden, making reference to a strange double-booking at the venue last night. By hell he meant Britney Spears, overseeing her hedonistic Circus in the main space. Heaven, meanwhile, referred to Heaven and Hell, better known as the post-Ozzy version of Black Sabbath, which appeared simultaneously at MSG's adjacent WaMu Theater. For fans of old-school metal, the show was in fact akin to paradise: It offered the chance to witness a legendary band willfully sloughing off its icon status in favor of something riskier and more intimate.

If you're not up to speed, Heaven and Hell—guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler, both Sabbath cofounders, along with latter-day members Vinny Appice (drums) and Ronnie James Dio (cartoonishly grandiose crooning)—avoids early-period Sabbath altogether (yes, that means no "War Pigs," "Iron Man," "Paranoid," etc.), focusing instead on the band's strong but far less recognizable Dio-era material, from albums such as 1980's Heaven and Hell and this year's excellent reunion effort, The Devil You Know.

The band pulled off a tight, muscular set packed with favorites old ("Heaven and Hell") and new ("Bible Black"). But ultimately the music took a backseat to the performers' enormously endearing humility. With Ozzy at the helm, Sabbath came off as a pack of reckless, stoned Neanderthals, but in this iteration, they're dignified pros. Throwing the horns and gesticulating grandly as he belted, Dio was lovably schmoozy between songs, introducing each tune like a seasoned nightclub singer. Butler pounded hard, looking up occasionally for a sweaty smile.

And if Appice seemed loutish—especially during his clunky, grandstanding solo—Iommi exuded easy charm. Even as he tore off doomy riffs and screaming leads, he strode casually about the stage and flashed his patented sly, tight-lipped smile. You'd expect the ax man who single-handedly invented metal to exhibit at least a modicum of cockiness, but there was none to be found. Has rock & roll ever known a classier guitar god?