Metal fans who recall the 80s and 90s will remember that Black Sabbath struggled to be relevant, in a time when they should have been dominant. While Soundgarden soared up the charts with a sound that could never have existed without them, Black Sabbath limped along, with new lineups annually. Singer Tony Martin has been relegated to the footnotes of rock — unfairly for certain — thanks to a successful Black Sabbath reunion with Ozzy Osbourne. Fans in the know appreciate the Tony Martin era, and the tunes it produced.
With a lineup featuring original members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, Sabbath rolled tape at the Hammersmith for a live video also featuring their newest drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow) and longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls. They were on tour supporting Cross Purposes, their first since an aborted reunion with Ronnie James Dio. This video was released in 1995, packaged with a CD that was shortened by three songs.
Today we’ll review the audio, and tomorrow a guest will review the video.
Some context: in some circles, Tony Martin was seen as a Dio clone. Therefore, it was brave and somewhat cheeky for Black Sabbath to open the show with “Time Machine”, a song specifically recorded for the Dio reunion! The whole Dehumanizer era was dicey to begin with. Tony Martin supposedly recorded an alternate set of vocals for that album just in case it didn’t work out with Ronnie. Cheeky or not, Tony Martin was more than capable of covering Dio’s song, though with less of Ronnie’s unmistakable grit.
Back to Master of Reality, “Children of the Grave” is bloody sharp with Bobby on drums. Nothing against Vinnie Appice or Cozy Powell (or Eric Singer or Bev Bevan or Terry Chimes or Mike Bordin or Tommy Clufetos) but I think Bobby Rondinelli was absolutely perfect for Black Sabbath. His hard-hitting style really turned up the heavy, and he also adapted it to the old Bill Ward songs better than some of the other drummers did.
Sabbath churned out album after album, year after year, and they always played new tunes live. Cross Purposes was a remarkably solid album, probably due to Geezer Butler’s influence. “I Witness” was worthy of the Sabbath canon, fitting perfectly among the speed rockers like “Neon Nights”. Next in the set was “Mob Rules” which was cut from the CD for time, so we skip through to a pretty authentic and unabridged “Into the Void”. With Tony Martin in the band, Black Sabbath were able to do songs from any era. That’s due to his versatility and his ability to put ego aside.
“Anno Mundi” (from 1990’s Tyr) should be next but it’s axed for time and instead it’s straight into “Black Sabbath”, a song that makes fools out of most singers. And truthfully, nobody but Bill Ward can capture the random madness that is his original drum performance. Sabbath ’94 do OK.
Another track is edited out (“Neon Nights” of all songs; who chose these?) and an odd choice from Cross Purposes is left in: “Psychophobia”, a stuttering metal slab of anger. Aimed at Ronnie? You be the judge, when Tony Martin howls, “It’s too late now, it’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye.” The groove is pretty unstoppable whatever the motivation.
The surprise plot twist is “The Wizard”, an Ozzy oldie that few singers have dared to attempt with Black Sabbath. First time in 24 years, according to Tony. The harmonica part brings it closer to the old blues that Sabbath began with, and Tony Martin does fine with his own take on it. Then it’s time for the Cross Purposes ballad, a killer “Cross of Thorns”, though one gets the sense of anticlimax after a track like “The Wizard”. It would have worked better early in the set, but it’s an example of the quality heavy rock songs that Sabbath were still writing. Martin’s voice cracks raw at times from pouring it all in, and Iommi’s guitar solo is one of his most melodically enticing.
Back once again to the past, “Symptom of the Universe” is a smokeshow, including the oft-skipped psychedelic groovy outro. It kills any version by any lineup except the original quartet, and that’s due to Tony Martin’s throat-destroying singing. Bobby Rondinelli gets a drum solo before “Headless Cross”; not the first time he’s had to play drum parts originated by Cozy Powell! “Headless Cross” is a rhythm-based song with or without Cozy. Geoff Nicholls helps out Tony Martin for the impossible notes in the chorus.
“Paranoid”, “Iron Man” and a downtuned “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” make for a fine conclusion, but “Heaven and Hell” was conspicuous by its absence on this tour. It was only played in form of a brief segue between songs.
The CD release is 71 minutes, so given time limits of the day, that was about as many songs as they could squeeze in. If you want to be creative, why not find the other three tracks and add them as a bonus CD? Until a complete deluxe edition comes our way, this will have to do for audio aficionados. Our bonus CD is 16:08 of more Sabbath, though at a noticeably lesser quality. Tony remarked that picking a setlist was near impossible, but that “Mob Rules” had a “fucking good place in this set”, so why not the CD? It’s a full-speed cruise that is over before you can break a sweat. “Anno Mundi” is a special treat, as it was only played on the UK tour dates. Another fine example of underrated Martin-era material that wasn’t given a fair shake, but at 6:20 it takes a lot of space. As for “Neon Nights”? “This is a fucking good track,” says Martin accurately. There’s a lot of speedy metal on Cross Purposes ~ Live, but two of the most important ones in “Mob Rules” and “Neon Nights” were not on the standard CD. Surely a better series of cuts could have been made.
Tomorrow a guest reviewer will have a look at the VHS. For the CD, the math is simple:
– minus 1 star for the missing three songs equals =