As a Black Sabbath fan since I was old enough to be a Black Sabbath fan, I have amassed a huge collection of official and unofficial Sabbath recordings. With the exception of one Japanese bonus track (“What’s the Use” from Cross Purposes), I can happily say I have everything the band has ever officially put their name on. The End has proven to be one of their most difficult albums to acquire, because Sabbath insisted on selling it at their concerts exclusively. (At least until the inevitable reissue with bonus tracks.) With only one CD, eight songs, and no booklet, it’s hard to justify a $30 selling price. Additionally, many concerts were sold out of the CD, because of people buying multiple copies for re-sale. The proof is on eBay and Discogs.
Thankfully, a fine gentleman known to his friends as James went to see Black Sabbath on a whim on their Calgary date. He exited the arena with three copies of The End, but none were for re-sale: One for him, one for our buddy Aaron, and one for me!
Ever since the release of the terrific album 13, the band teased that they had plenty of extra material to perhaps do another LP. It turns out, they had recorded at least 16 songs that we know of for 13. There were eight songs on the album proper, and an additional four on various special editions. The End contains four more from the sessions! Four songs isn’t enough for a whole new album, so for added value, rare live songs are included. None of these have ever been on a live Sabbath album before.
Sounding something like an outtake from the not-Sabbath album The Devil You Know, “Season of the Dead” has the slow crawl that has become a Sabbath trademark. A chugging, biting riff and a slightly psychedelic melody are the pillars, but like Sabbath of old, it twists and turns into different parts. “Season of the Dead” is a grower, but it certainly does sound like Black Sabbath and nobody but. Doom, gloom and slinky bass. “Cry All Night” starts as a slow Sabbath crawl but then immediately transforms into a mid-tempo stomp. These Iommi riffs are by no means leftovers. Can you imagine what he still has in the vault? (Note: Tony Iommi really does have a vault where he keeps all his riff tapes.)
Studio drummer Brad Wilk really stands out on “Take Me Home”, as a precise and hard-hitting player. The monolithic riff he compliments is simple but effective. Meanwhile, parts of Ozzy’s vocal melody are reminiscent of his song “Fire in the Sky” from 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked. Tony’s Spanish guitar solo is a delicate icing on a very heavy cake. The final studio track is “Isolated Man”, a different and interesting experiment. At its core it is still a heavy-riffed Black Sabbath refrain, but Ozzy’s vocals are purposely mixed back and heavily layered for effect. The result is something very much like the oddball shit that they used to do in the 70’s.
Each one of these “new” songs is going to take time to fully absorb. They are not immediate, but neither was all of 13. Even without Bill Ward, they managed to rebuild the sound they had 40 years ago, and that’s just grand. 13 easily could have been a full double album, consistent and heavier than fuck, had all 16 songs been included. It also would have been an overly long ride of doom!
The live stuff is well recorded. Ozzy doesn’t sound too lively on “God Is Dead?”, but that tends to happen when you read the words off a teleprompter. He was in good voice that night in Sydney, maybe even great! It’s great to have “God Is Dead?” in live form, but it only really cooks from time to time. Oldie “Under the Sun” (from Vol. 4) has long been one of my favourite Iommi riffs. It’s great to finally have this in live form; it’s just too bad it lacks the swing of Bill Ward. That is not a swipe at Tommy Clufetos, a great drummer who has done very well under difficult circumstances. Of the many drummers that Sabbath have employed over the years in the absence of Ward, Tommy has been one of the best fits for an “original” sounding Black Sabbath.
Jetting off to Hamilton Ontario Canada, “End of the Beginning” serves as a main course of doomy metal. The crowd is clearly into it, as Ozzy gets them riled up. This track works better live than “God Is Dead?”, being much more peppy and headbang-worthy. Here is my only beef: I noticed during one of Tony’s solos that there was rhythm guitar. Looking at the back cover, keyboardist Adam Wakeman is also credited with additional guitar. Black Sabbath has always been a single-guitar band, and I definitely noticed this unfamiliar sound. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Sure, it sounds more like the album, but it sounds less like the live Black Sabbath that I loved.
Of course Ozzy has to remind the audience that he loves them all! “God bless you all, thank you!” he says, showing gratitude for a #1 album in Canada. “Age of Reason” sounds like a crusher live, and certainly epic enough to act as a closing track on the final Black Sabbath album. Even if it wasn’t epic, it was a new Black Sabbath song recorded for posterity and now in the collection forever. That’s enough for this guy.
I am not sure how a $30 price tag is justified, but I have paid more for less. The score for this review is completely independent of the price. You’ll have to judge for yourself how much you’re willing to pay. $30 is high for four new songs and four live songs. Be that as it may, eBay prices are stupid. My advice: Grab it for $40 or less, or sit tight and wait and see if it’s ever reissued. Final Black Sabbath album? Perhaps, but expect plenty of Sabbath material to buy in the future. Up next: deluxe editions of Headless Cross and Tyr!