geezer butler

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes (1994 Japanese version)

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes (1994 EMI Japan)

Cross Purposes catches a lot of crap from fans, and maybe it is the softest Sabbath, but it ain’t bad.  The Tony Martin era was unfairly derided when he was the singer in Black Sabbath.  “Only Ozzy or Ronnie — no Tony!” complained some fans.  Well, we had Ronnie for Dehumanizer and that didn’t last.  Tony Martin was probably always the backup plan in case things went south with Dio.  It is said that Tony Martin recorded his own set of vocals for the Dehumanizer album in case Dio left abruptly.  It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that Tony Iommi called up Martin when Dio did inevitably walk.

Ronnie brought drummer Vinny Appice with him, which meant Sabbath were replacing two members.  In a genius move, Iommi snapped up ex-Rainbow heavy-hitter Bobby Rondinelli.  Bassist Geezer Butler stayed put, but not without regrets.  He would later say that he thought they were recording an album for a new band, but that Iommi decided to use the name Black Sabbath.  This seems hard to believe given that Iommi always returned to the Sabbath name in the past.

Tony Martin & Bobby Rondinelli

Whatever the case may be, Cross Purposes was met with mixed reactions when it was released in 1994.  While some welcomed the return of a classic sounding band, others called them irrelevant in the face of grunge.  Indeed, Sabbath were accused of copying the style of Alice in Chains on “Virtual Death”, featuring a double tracked vocal similar to the Seattle band’s trademark sound.

True as that may be, there is no question that opener “I Witness” sounds like no band other than Black Sabbath.  From Iommi’s squealing guitar shrieks to Geezer’s slinky bass, only one band sounds like this.  Yes, on the surface Tony Martin sounds like Dio, but that sells him short.  Dio has more grit, while Martin takes it smooth.  “I Witness” is one of those blazingly fast Sabbath openers, and Rondinelli’s massive snare sound just kills it.  I’ve always enjoyed how Black Sabbath worked their name into certain lyrics, like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”.  Here, Tony Martin (an underrated lyricist) refers to the “pilgrims of Sabbocracy”, a word that doesn’t seem to exist outside the Black Sabbath pantheon.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons this album was poorly received is that two of its best songs are ballads.  People forget that Sabbath have many classic ballads — “Solitude”, “Changes” and “Born Again” come to mind.  “Cross of Thorns” is a vocal workout for Martin that darkens the sky and shakes the seas.  An acoustic riff begins the journey, but it transforms into something bigger and more dramatic.  It also includes one of Iommi’s most memorable guitar solos from his entire career.  Special mention goes to late keyboardist Geoff Nicholls who provides much atmosphere for this dark burner.

“Psychophobia” is an interesting song; not the most memorable but with a tricky riff that’ll get the heads banging.   The middle section exactly halfway into the song is outstanding.  It’s also a gas to hear Martin singing “It’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye”.  A sly jab at Dio?  Fans will probably always see it that way.  But then comes “Virtual Death”.  Its possible grunge inspirations stick out like the sorest of thumbs on side one.  This slow song drags too long.  The whole “virtual reality” trend was well worn out by 1994, so that did not help matters much.  Fortunately the first side redeems itself with a resounding closer called “Immaculate Deception”.  The beguilement here is that the song seems like trudge at first, until Rondinelli puts it in turbo on the choruses.

Side two opens with the second ballad (more of a blues really) called “Dying For Love”.  This is reminiscent of “Feels Good to Me” from the Tyr album.  Interestingly, Geezer’s bassline sounds like the one Bob Daisley played on “The Shining” in 1987.  (Geezer was around when “The Shining” was written, possibly under the name “No Way Out”.)  It must be said that, as great as Tony Martin is on this song, it would have sounded out of this world had Dio sung it.

“Back to Eden” is a skipper.  Nothing particular wrong with it, just not as good as other tracks.  We resume on the single, “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle”.  A keyboard opening gives way to a killer Iommi riff, one that sticks in your brain for days.  Top it off with an excellent chorus and this track is a winner.  Shame it never had a chance as a single.  “Cardinal Sin”, like “Back to Eden”, isn’t much to talk about, though it does have a cool keyboard line.

The standard album ends on “Evil Eye”, a song that incredibly came about through an unlikely 1993 jam with Eddie Van Halen.  Van Halen laid down a solo, but the band weren’t recording properly.  According to Tony Martin, the Van Halen recording is simply too poor in quality to release.  I don’t think fans would mind, but that is wishful thinking considering they couldn’t even give Eddie a writing credit due to contractual wranglings.  This song just grinds, like a mountain over the aeons.  Tony Martin wails on the chorus, and Tony Iommi lays down several minutes of guitar licks that may or not have been inspired by Van Halen’s original solos.

A big thanks must go out to Harrison the Mad Metal Man for locating this Japanese printing of Cross Purposes that you are looking at.  A Sabbath collection that began in earnest back in 1992 was finally completed in 2020.  The bonus track here is “What’s the Use”, a song that doesn’t quite sound like the rest of the album.  The short choppy Iommi riff sounds more like Judas Priest than Sabbath, but it’s a welcome addition because it’s unlike the usual.

Had Cross Purposes come out under a different band name (something anonymously 90’s…like, I dunno, Carpet or something) with “Virtual Death” as the single, who knows what might have happened?  Probably nothing, because just as there were too many glam rock acts in the late 80s, the 90s were choked to the gills with alterna-bands.  A Japanese copy is expensive to come by, so don’t hesitate too much if you find a gently used domestic CD in the wild.  The album is, of course, out of print.

4/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath #1 – Rock-It Comics (1994)

BLACK SABBATH #1 – (1994 Rock-It Comics)

1979:  Ozzy Osbourne walks out on Black Sabbath, the band he has fronted for 10 years.  Things almost get physical, and then Ozzy pledges to rule the world on his own.  Tony Iommi swears to come out on top, with or without him.  Bill Ward looks down, knowing that it is truly time for a change.  Geezer Butler doesn’t want to give it up and recommends they call “that Dio-bloke”.

Malibu comics produced a highly fictionalized version of Black Sabbath’s early history in 1994, with stunningly rich artwork and co-written by one Terence “Geezer” Butler himself.  Understanding that this is a mixture of fantasy and history, “The Power of Black Sabbath” is a hugely entertaining comic.  The basic bones of the Sabbath story are there.  The gradeschool rivalry between Ozzy and Tony was real, but Tony never said “Give it up Osbourne, you sing like a girl!”  And it doesn’t matter because it makes for a good panel.  Meanwhile, a young Terry Butler is visited by a mysterious entity that allows him a brief glimpse at his own future.

As if like fate, the four members of Black Sabbath eventually merge together.  Their early history as “Earth” precedes the fame.  Dirty managers, “Blue Suede Shows”, and Jethro Tull stories are rolled out panel by panel.  “Why did I ever think about leaving Earth?” muses Tony, as a demanding Ian Anderson commands him to play a solo.  After another supernatural encounter, they finally settle on the name Black Sabbath.

Album by album their success grows, but they cannot shake their continuing and strange encounters with entities not of this world.  By the time of Never Say Die, tensions between Tony and Ozzy result in the temporary hiring of Dave Walker to replace the singer.  Ozzy eventually leaves permanently on his own “Crazy Train”.  Ending the story here, we learn that Geezer Butler has come to peace with the supernatural side of his life.

But that’s only half the book.  There’s still plenty more content of the non-illustrated variety.

An interview with Geezer Butler is about as revealing as ever.  Dig these insightful answers:

Q: Tell us about the new album.

A: It’s called Cross Purposes.  There are ten tracks on it.  We started writing it last February and finished in mid-July.  [He then runs down the band lineup.]

To its credit, Geezer claims that this comic is the most accurate portrayal of Black Sabbath to date, though it does include “poetic license”.

Next is a very cool gallery of photos that you couldn’t easily find anywhere in 1994.  These include full colour pictures of the Glenn Hughes lineup of Black Sabbath, and versions with Dio, Tony Martin, Vinnie Appice, and Bobby Rondinelli.  There are even a couple monochrome photos with Ian Gillan.  At the time these were some of the only pictures I owned of the band in these phases.

The next pages feature a discography, full colour with album art, lineups and tracklistings.  Included here is a warning not to buy Greatest Hits or Live At Last!  “You have an inferior product both in packaging and sound.  You are warned!”  Screw it, I’m buying Live At Last!  The last page is an autobiographical story by editor Robert V. Conte about buying his first Sabbath album Born Again (my favourite).  Within two weeks he had most of their records.

I’ve read a few critiques about this book complaining about the overly fictional portrayal of the band’s history.  I don’t think it particularly matters.  It’s obvious from the supernatural elements that this is not to be taken as gospel (pun intended).  The vibrant ink and colours capture the Black Sabbath members perfectly, and each panel is glorious to look at.  Not to mention it’s an oversized comic so every page has more bang for the buck.  The stylized dialogue keeps the story moving at a good pace, and though the story is but a brief overview, it’s fine for a single issue.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath/Motorhead – 07/22/1995 – Lulu’s Roadhouse, Kitchener Ontario

I thought this review had been lost.  I wrote it in 1995, saved it to floppy disc, later uploaded it to a site called sabbathlive…and when that site disappeared I assumed my review was lost too.  I was wrong!

Guest contributor Holen MaGroin somehow, and with great effort, retrieved the text.  You can compare this with the version I wrote from memory back in 2012.  I’m very grateful to have this back, one of the earliest reviews I ever wrote.  For the record the friends I was with included Iron Tom Sharpe but I can’t remember who else might have gone that night.  It was the night that made me into a Motorhead fan.

This is my first time reading it in decades, so this is almost as new to me as it is to you!  I will leave everything as-is. I can tell that the review is mostly original with a couple sentences added later on when I uploaded it to sabbathlive.  I will put that text in a lighter colour.

The biggest difference between the 1995 review and the rewrite I posted in 2012 seems to be my impression of Tony Martin.  Here I call him “wonderful” and in the version I rewrote from memory, I called him “so-so”.

 

 

BLACK SABBATH/MOTORHEAD – 07/22/1995 – Lulu’s Roadhouse, Kitchener Ontario

I arrived at Lulu’s with my friends at 9pm sharp, to find a nicely filled hall. Not too cramped yet at this early hour. Upon our arrival, we were informed that we had missed opening act Tiamat. None of us cared too much. While my friends were there to see Motorhead, I was there to see Black Sabbath.

Motorhead hit the stage on full octane with “Ace Of Spades”. From there on, it was no remorse (pun fully intended). Lemmy looks old, Phil Campbell looks old, but they played like teenagers, and it was refreshing to see. Lem and Phil’s onstage banter was funny as hell, and drummer Mikkey Dee (easily one of the fasted double-bass drummers in the world) was unreal. The highlights of Motorhead’s set were easily “Killed By Death”, “Iron Fist”, “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care”, and the brand new “Sacrifice”. (Lem: “This song is so fucking fast, don’t try to dance
to it or you’ll break both your fucking legs!”) Every single song they played sounded terrific. Exciting riffs, awesome double bass, and cool vocals – if you can call them that. I’m now converted to the gospel of Motorhead: These guys are simply awesome.

The crowd received them very well. I think Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey looked pleased by both the turnout and the response to their set. Lem said he’d come back to play here “any fucking time”, but don’t they all say that?
This time it seemed they meant it. [NOTE: Motorhead did indeed come back to Lulu’s the next year.]

We went back to check out the T-shirts and hats. I really liked the new Black Sabbath FORBIDDEN T-shirts, which had the cartoon cover art. Even a hat would have been nice to own, but I was short on cash. I didn’t even have the $25 to cover a Sabbath hat. D’oh!

We decided at this point to try to stand at the front of the stage for Black Sabbath’s set. We had kind of figured that most people in Kitchener were there to see Motorhead, not Sabbath, and the crowd would thin out a little bit. We were totally wrong. It didn’t take long for the crowd to grow, and thicken in front of the stage.

We grabbed an awesome spot right up front, in between where the two Tony’s – Martin and Iommi – would be. However, this would not be the night to be standing close to Black Sabbath. I’m from small-town Ontario, and rough mosh pits were not what we were used to. During Motorhead’s set the crowd stood there politely, cheered madly after each song, and were generally well behaved, which is the way we liked it. We came to see the band, and hear the music, after all.

The first sign of trouble was when a fight broke out right behind us. A small Cobain-ish kid began pushing around a very large (we’re talking pro-wrestler large) man, who didn’t take it all that well. One headbutt later, the small kid was on the ground bleeding, and the large guy was out the door before security even noticed what had happened. They collected what was left of Cobain.

At 11:30 this was all forgotten. Black Sabbath hit the stage with a powerful version of “Children Of The Grave”. Tony Martin gave the song a fierce energy.

The first thing I noticed was that Tony Martin looked a lot older than I expected. I hadn’t seen any decent pictures of Black Sabbath for a couple years. Martin has small but friendly looking eyes, and receding hair. He sported an evil looking goatee, a long black shirt, black jeans and boots. By contrast, for some reason Tony Iommi looked a lot younger than I expected. He smiled a lot, and even moved around a bit on stage. This is Tony Iommi, the man known for staying riveted in one spot on stage!

Cozy Powell looked the same as he always has, same hair and all, although he did look a little chubbier in the face. Neil Murray looked identical to the way he looked in the “Feels Good To Me” video, five years previous. Keyboardist Geoff Nicholls was partly hidden on side stage. Why Black Sabbath don’t put him up front on the main stage is a mystery to me, he’s been in the band for 15 years now! However, the first thing that hit me about the rarely-seem Nicholls was that he was trying to look hip with his dyed blonde hair.

The set list included all the following songs, although I may have the order somewhat jumbled:

“Children Of The Grave”, “Neon Knights”, “The Shining”, “Get A Grip”, “The Wizard”, “Headless Cross”, “Rusty Angels”, “Can’t Get Close Enough”, “When Death Calls”, War Pigs”, “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath”, “Black Sabbath”, “Heaven And Hell”, “Mob Rules”.

Encore: “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Heaven And Hell” [reprise]

I felt that Tony Martin was a wonderful frontman. He has his own style. During the instrumental sections of songs, he would back up a few steps, spread his arms like he was awaiting the coming of Christ, and shake his hair about. While singing, he makes eyes contact with you. He smiles a lot. He enjoys what he does. I genuinely felt like the smiles that Iommi and Martin gave off were real, and that’s the real reason that Black Sabbath are still around 25 years later. These guys just love playing music. Cozy Powell and Neil Murray were more reserved, but Iommi and Martin, the core of Sabbath, were happy just being up there.

All the Ozzy-era classics were received with tremendous cheers by the crowd. Tony Martin allowed the crowd to sing most of the lyrics to “War Pigs”. The Dio-era songs were met with equal excitement. Most people in our area on the floor sang along to every word. All the later material was drawn from Tony Martin’s albums, though nothing from the excellent TYR or CROSS PURPOSES, which I found disappointing. However, as Martin said during the set, Black Sabbath have over 200 songs in the catalogue,and you can’t play them all.

They played three of the best songs from the new FORBIDDEN album: “Get A Grip”, “Rusty Angels” and “Can’t Get Close Enough”. They were played well, I felt they sounded better than the album versions. For the “Can’t Get Close Enough” sections of dark fingerpicked guitar, Iommi switched from his Gibson to an unusual make of guitar that I’d never seen before and couldn’t identify.

The highlight of the set for myself was “The Shining”. It had always been my favourite Tony Martin-era song, and I was not disappointed. The surprise was that a lot of people in the audience also seemed to know that song. “Headless Cross” was played equally well, and I was amazed with how rich Tony Iommi’s guitar sounds live. However, this song demonstrated how much vocal range Tony Martin has lost in recent years. He could not hit the high notes. (Play the original and see how high he gets!) Instead, he sang an octave lower. Again, most people seemed to
know this song.

“When Death Calls” came as a surprise, since it was never released as a video like the other Martin-era songs. On the way to the show I said I wanted to hear some obscure 80’s Sabbath, and I got it!

The crowd just ate it up, everything Sabbath served, they ate up and asked for seconds. When the moshing began, I was a bit surprised, and made way further back so as to not avoid injury. A lot of people came out of that show limping, and I didn’t really feel like being one of them.

If I was the only person there surprised by the moshing, it looked like the stage-diving took even the band by surprise! When the first gentleman made his way onto the stage, Tony Martin appeared shocked and backed up a few steps. After this, a security guy parked himself on stage and pushed off every guy who made it up there. It was kind of strange seeing a security guy crouching on stage in front of Martin.

Sabbath ruled. They simply ruled. For sheer intensity they couldn’t match Motorhead, but they held their own. The set list was about as perfect as you could make it, since it’s impossible to squeeze in too many more. After all, the band couldn’t avoid the classics in order to play more material from the 90’s. It was also nice to finally hear Tony Martin’s live renditions of those classics. He really did an excellent job and I hope one day they’ll commit his voice to a live album.*

This was my first time seeing Black Sabbath live. Seeing them so close to home in such a small venue really was an amazing experience. I hope it’s not the last.**

 

 

* Cross Purposes Live was released in 1995 in Europe only.

** It was.

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Best of MusikLaden Live at the Beat Club

BLACK SABBATH – The Best of MusikLaden – Live at the Beat Club (1970 television performance)

When Black Sabbath released their Black Box in 2004 featuring all the original lineup’s studio albums in remastered form, they also included a bonus four-song DVD.  This disc was the oft-released television broadcast of a German show called Beat Club (later MusikLaden).  Sabbath made two appearances in 1970, and the Black Box was the most official release of them.  Before upgrading to the Black Box, I owned an earlier, unofficial DVD release.  I taped that DVD to cassette, and that’s what I’m listening to right now.

“Black Sabbath” is torrential, as intense as the young band was able.  Ozzy sounds as if possessed, truly terrified and warning us that something foreboding and terrible is coming.  “Paranoid” is strangely echoey and distant, but still as incendiary as 1970 Black Sabbath should be.  Interestingly, in this version it really does sound as if Ozzy is singing “end your life” instead of “enjoy life”.  A sparse “Iron Man” announces its arrival with evil Gibson guitar sonic bends.  This version of “Iron Man” is a little stiffer than others, but not for long.  Towards the end, Geezer Butler unleashes the hordes and the song stampedes to a close.

Finally and most notoriously is “Blue Suede Shoes”, a performance pretty much everybody has since disowned.  It’s not terrible, although it’s certainly uncharacteristic.  It’s as if Black Sabbath were suddenly encroaching upon ZZ Top’s territory.  Tony’s speedy solo is interesting if not typical, and the band really stepped it up.  I get why some would mock it; it’s kind of goofy and definitely not as impressive as the Sabbath originals.  But it’s…fun?  Is Sabbath allowed to be…fun?

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

By 1997, Ozzy had reclaimed his crown as the prince of darkness.  The successful Ozzfest, including a partial Black Sabbath reunion (Mike Bordin instead of Bill Ward) had introduced Ozzy to a wave of nu-metal youngesters.  Why not cap the year off with a greatest hits album?  It wasn’t Ozzy’s first (1989’s Best of Ozz preceding it) but it was his first for most of the world.  Incredibly, given the Ozzy camp’s ability to muck up important releases from time to time, it was a particularly good package.

The Ozzman Cometh has had a number of issues over the years, but we won’t get into the ones that came after Sharon meddled around with re-recorded tracks.  Initially there was a limited edition 2 CD set and a standard single disc.  The lucky fans in Japan got an expanded 2 CD set with two bonus tracks.  That’s the one you see pictured here.  It comes in a non-standard extra thick jewel case due to the extra Japanese booklet inside.

The big deal of this new compilation was the inclusion of recently discovered early Black Sabbath tapes — “Ozzy’s 1970 basement tapes”.  Wikipedia tells us that these are actually BBC recordings:  “The John Peel Sessions” of 26 April 1970.  These have yet to be included on any Sabbath deluxe, so you have to be sure to get The Ozzman Cometh to complete your Sabbath collections.  “Black Sabbath” and “War Pigs” commence the set right out of the gate.  These tapes are raw but clean, and Geezer Butler has remarkable presence.  It’s a very sharp picture of what young Black Sabbath sounded like.  The lyrics are still a work in progress for those who love such differences, but Ozzy sounds even more like a man possessed.  “War Pigs” is still in its “Walpurgis” form, the “Satanic” version, and this is the clearest you will likely hear it.

Onto the hits:  Ozzy’s grudge against The Ultimate Sin was apparently already in play.  On the US CD, only one track from the Jake E. Lee era was included and it’s “Bark at the Moon”.  In Japan, “Shot in the Dark” is substituted in replacing Zakk Wylde’s “Miracle Man”, bringing the Lee content to two.  However the Randy Rhoads era is the star of the disc, with his version of “Paranoid” lifted from the Tribute album.  Included are, for the most part, the expected usual Rhoads songs:  “Crazy Train”, “Goodbye to Romance”, and “Mr. Crowley”, but no “I Don’t Know”.  Instead it’s the more interesting “Over the Mountain”.

As for Zakk Wylde’s legacy, it’s hobbled by the missing “Miracle Man”, since “Crazy Babies” doesn’t adequately capture his madness.  “No More Tears” is present as a single edit, and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” is necessary for any hits CD catering to people who just want some Ozzy songs they like.  It’s unfortunate that “I Don’t Want to Change the World” from Live & Loud takes up space.  The Zakk era ends with two good songs:  “I Just Want You”, the excellent dark ballad from Ozzmosis, and “new” song “Back on Earth”.  You had to have a new song, and according to the liner notes this was an unreleased one from the Ozzmosis era featuring Geezer Butler on bass.  Fortunately it doesn’t sound like an inferior song, just one too many ballads for the album.  (It’s written by Taylor Rhodes and Richie Supa.)

The second CD contains more treasure.  “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” are bonus Sabbath songs from the same Peel session.  Like the first two, they are crisp and probably essential to any serious fan of the original lineup.

Japan got two extra songs from movie soundtracks, enabling you to get them on an Ozzy CD.  The first is the excellent “Walk on Water”, Ozzy’s only studio recording with Zakk Wylde’s replacement Joe Holmes.  If you wanted to know what an Ozzy album with Holmes would have sounded like, here’s a good indication.  It would have been not too dissimilar from Ozzmosis but with some really different guitar playing.  Sure sounds like Mike Bordin on drums!  The other soundtrack song is “Pictures of Matchstick Men” featuring Type O Negative as the backing band.  It’s pretty forgettable.

The Ozzy interview from 1988 is 17 minutes of nothing special.  Here’s an interesting fact for you.  When stores were solicited for this album in 1997, I can distinctly remember the papers saying the interview would be a new one conducted by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I no longer have that piece of paper, and memory is what it is these days, but that’s what it said.  For whatever reason the 1988 one was used instead.  Go ahead and let me know how often you play it.  You can tell it was taped in the UK, at a rehearsal or soundcheck, because you can hear Zakk wailing away in the background.

The Japanese CD also comes with a neat sticker sheet with all of Ozzy’s album artwork on it.  I think the US CD has some screen savers.  I’d rather have the stickers.

Ozzy and company did the greatest hits thing right and have never actually done it this well since.  May as well track down a 2 CD Ozzman Cometh and get those Black Sabbath tracks you’re missing.

4.5/5 stars

GUEST REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995) Part Two – the VHS

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995 IRS CD/VHS set)
Part Two: the VHS video by Harrison Kopp

As Mike’s VCR is currently stored away, he will be joined by Harrison, who was naughty and downloaded a 720p copy of the show when someone had it up on YouTube, and therefore will be reviewing the video half of this box set.

 

 

 


The video version is a great snapshot of the band at this period. The quality is quite good for a VHS, only betraying its origins with any large expanses of black shown. It also features some innovative action shots to capture the band, which is much appreciated as, although Geezer is still head banging away as usual, Bobby generally fades into the background and, as Mike has pointed out in other reviews, Tony Martin’s frontman-ship involves either singing up front or shaking his thinning hair by the drum riser.  As for Tony Iommi? Well he’s still the epitome of theatrical guitar playing.

The lighting is done well also, although the red occasionally gives the skin an overly pink tone. And for the first time, Geoff Nicholls is visible in the background of some shots, doing keyboards and backing vocals.

Puzzlingly, there is also a black and white filter used on a couple shots here and there, that really isn’t necessary. Those preceding niggles however, were only small nit-picks of a thoroughly enjoyable show to watch.

There are also three songs included on the video that aren’t on the CD and will be therefore be reviewed here. The first is fairly early in the set and is “Mob Rules”. Tony powers through verse after verse without fail. Although it inevitably falls short of the Dio renditions, it still deserved a place on the disc.

“Anno Mundi” is next. This is easily the best of the three. Tony Martin sings his heart out in an amazing performance of the only song from Tyr. This easily should have been on the disc as well.  (They all should have.)  On a side note, it’s really nice to see audience members head-banging and singing along to these Martin-era songs.  Last of these is a decent rendition of “Neon Knights” that just can’t compete with Dio’s versions. A couple subtle melody changes here and there don’t help it either.

Still, despite a couple small missteps:

4.5/5 stars, and Tony martin’s finest hour with Sabbath.

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995) Part One – the CD

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995 IRS CD/VHS set)
Part One: the CD

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:

4.5/5 stars

– minus 1 star for the missing three songs equals =

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Past Lives (2002)

BLACK SABBATH – Past Lives (2002 Sanctuary)
(CD 1 is a reissue of 1980’s Live at Last (NEMS))

Black Sabbath’s Live at Last (1980) has been reissued so often that its Discogs listing shows 81 distinct versions.  Those don’t include the Black Sabbath live set Past Lives, of which Live at Last forms its first CD.  The second disc is all unreleased live versions, from shows in 1970 and 1975.  These consist of some of the big Sabbath numbers that weren’t on Live at Last (“Iron Man”, “Black Sabbath”) and more obscure material like “Hole in the Sky”.

“Hand of Doom” from Paranoid is an unusual though doomy way to open the CD.  It rolls from gentle bass to a roaring mania.  It is a taut performance largely because of Bill Ward’s enviable swing.  “Hand of Doom” was recorded in 1970, but jumping ahead to ’75, Ozzy’s intro to “Hole in the Sky” is cute.  It wasn’t out yet.  “Listen to it, you might like it, OK?” asks Ozzy.  Then, “Are you high?  Are you high?  So am I!”

Some Sabbath songs are like a brand new bulldozer, unrelentlessly heavy, yet shiny and cool.  “Hole in the Sky” is one such riff-monster, an indispensable slab of heavy metal.  It’s followed by another new one, and even heavier:  “Symptom of the Universe”.  Young, wasted Sabbath blast through it — and stay the fuck out of Bill Ward’s way!  The drummer is a tornado.  “Megalomania” makes it a perfect trifecta of new songs.  It’s an epic 10 minutes of different paces, riffs and melodies.  Unlike other metal bands, Sabbath often welded two or three unforgettable riffs together into mega-compositions.  Look at “Black Sabbath” for example — they could have made two songs out of it, but instead we have one massive monolith.  On stage, “Megalomania” is tense and never boring.  Ozzy shreds his voice to pieces.

As far as Past Lives goes, these three songs (“Hole in the Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe” and “Megalomania”) are the nugget of gold in the middle.  It’s a first official live release for most of them.  A live “Symptom of the Universe” was issued by a Tony Martin-era lineup on 1995’s Cross Purposes ~ Live, but that cannot compete with the vintage original lineup.*

It’s only oldies from there in.  “Iron Man”, “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Black Sabbath” (with unique Tony Iommi guitar intro) make up for their absence on Live at Last.  “N.I.B.” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” from the first Sabbath round out the set.  Nobody did them better than the original band in the 1970s.

Today we have more original Sabbath to choose from that just Past Lives; two complete concerts were included in the recent Paranoid 4 CD box set.  Back in 2002, this kind of release warranted bigger fanfare.  The audio is not pristine.  Flutter, static and amp hum are part of the deal.  If you’re into buying archival live material, you know what this is about.

The original digipack release of Past Lives comes with a booklet, a poster, and most importantly a guitar pick.  Collectors will probably want to hold out for a version with pick intact, though finding one might be a “holy grail” item.  If you don’t care about such things, a simple jewel case release is widely available.

4/5 stars

 

* Sorry Harrison.

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live at Last (1980)

BLACK SABBATH – Live at Last (1980 NEMS)

Although the Black Sabbath discography is not that complicated, we still struggle to know exactly how to file Live at Last.  Recorded in 1973 (Vol. 4 tour), it was shelved because the band were not happy with it.  Much later on (1980) it was released officially but without the band’s consent or knowledge.  They have shunned it, while Live at Last has enjoyed a number of re-releases and remasters.  For maximum fun, why not track down an old vinyl pressing with the singer’s name spelled as Ossie Osbourne?  (The vinyl pressing is also one way to get a completely unedited version; most CD releases lack at least the band intro.)

Live at Last was, for many many years, the only live Black Sabbath album with Ozzy.  Live Evil, released in 1982, had then-current frontman Ronnie James Dio.  Although considered a sub-par album, you didn’t have much choice back then.  Excessive Tony Iommi guitar feedback may be one reason the band weren’t happy with it.

Starting with new single “Tomorrow’s Dream”, Sabbath sound coked to the brim.  Iommi’s guitar pukes sonic sludge, Bill Ward floating behind, and Geezer playing bass melodies from another world.  “Sweet Leaf” continues the trip; Ozzy howling “I love you!” while the stoned band pummels through.  Original Sabbath has a looseness that no other lineup possessed.  It’s just something special that happens with those four guys, and Bill Ward had the swing to it all.

Brand new tune “Killing Yourself to Live” hadn’t been released yet, but it’s pretty intact in live form.  “Get high!” screams Oz.  The challenging song demonstrates Sabbath’s ability to meld multiple memorable guitar riffs together into a single whole.  “Killing Yourself to Live” has at least three distinct riff sections, each cooler than the last.  Unfortunately the recording doesn’t allow us to really hear how the audience responded to the new material.

“Cornucopia” alone could be responsible for birthing half of grunge rock.  The young band’s energy is remarkable.  “Snowblind” is a blast, with Ozzy shouting “CO-CAINE!” rather than whispering slyly. Closing side one, we come to “Embryo/Children of the Grave” and its unforgettable chug riff that launched many a metal band.  You can hear the crowd clapping madly at Ozzy’s command to “Embryo”, before the riff cascades down like the Biblical flood.  Bill Ward paces it faster than the album version by several notches.  “War Pigs” also swings, a little faster than album, but with an unusually jazzy touch.

For some serious swing, check out the 20 minute “Wicked World” medley.  Ward jazzes it up like nobody’s business, when he’s not crushing the heavy parts.  Tony Iommi has a varied guitar solo section, becoming “Into the Void”, then a blues jam and the old standard “Sometimes I’m Happy”.  That turns into “Supernaut” and a drum solo, before reverting right back into “Wicked World” for the finale!  This insane extended track is the one to buy the album for.

After asking the audience several times “What do you wanna hear?”, Ozzy closes with “Paranoid”.  Once again it’s quite fast with Bill ahead of the beat.  Osbourne tells the crowd that they’re beautiful and of course “we love you all!”  and that’s that — a one hour live album on a single LP, all done.  No “Black Sabbath”, no “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Iron Man”, but plenty of the blackest Sabbaths.

Recommended CD edition:  Black Sabbath’s 2002 Past Lives set, which includes a slightly edited version of Live at Last plus a whole CD more of unreleased live stuff.  It even has a sticker on the front that says “Live at Last…deluxe edition”!  Full review of that CD tomorrow.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989)

Make A Difference Foundation – Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell (1989 Polygram)

In 1989, I proudly sported my Moscow Music Peace Festival T-shirt in the highschool halls.  It was cool to see the rock bands on the forefront of heavy metal bringing music to the Soviet Union.  Scorpions, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Cinderella, Ozzy Osbourne and Skid Row joined Russian metal band Gorky Park in the name of peace and being drug free.

Drug free?  Ozzy?  It’s true that this was a little strange, but Motley were at least clean for the first time in their lives.  The Scorpions had played behind the Iron Curtain before, and Sabbath were huge in Russia.  Meanwhile Bon Jovi were one of the few bands to legally release an album in the USSR, and in return they brought Gorky Park to the US.  I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend who recorded the televised part of the concert off MTV and sent me a copy.  It was a pretty mindblowing video.  Those Russians were going absolutely nuts, seeing their idols on stage.

Later on, the bands each contributed a song to a compilation album called Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell, each covering an artist who had been touched by substance abuse.  The CD was produced by the biggest name at the time, Bruce Fairbairn himself.  The proceeds went to an anti-drug charity, for all the good “just saying no” does.  The album itself was a pretty great compilation of mostly exclusive music.  Though almost all of it is now available elsewhere, that wasn’t the case in 1989, making this a tempting buy.

Gorky Park, the up and comers, started off with “My Generation”.  Some find it too putrid to stomach.  It’s virtually an original song with only the lyrics recognizable.  The riffs and melodies seem otherwise new.  So give Gorky Park some credit for at least not attempting a carbon copy, but then you gotta take off some points for turning “My Generation” into a Bon Motley song.  Unfortunately for Gorky Park, their momentum halted when singer Nikolai Noskov quit in 1990.

Skid Row surprised the hell out of everyone with the Pistols’ “Holidays in the Sun”.  It was the first indication that Skid Row had punk roots.  “Holidays” was very much a look ahead to where they would go on Slave to the Grind.  They were on the punk bandwagon a full two years before Motley decided to cover the Sex Pistols.  It’s always strange to hear flashy metal guitar solos on a Pistols song, but it’s sheer joy to hear Sebastian spitting and screaming up a storm.

Scorpions had a new compilation out called Best of Rockers ‘n’ Ballads.  Another Who song, “I Can’t Explain” was taken from it to be used on this CD.  It is by far the better of the Who covers, as Scorpions really made it their own.  Next, Ozzy’s track is quite interesting.  It’s the only studio recording of the lineup including Zakk Wylde, Randy Castillo, and Geezer Butler.  Geezer quit the band shortly after, and this incredible lineup never recorded anything else.  I consider it the strongest band that Ozzy had after Randy Rhoads.  The quartet did a live sounding cover of “Purple Haze”, unfortunately not the greatest version.  It is at least a showcase for Zakk Wylde to go nuts on the wah-wah pedal.

I will argue that the best track on this album came from the band that was riding a brand new high:  Motley Crue.  Clean and mean, they were incredibly strong in 1989.  They the balls to choose an obscure Tommy Bolin (Deep Purple) solo tune:  “Teaser”.  Motley put on that Dr. Feelgood groove, and Mick Mars laid waste to the land with his slidey guitar goodness.  It’s no surprise that “Teaser” has reappeared on Motley compilations several times since.  It has balls as big as a bus!

Another strong contender is Bon Jovi’s take on Thin Lizzy.  “The Boys are Back in Town” fits seamlessly with that small town New Jersey vibe that Bon Jovi used to have.  Lynott must have had some influence on a young Jon Bon, because all his old tunes are about the boys – back in town!  Dino’s bar and grill could be in Sayreville NJ.  Of course, Bon Jovi are a competent enough band to be able to cover Thin Lizzy and do it well.

Another surprise:  Cinderella doing Janis Joplin.  Singer Tom Keifer suited Joplin, though you don’t immediately associate the two!  “Move Over” takes advantage of that Keifer shriek that isn’t too far removed from Janis.  From there on though, it’s filler.  Jason Bonham, Tico Torres and Mickey Curry do a pretty boring “Moby Dick”.  It’s funny how John Bonham sounds bigger on the original, than three drummers on this remake.  Then it’s a bunch of live jams from the Moscow concert:  “Hound Dog”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Rock and Roll” (Bonham on drums again for the latter).  Vince Neil is hopelessly out-screamed by Sebastian Bach on the Zep tune.  All the singers participated, but Sebastian Bach and Tom Keifer blew ’em all away.

This disc has been out of print a while, but isn’t too hard to find.  80s rockers need to have it for its historical value.

3/5 stars