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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.

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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

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Live & Loud (1993 grille cover)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Live & Loud (limited edition 1993 Epic speaker grille edition)

Ozzy Osbourne has done lots and lots of tours since his “No More Tours Tour”.  It seemed special at the time, because we thought Live & Loud was going to be the last live album.   It was not.   What was supposed to be a definitive and indispensable capstone is just another live album, only really notable for its packaging.

Let’s start there.  If you buy this album, don’t buy the remastered edition in the jewel case.  This album didn’t need remastering a couple years later.  Why would it?  Instead search for the original digipack with the metal speaker grille cover.  Finding one in good shape can be a challenge.  Unfortunately, the metal grille is not removable although the VHS release did have a removable grille.  The release also came with two Ozzy “temporary tattoos” on little 2″ x 2″ sheets of paper.  These are the first things to get lost and you might want to consider that you’ll never find them.

Live & Loud scores an A+ for packaging, but gets mediocre grades for the music.  This is patched together from a variety of recordings, and it sounds like a lot of fixing was done after the fact.  It’s bogged down with over-long guitar and drum solos (Zakk Wylde and Randy Castillo) and too much talking.  There is only so much that one needs to be told to “go fucking crazy”.  Ozzy proclaims that he loves us so often that it loses all meaning.  He’s more of a cheerleader than a singer at times, constantly badgering the crowd to get “louder”!  There is also an annoyingly long intro that means nothing without the visual accompaniment that’s supposed to go with it.  I will admit that my buddy Peter and I were amused when Ozzy said “Let me see your fucking cigarette lighters” during “Mr. Crowley”.

On the plus side, this particular lineup of Ozzy’s band was one of his strongest.  Zakk and Randy were joined by bassist Mike Inez who was invited to join Alice in Chains in 1993.  Another plus is the presence of Black Sabbath.  The second to last song is “Black Sabbath”, performed by the original Black Sabbath, at the final show on the tour.  Fans will recall that Sabbath were touring their incredible Dehumanizer album, which frankly blows away Ozzy’s No More Tears.   When Sabbath (then including Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Vinny Appice and Ronnie James Dio) were asked to open for Ozzy at his final two concerts, Dio bailed.  He was replaced for those shows by a little known metal singer named Rob Halford.  At the last of the two shows, the original Black Sabbath featuring Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward reunited to play a three song set.  It was their first time together since Live Aid in 1985.

Unfortunately, a couple tracks aside, Live & Loud is flat and uninspired.  “Black Sabbath” isn’t brilliant but at least it’s historic.  All the important songs are there, with maybe a few too many from No More Tears.  There is one surprise in “Changes”, the old Sabbath classic.  This is performed by Zakk on piano and Ozzy.  It’s brilliant and was used as the single.  “Mr. Crowley”, “Shot in the Dark” and “Desire” are pretty good, but drummer Randy Castillo was killing it.  He was the perfect drummer for that band.  Rest in peace Randy.

Live & Loud is for the serious fan only, who will really want to get the grille cover.  Live & Loud is not consistent enough for the average listener and gets bogged down in spots making it a very long run.

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Ozzmosis (1995, remastered)

Scan_20160727OZZY OSBOURNE – Ozzmosis (1995, 2002 Sony remaster)

It is fair to say that Ozzy’s solo recording career post-No More Tears is not considered as classic as the music from before. Admittedly it was a confusing time. Ozzy finished his “No More Tours” tour while all the talk was about a Sabbath reunion that never happened. Retirement wasn’t in the cards, so Ozzy re-teamed with a few former members of his band: Zakk Wylde on guitar, and Geezer Butler on bass. Joining the band behind the drums was a pre-Journey Deen Castronovo. Ozzy sat down to write with a number of talents including Steve Vai, and eventually produced the “post retirement” album Ozzmosis.

Ozzmosis was considered by some fans to be inferior to No More Tears, although song for song, No More Tears isn’t as great as people seem to remember it.  Ozzmosis has a heavier, more bass-centric sound and certainly boasts at least four Ozzy classics in its grooves.  Osbourne has gone on record as preferring the demo versions of some songs better than the album tracks, but Ozzmosis boasts a hell of a heavy sound.

Ozzy was also struggling with his public image.  He didn’t want to be seen at the bat-biting madman anymore.  I suppose that’s why we see songs like “Perry Mason” on Ozzmosis.  Not a bad track, it was chosen as lead single.  But the subject matter?  Not sure why, but:

“Who can we get on this case?
We need Perry Mason,
Someone to put you in place,
Calling Perry Mason.”

Certainly a far cry lyrically from “Bark at the Moon”, but musically it’s still Ozzy prowling in the shadows, warning you of the dangers.  It’s delightful to hear Geezer’s trademark slinky bass all over it.  (I have often said that Ozzy’s best solo band, post-Randy, had Geezer and Zakk.)  Ozzy was sufering from some vocal issues at the time, but “Perry Mason” isn’t one of the songs you can tell this from.  Only Ozzy Osbourne & Co. could make a song about Perry Mason this cool.

“Perry Mason” would be one of the four album classics.  Also up there is “I Just Want You”, which he wrote with Canadian songsmith Jim Vallance.  Ozzy was rightfully proud of this heavy ballad.  Rick Wakeman provided keys, classy and absolutely perfect.  At times he’s playing synth parts that sound like mellotron, at others like a big fat Hammond organ (bigger than Orlando Bloom’s wang).  At all times, it is awesome.  Zakk Wylde plays an effects-laden solo that sounds underwater, but in a good way.  It’s haunting and not robbed of its power.  He utilises this “watery” sound on a number of tracks on Ozzmosis.

Standing with these songs is “See You on the Other Side”, another fab ballad from the dark side.  Ozzy’s preferred demo version (with sax solo) can be found on his Prince of Darkness box set.  There’s nothing wrong with this version though, haunting as it is.   It was written by Ozzy, Zakk, and Lemmy Kilmister, who helped Ozzy out with the words.

The fourth and final classic is the album closer, “Old L.A. Tonight”.  As one of Ozzy’s piano ballads, it has been largely forgotten over the years.  The piano and Zakk’s very emotive playing only amplify what Ozzy’s singing.  Zakk’s solo is one of his finest.  Why some things become hits and not others, I don’t always understand.  “Old L.A. Tonight” is superior in almost every way to a track like “Mama I’m Coming Home”, or “So Tired”.   This is one of the tracks that does reveal cracks in the Ozzman’s voice, as he reaches for very high notes and quavers.  I can’t hit the notes he’s hitting, though.

You’ll notice that of the four album classics, three are ballads, and that’s a problem.  Yes, even as far back as “Changes” or “Planet Caravan”, Ozzy has been a master of the art of the heavy ballad.  His core audience tends to buy albums for his heavy metal songs, and the heavy material on Ozzmosis is lacking.  Few of those songs really congeal into something solidly memorable.  The album sounds heavy on effects, and while that strategy worked on the four classics, it tends to choke and strangle the other songs, inhibiting Ozzy’s voice with a nasal muffler.  It’s surprising how much time he spends singing higher than what sounds comfortable, and that too is a weakness.

Sony tacked on two bonus tracks for this 2002 reissue — a rip off, and I’ll explain why.  The album includes two B-sides:  “The Whole World’s Falling Down” and “Aimee”.  (That makes two songs about Ozzy’s kids on this CD, including “My Little Man” about Jack.)   There were however four B-sides released for this album, and two are not included for no good reason.  Missing are “Living With the Enemy” and “Voodoo Dancer”, but fear not.  None of Ozzy’s B-sides this time out were really keepers.  “Aimee” isn’t bad, but Ozzy has done much better stuff for his B-sides in the past.  Songs like “You Said It All”, “Don’t Blame Me”, and “Liar”.

Zakk Wylde didn’t do the tour for this album, even though he co-wrote and played on it.  Zakk seemed to be trying to establish himself separate from Ozzy at the time, and so Ozzy toured with Joe Holmes who had finished up a stint with David Lee Roth.  (Though Ozzy stuck with Holmes for five years, I never thought he sounded right playing the Ozzy or Sabbath material.)  After a brief leg, Ozzy fired Deen Castronovo and re-hired his previous drummer Randy Castillo.  Ozzy made a backhanded statement about Castronovo being a talented session drummer, and that’s what he should continue to do.  Ouch.

It’s a mixed bag, but when you hit a gem in the grooves of Ozzmosis, it is worth the price of purchase. Shame about the stinky cover art.

3.25/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The End (2016)

NEW RELEASE

Scan_20160330BLACK SABBATH – The End (2016 BS Productions)

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!

4/5 stars

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DVD REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Never Say Die (live 1978)

A double-header for you today, folks!  Head over 80’s Metal Shatz N Giggles to read Deke‘s review of the Never Say Die album!

BLACK SABBATH – Never Say Die (Live in 1978, 2003 Sanctuary DVD)

Recorded in 1978 at the Hammersmith, the DVD Never Say Die was recorded for TV, and not badly either.  The video part, anyway!  Great live angles and decent editing lead to a very watchable concert, albeit chopped down for length.  The audio leaves something to be desired.

The muffled riff of “Symptom of the Universe” commences the set, Iommi sounding as if powered through a crappy battery powered transistor amp, such is the horrible sound captured.  A blazed Ozzy growls through it, and Bearded Bill is in the back wearing braids and looking like a complete dirt bag.  As for Geezer?  He’s mixed too low to have any significant impact.  Tony Iommi stands guard at center stage, while Ozzy claps along next to him.

The close-up shots are nice and vivid, Ozzy waving the peace sign during the start of “War Pigs”.  He then commands the crowd to put their hands together, and they soon oblige singing along with him.  There is something about a live version of this song with the full original lineup including Bill Ward.  Bill was always a jazzy drummer, and that’s the vibe he loaned Black Sabbath.  It’s especially necessary on tracks like “War Pigs” which require a certain swing on the traps.  With Bill here still in vintage mode, the song has all the right heft and movement.

It’s hard to tell that this was a group of guys who couldn’t bear each other anymore.  While they mostly keep to themselves on the large stage (as they always have), Ozzy acts as Tony’s cheering section during the guitar solos, and you can even see a hint of a smile in Tony’s eyes.  Then Ozzy claps and screeches his way through the monolithic “Snow Blind”.

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The only track from the new album, Never Say Die, is the title track.  Its upbeat attitude and fast tempo allude to where Ozzy was going to go as a solo artist.  For Sabbath, it’s one of their most unappreciated tracks.  This live version is pretty sloppy but very rock and roll (including an old-tymey rock and roll riff that wasn’t in the original).  Then, Ozzy introduces the all-time classic, “Black Sabbath”, with an interesting statement.  “Thanks for the last 10 years, and we hope we’re around for another 10 years, and another 10 years.”  It’s interesting because at this point, Ozzy had already left the band once, been replaced by Dave Walker (Savoy Brown) for one TV performance (“Junior’s Eyes”), and then returned to the band to do the Never Say Die album, refusing to sing anything they wrote for Walker.  Not exactly the kind of environment to encourage longevity!  Of course the amazing thing is that three of these guys are still together, winding up the band that they formed.

It’s worth noting that nobody can (or will) capture the vibe of “Black Sabbath” like the original four.

Detouring to Technical Ecstasy, Sabbath pour into the underrated prowl, “Dirty Women”.  After this, uncredited, is a brief Bill Ward drum solo.  That melds into “Rock and Roll Doctor”, another obscurity.  Ward’s cowbell and Tony’s rock and roll riff give it a retro vibe.  Bill plays it busy compared to the album version; that’s fine by me.  Tony takes a guitar solo before the scary oldie-goldie, “Electric Funeral”.   Always a treat to hear this rarely played Paranoid classic, but unfortunately this one is noticeably edited down.

Closing out the disc, “Children of the Grave” is an obvious highlight.  Once again there is no drummer on Earth who can play it properly, except for Bill Ward.   Some come close, but none capture the reckless engine that drives it.  For the encore, Ozzy asks the audience “What do you wanna hear?” to which they are supposed to respond “Paranoid!”  I don’t know if they do; the audio here is really not good.  They trot out “Paranoid”, the flaw of which is that it always sounds by rote.  Ozzy couldn’t sound less interested in singing it again for the millionth time.

You have to consider the sound quality on a DVD like this and if you’re the kind of person who will care or even be able to tell the difference.  I don’t care.  This is a great though imperfect glimpse at a rare period in Black Sabbath’s history.  A short while later Ozzy would be solo, and Sabbath would go to Heaven and Hell with Ronnie James Dio.

3.5/5 stars

 

DVD REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Children of the Sea – Live in Brazil ’94

Scan_20150927BLACK SABBATH – Children of the Sea – Live in Brazil ’94 (Disc Media)

The Cross Purposes tour was not a happy time in Black Sabbath.  Geezer Butler had felt that this band (featuring himself, Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, and new drummer Bobby Rondinelli) should have had a new name and not been billed as Black Sabbath.  Rondinelli left mid-tour, so Tony and Geezer called up the original Sabbath skinsman Bill Ward.  With this historic lineup, 3/4 of the original band were intact (the same ratio as today’s Sabbath).  They went to South America to play five shows.  Then Butler quit after a furious standoff with Iommi.

This broadcast footage is all that remains of this very short-lived lineup of Black Sabbath.

The set opens with “Time Machine”, a Dio-era song that neither Tony Martin nor Bill Ward originally appeared on.  The sound is pretty horrendous, coming in slightly better than bootleg quality.  The crowd noise is too high, and the backing keyboards of Geoff Nicholls actually drown out the lead guitar.  Nicholls’ backing vocals are also more audible than they should be.  As a frontman, Martin does his best, which involves spreading his arms wide and shaking his hair.  A long haired Ward has a completely different rhythm on this track than Vinnie Appice gave it.  Another Dio number is next, “Children of the Sea”.  Ward at least played on this Heaven and Hell classic.  Haters would be critical of Martin’s version of Dio songs, but Dio quit. Ozzy wasn’t ready to come back.  Iommi carried on, and that’s how it went down.  Martin had to sing the old songs to the best of his talents and he helped keep the ship afloat during these difficult years.  Having Bill Ward on this track lends it a required authenticity.

There are certain songs that Sabbath has never dropped from the set, that are very difficult for most singers to perform.  “Black Sabbath” is top of the list.  Ozzy’s possessed original can never be duplicated or imitated.  A big part of that, however, is that Bill Ward’s primitive drum fills were such a big part of it, and Bill’s back on this one.  With 3/4 of the original Sabbath there, this version actually works out.  It’s one of the most true to the original of the versions released by any post-Ozzy lineup of Black Sabbath…except it is edited!  It halts abruptly at the half-way point, to awkwardly go into “War Pigs”.  This concert was clearly cut down to fit into a one hour (with commercials) time slot.  Why half of “Black Sabbath” was sacrificed instead of something else, I don’t know.  Shoddy.  At least “War Pigs” is intact, with Bill (shirtless now) providing the loose backbone it always had on album.  It acquires a jazzy feel during the slow outro.

Iommi gets a guitar solo (could have edited this out instead of “Black Sabbath”, but what do I know?) which has shades of “Too Late” from Dehumanizer.  Then it’s “Paranoid”, with Bill behind the beat as it should be.  Martin bites into every word, doing a fantastic job of it.  I have several live versions of Martin doing “Paranoid”, but this one is the best and most true.

When it’s time for “Headless Cross”, the rhythm section are not the ones who recorded it (Lawrence Cottle on bass and Cozy Powell on drums).  It’s weird to think of Bill Ward playing drum parts that Cozy Powell wrote.  Geezer sounds more at home, and is able too bring his trademark slink to the bass.  Offstage, Geoff Nicholls quite obviously provides the high notes in the chorus that Tony Martin can no longer hit, whether by voice or sample I do not know.  There’s another awkward edit into “Iron Man”, a song most singers except Ozzy struggle with.  This could have been excised.  We finally blast into “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”: better, even though nobody can hit the unholy notes that Ozzy did on the studio version.

That’s the last track..  The back cover claims that “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” is next, but there is no such track.  Bastards!  To compound the error, they got the song title wrong by just having “The Hand that Rocks”.  Not that this is the only mistake on the track list.   “Babbath Bloody Sabbath” is pretty funny, especially since this title carried over to the song menu on the DVD!

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Wardrobe wise, I like Geezer’s sweater with the crosses on it; that’s nice.  Tony Martin has a cool, steel plated leather jacket, which looks as if raided from Rob Halford’s closet.  Iommi sports silver cross center-chest, while Bill Ward is right out of 1975 with the long hair and track pants.

There are issues with the audio sync on this DVD, probably originating from the broadcast but carried over even though it would be easily fixed.  Sloppy release.  I’m sure that this is ripped from a VHS recording of the broadcast, due to the obvious spots where commercial breaks are edited out.

Maybe the original uncut tapes are out there somewhere. If so, somebody should release them.  This concert could have been a great little DVD release, but the various audio and editing flaws make it a difficult viewing.

2/5 stars

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