geoff nicholls

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/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.

 

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

 

R.I.P. Geoff Nicholls

2017 rolls on like a mini-2016.  The latest casualty is former Black Sabbath keyboardist Geoff Nicholls who was on every Sabbath album from Heaven and Hell (1980) to Forbidden (1995).  He played bass and sang when need be.  For that period of Sabbath’s history, he was the only stable member excluding Tony Iommi himself.  Geoff passed at age 68, after a battle with lung cancer.  He was rarely pictured with the four “main” Sabbath members, but he was more important than most of them.  Rest in Peace.

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live Evil (remastered 2 CD version)

NOTE:  This is basically a review of the Deluxe edition of Live Evil.  I own The Rules of Hell (2008) box set of Dio-era Sabbath, so I did not need to buy the later Deluxe of Live Evil.  The 2 CD edition inside The Rules of Hell is sonically the same.

BLACK SABBATH – Live Evil (1982 Warner, 2008 Rhino)

Live Evil: Not only a palindrome, but also the last gasp of the Dio/Appice/Iommi/Butler lineup of Black Sabbath.  Hard to believe that their first “official” live release was with Ronnie James Dio at the mic and not Ozzy Osbourne! This infamous live album was the last thing Sabbath did before Dio left (the first time) and it’s actually a lot better than people generally give it credit for.

Some folks may not enjoy that live, there’s only one guitar.  When Iommi takes a guitar solo, the gap is filled by bassist Geezer Butler and keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.  The audible keyboards in the middle of a heavy metal song like “Neon Nights” do take a little getting used to, admittedly.  In the end though, it’s part of the scenery.  Black Sabbath didn’t do much with live keyboards in the original Ozzy era, but they were a part of every Sabbath lineup since.  There was also apparently a lot of behind the scenes bitching about instrument levels and whatnot that supposedly lead to the disintegration of the band.  This remastered edition of the CD leaves me with few qualms about the sound.

LIVE EVIL_0004

Back in the 80’s and 90’s, you used to see a lot of fan rivalry.  “Dio sucks!” or “Dio rules!”  Today we all have the perspective to know that you can have both Ozzy and Dio, like having your cake and eating it too.  Well, until Dio’s heartbreaking 2010 death, that is.  It is true most singers that Sabbath have had couldn’t do the Ozzy material convincingly. Ozzy sounded genuinely disturbed and terrified on “Black Sabbath”. (“What is this that stands before me? Figure in black which points at me. Turn round quick and start to run. Find out I’m the chosen one…oh no, please God help me!”) Dio camps it up quite a bit, which is not my personal preference. The same goes for “War Pigs”.  I also find that Vinny Appice just can’t cop the vibe that Bill Ward got on the drums. Ward played it very subtle, almost tribal, and Vinny plays it straight ahead. But I’ve yet to hear any lineup that can do that song as well as the original album version, including the reunited (1997-2012) Sabbath with Ozzy and Bill.  (Appice also gets a drum solo on “War Pigs”; thunderous but not necessary.)

The set list for this album was pretty cool, including Mob Rules favourites “Voodoo” and an absolutely killer “Sign of the Southern Cross”. This version, melded with a long extended “Heaven and Hell”, is among the very best moments in Dio’s career. Basically, all the Dio-era material here is excellent, while the Ozzy-era stuff leaves you feeling just a little bit underwhelmed. Not to say they’re bad, they’re just…different.  Two completely different singers with their own personalities.  The fact is that Dio made it work live as best he could, and that’s commendable.

MVP:  The super slinky Geezer Butler.  The remastered edition allows us to hear with real clarity every massive note, and his bass is like a jolt of caffeine to the brain!

Since this is a 2CD set, all the between-song banter that was deleted on single disc versions has been restored. That’s important. Dio talks a lot between songs and that’s part of the album. Otherwise there is no bonus material. There are ample and interesting liner notes, and the front cover looks absolutely stunning. This is one of Sabbath’s all-time best covers (perhaps second only to their first album) and it definitely shines in this edition. (But don’t let that stop you from tracking down a vinyl copy so you can see it in its 12×12 glory!)

LIVE EVIL_0001

Shame that this was the last album of the original Dio era, but of course Dio and the band felt there needed to be additional chapters later on. And so there were. Live Evil remained a controversial album for a decade after its releasing, dividing fan and band opinions.  I asked two of my esteemed Sausagefest rock scholar friends for their opinion on it, to make sure we’ve covered all the bases. This is why they had to add:

Uncle Meat:  “As good as Dio was as a singer, I never really liked some of his takes on Ozzy Sabbath songs. He kinda over-sings them. It’s like he is bored with them and he appeases the singer in himself. Also the mix is pretty horrible as well. The truth is, the only great Sabbath live album isnt even a Sabbath album. Ozzy’s Speak of the Devil still sounds great today.”

Dr. Dave:  “I don’t love or hate it. I like it. The most interesting thing for me, besides Dio, is the Vinny Appice take on the whole thing. More of a groove, less of a swing than Bill Ward. Not saying better, just neatly different.”

Final note: The liner notes correct Dio’s name to Ronnie James Dio.  The original LP and CD had his name printed as simply “Ronnie Dio”, as a bit of a “fuck you” to the singer.  They do not, however, reinstate Vinny Appice as an “official” member, having his name under “special thanks”!

3.5/5 stars. The most historic of the Sabbath live albums.

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Sabbath Stones (1996)

Bought at HMV, Stone Road Mall, Guelph ON, on import for $29.99 in 1996.

BLACK SABBATH – The Sabbath Stones (1996 IRS)

The Sabbath Stones, a record-company cash-grab, is a greatest hits compilation of Sabbath’s Tony Martin years (mostly) plus a smattering of bonus tracks. While it is not perfect, and so many great songs were omitted, it is still a really great listen from start to finish. Tony Martin is probably the most derided of all Sabbath vocalists. Having seen Sabbath live on their final tour with Martin (also including Cozy Powell and Neil Murray) I can say that I quite enjoyed that incarnation of Sabbath. Also, in 1996 when this was released, albums such as Headless Cross and The Eternal Idol were very hard to find on CD.  With that in mind, read my track-by-track breakdown.

1. “Headless Cross” — This compilation is the IRS years (that’s the record label, not the government agency) and thus starts with their first IRS album, Headless Cross. The title track is one of those underground classics. The groove here is monstrous (thanks, Cozy)  and the notes Martin hits in the chorus are superhuman. This track, back in 1989, was Sabbath getting back to a truly heavy evil sound. Shame that the keyboards (on all tracks by Geoff Nicholls) are mixed so high!

2. “When Death Calls” — One of my favourites from Headless. Beginning with fretless bass (by temp bassist Lawrence Cottle) and haunting vocals, you’d almost think this was a ballad. By the end, it’s breakneck, with Tony Martin singing these evil lyrics about how “your tongue will blister” when Satan says you’re to die! The guest guitar solo by Brian May will sear your soul.

3. “Devil and Daughter” — A third great track from Headless, an album loaded with great tracks. This is an uptempo one all the way through!

4. “The Sabbath Stones” — From 1990’s underrated Tyr album. I quite liked Tyr. “The Sabbath Stones” is a fast one, wicked, but muddy in sound as was all of Tyr. Once again, Martin hits inhuman high notes by the end.

5-7. “The Battle Of Tyr/Odin’s Court/Valhalla” — These three tracks are actually all bits of one long piece, on Viking mythology. Sabbath at the time were trying to get away from the “Satanic thing”, and Vikings were still evil enough to sing about. Some fans didn’t like that turn of events but I think Sabbath were well ahead of their time. “The Battle Of Tyr” is a keyboard-y bit, just an intro to get you in the mood. “Odin’s Court” is acoustic, with Iommi picking a simple melody while Martin sings about “leading us on, to the land of eternity, riding the cold cold winds of Valhalla”. That takes us into the main meat of the trilogy, the “Valhalla” portion. One of the most powerful of all Martin-era tracks, with great keyboard accents and a memorable Iommi riff, this was my favourite track off Tyr.  (It’s either this one, or “Jerusalem”.)

8. “TV Crimes” — A brief departure from the Tony Martin years. In 1992, he was out and Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice were back in. The album was called Dehumanizer and even though it did not sell well, a hardcore following now consider it among the very best Sabbath albums of all time, and possibly one of the best things Dio’s ever done. Why it was underrepresented here with just one song is beyond me. There should have been at least three Dehumanizer tracks on this CD (I would have nixed “Devil and Daughter” and “The Sabbath Stones” in favour of two more with Dio singing.) Anyway, “TV Crimes” (the single) is here, and while not one of the best songs from Dehumanizer, it and “Time Machine” were the two most well-known.

9. “Virtual Death” — Tony Martin is back, with Rainbow’s Bobby Rondinelli and Geezer Butler too!  That would not last long, as Geezer soon fled back to Ozzy’s solo band to record the Ozzmosis CD. “Virtual Death” is hardly one of the better songs from the Cross Purposes album, a decent record if a bit soft. Having said that, the soft tracks were really quite good and “Virtual Death” was just a grunge song.  Black Sabbath influenced that whole scene, but they ended up copying Alice In Chains’ trademark vocal style on “Virtual Death”.  That double tracked vocal melody could have come right off Dirt.

10. “Evil Eye” — Another puzzling Cross Purposes selection.  I can’t think of a reason to include it.  There was once a legend that “Evil Eye” was co-written by Eddie Van Halen, who went uncredited.  The same rumour suggested that Van Halen either performed the guitar solo or wrote the solo for Iommi to play.  Joe Seigler of black-sabbth.com has busted this rumour as false.   My two tracks from this album would have been “I Witness” (fast one) and “Cross Of Thorns” (slow one).

11. “Kiss Of Death” — Finally we arrive at the end of the Martin years with the dreadful Forbidden album. It’s sad because it wasn’t the end that Tony Martin deserved. The album just got out of hand and next thing you know, Ozzy was back. This track was at least one of the strongest ones. A killer, slow closer with some unbelievable Cozy Powell drum fills, if it had been recorded right it would have just slammed you in the face.

12. “Guilty As Hell” — Another Forbidden track, and one of the weakest. “Can’t Get Close Enough” should have been subbed in. Just filler.

13. “Loser Gets It All”TREASURE!  The Japanese Forbidden bonus track, finally available domestically! (Please note, the Cross Purposes Japanese bonus track “What’s The Use” is still unreleased outside Japan, dangit.) This song, a shorty just over 2 minutes, is actually stronger than all the other Forbidden stuff. Good riff, good keyboards, not bad sounding. Shame it was buried on a Japanese release.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe Tony Martin does.  Tony, drop me a line.  I’d love to talk.

And that finishes the final IRS album, and the final one for Martin. He’d been replaced once before by Dio, and now finally by the once and future Ozzy, and it’s all over for him.  Since then he’s taken a back seat to his more famous predecessors, although he released the strongly reviewed (by me) Scream solo album in 2005.  He also did a number of albums with guitarist Dario Mollo, two of which I own but have to revisit.

There are three “bonus tracks”, songs that were included under license, from the period before the IRS years.  The inclusion of these songs really make the album a fun listen.

14. “Disturbing The Priest” — My favourite incarnation of Sabbath was 1983’s Gillan/Iommi/Butler/Ward and this is my favourite song from Born Again. It’s so evil you’ll feel like you need to confess your sins after listening! I have no idea how Gillan managed such demonic screams. Brilliant selection!

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15. “Heart Like A Wheel” — I’m actually quite fond of the Glenn Hughes fronted album, Seventh Star, but this song has no place on this album. Granted Sabbath played it live on the ’86 tour with Ray Gillen subbing in for Hughes, but it’s too slow and bluesy. The title track or “In For The Kill” should have been subbed in.

16. “The Shining” — Tony Martin triumphantly ends the album with his first single with Black Sabbath.  “The Shining” has a vintage Iommi riff, and more ungodly high notes. There are early demos of this song from before Tony joined the band, with other singers, as Iommi had this riff a long time before.  A 1984 demo entitled “No Way Out” was recorded with Ian Gillan’s short-lived replacement singer, David “Donut” Donato.  Then it was re-written and re-sung by Ray Gilllen, and this version was recently released on the Eternal Idol deluxe edition. Tony Martin’s version then is the third incarnation of the song that I have, and it’s a triumphant one.  I love the way this album was bookended with Tony Martin songs.

That’s the CD: 80 MINUTES LONG! You just can’t argue with cramming that much music onto one disc. And yes, you can get 80 minutes onto a CD, and this album is the proof.

While I have argued against the inclusion of some songs, by and large this is a well-made compilation, for a record company cash-grab. Considering the Martin years have been buried, I think it is well worth owning. I listened to it all the time.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Forbidden Rough Mix (bootleg)

BLACK SABBATH – Forbidden Rough Mix (bootleg CD)

Black Sabbath’s Forbidden album has a unique place in the Sabbath canon.  It is almost universally condemned by casual and hard core Sabbath fans alike.  I am one of the many who did not like Forbidden, and you can read about why right here.  It was also the final studio album released under the Black Sabbath name, until now.

Forbidden should have been great.  It had the uber-talented Tyr lineup of Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Cozy Powell, and Neil Murray.  Even with all that muscle, it came out as the weakest Sabbath album ever, probably hindered by Ernie C’s limp production.  I was eager to get my hands on the “rough mix” of Forbidden, which supposedly sounded a lot better.

This CD, simply titled Forbidden Rough Mix is dubbed from a cassette.  That said, it sounds a lot better than any cassette I’ve ever dubbed.  It’s bootleg quality, and I’m fine with that.  The only unfortunate thing is that it is all instrumental versions.  You can hear some of Tony Martin’s vocal bleeding through from somewhere, but it’s not mixed in.  Maybe he was singing scratch vocals in the studio for the band to play along with.  I know that Forbidden was a time of upheaval in the band, with Martin not knowing if he was in or out at any given time.  Ice T was coming in to lay down his own vocal tracks, and nobody would tell Tony if this was for the whole album, one song, part of one song, or what the deal was.

Anyway, if you were hoping for better sounding versions of the Forbidden songs, then this might be as close as you get.  Even though it’s the same album, this version sounds somehow faster and heavier.  It’s some kind of audio illusion, because the drums are unfettered, and you can hear the cool bass runs.  Neil Murray’s bass is much more interesting than it comes across on the original album.   Everything sounds more Sabbathy.   There’s some stunning guitar work buried in there.  This could have been a great album.

Even though it’s just instrumental, the title track “Forbidden” is so much better than the album version.  I can listen to Cozy’s drums!  There’s a lot more keyboards, as performed by Geoff Nicholls in this mix.  Even “The Illusion of Power”, one of the worst songs on the original album, is a cool, traditional sounding Black Sabbath death march on this CD.  Throw an eerie sounding Ozzy lead vocal on top of this instrumental track, and you could have had something appropriate for the Volume 4 album.

‘Tis a shame.  A bloody shame.  There’s been a rumour floating around for years that Tony Iommi is trying to get this album re-released in deluxe edition format.  If that’s the case, great but I’m not counting on it.

4/5 stars

Part 136: Black Sabbath, July 22 1995 (REVIEW!)

Sadly, my concert review for this show no longer exists.  Ye olde floppy discs don’t exist anymore, and the site that once hosted the review (sabbathlive.com) no longest exists.  Therefore I’m forced to re-write this as a Record Store Tale.

RECORD STORE TALES PART 136:  Black Sabbath July 22 1995

July 22, 1995.  Tom, myself, and a few of the boys decided to go see Black Sabbath.  They were playing Lulu’s Roadhouse, the world’s longest bar, with Motorhead opening.  It felt like a step down for both bands, but the place was packed.

We arrived just before Lemmy hit the stage.  They ripped into a scorching set to promote their latest album, the high-octane Sacrifice.   I remember Lemmy introducing the title track:  “Don’t try to dance to this one or you’ll break both your fucking legs!”  At the end of their set, Motorhead promised to return (and they did a year later).

I remember Tom and I being blown away by Motorhead.  I didn’t own any — this show officially was what made me a fan.  I kicked myself for not really paying attention to them earlier, but better late than never eh?

Motorhead remain today one of the best bands I’ve seen.

But I was there to see Black Sabbath.  We moved closer to the front of the stage to be in position.  We chose a spot perfectly between where the two Tony’s would be, right up front.

The crowd was getting a little drunk and restless.  A fight started…well, I hesitate to really call it a fight,  it was over before it started.  We all turned around to see this big huge dude headbutt this little tiny Kurt Cobain looking guy.  Knocked him out cold.  Then the big guy realized everybody was watching and hastily made an exit.

Then, Black Sabbath:  Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, and Geoff Nicholls.  What we didn’t know was that Cozy only had seven more gigs after this one.  Then he would be replaced by another Sabbath vet, Bobby Rondinelli.  And of course little did I know that I’d never see Cozy live again in any band:  He was killed in a car accident 3 years later.

They hit the stage to the classic Martin-era opener, “Children of the Grave”.  Sabbath’s set was sprinkled with tunes from the Ozzy era (“War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Black Sabbath”) and the Dio era (“Heaven and Hell”, “Mob Rules”) and many of his own tracks.  They played three from the lacklustre new record, but at least three of the better songs:  an awesomely dramatic “Kiss Of Death”, the explosive “Can’t Get Close Enough”, and the filler song “Get A Grip”.

It was just before “Get A Grip” that the stagediving began.  Tom vacated the stage area right away.  “Get a grip is right!” he said to me.  “I’m out of here.”  Two songs later I followed him.  This drunk girl started grinding me from behind, so I took the first chance to slip away and catch up with Tom.

The one song I really came to see was “The Shining”, one of the best Martin-era tunes, and his first single with the band.  Sabbath delivered.  They also played two from Headless Cross including “When Death Calls”.  Neil Murray played the chiming bass intro to this song that I’d never heard before.  It was the only unfamiliar song.  I resolved to get Headless Cross as soon as possible.  (It took two months for Orange Monkey Music in Waterloo to get it from Europe.)

Vague memories:

Tony Martin was a so-so frontman.  Much of the time, he would spread his arms Christ-like and shake his thinning hair.  He talked a lot and I remember he had small, beady but friendly looking eyes.  He did the best he could.  He sang his ass off, although he had lost a fair chunk of his range.

I remember Iommi ditched his SG for an unfamiliar red guitar during the overdriven “Can’t Get Close Enough”.

I could barely see Cozy, which is my biggest regret.

I was pleased that Sabbath played a well-rounded set with new stuff.

Little did I know that the end was near.  Not only was Cozy soon to be out, but promoters cancelled much of the end of the tour.  Sabbath headed over to Japan, threw “Changes” into the set (OMG!) but were done by the end of the year.  For the first time in a long time, Sabbath were put on ice while Tony (Iommi) worked on a solo album with Glenn Hughes.

Meanwhile, the lawyers were conspiring to create a new/old Sabbath lineup.  By 1997, Ozzy was back, and the band now featuring founding members Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and new drummer Mike Bordin of Faith No More.

I’m glad  to have seen Sabbath with Martin.  He did five albums, and I like three of them.  I think he did the best he could under difficult circumstances.  He’s a talented guy, so it’s great to have seen this lineup especially since Cozy would be gone so soon!

REVIEW: Tony Martin – Scream (2005, Japanese edition with bonus track)

TONY MARTIN – Scream (2005 Marquee Inc., Japanese edition with bonus track)

Some of you might not know the name Tony Martin.  Yet you should — he spent more time fronting Black Sabbath than anyone except Ozzy Osbourne.  He sang on five studio albums and one live.  His powerful voice, which was constantly compared to Dio’s, was behind such singles as “Headless Cross” and “The Shining”.

Scream is only Tony’s second solo album, but it’s bloody fantastic.  This fits the bill for people who miss where Black Sabbath were going before Martin departed for the first time in 1991, to make room for Dio’s return.  The riffs are there, and on a couple you’d swear Iommi wrote them.  This is intentional — Martin collaborated with ex-Sabbath keyboardist Geoff Nicholls (1980-1995) and included music and performances by late Sabbath drummer Cozy Powell.

There are many standout tracks on Scream.  The opener, “Raising Hell”, is a speedy Sabbath-esque number similar to “Eye Witness” from Cross Purposes.  Not coincidentally, this is the track with Nicholls and Powell, a demo for the album that would have followed Tyr.  It’s a standout if you like that period of Sabbath.  Which I do.

Fuck yeah!  I LOVE that period of Sabbath! 

There are blazing guitar solos, organ solos and hell, even a bloody violin solo, and it sounds downright wicked.  Martin himself played it, as he did most instruments on this album.  The rest were handled by his son, Joe Harford!  I’m guessing it was Harford who plays the tasty slide guitar solos too.  I loves me some slide guitar in my metal!  You don’t hear it enough in metal.

Best song:  “I’m Gonna Live Forever”, an anthem that I would say makes the album worth buying on its own. 

Another standout:  “Wherever You Go”, somewhat Zeppelin-esque circa III, but also reminiscient of a Sabbath track like “Odin’s Court”.  Indeed, you will definitely hear Zeppelin creeping in during “Field of Lies”…

Worst songs:  Sadly, I can’t say as I much liked the rap metal song, the Japanese-exlusive “Unbearable”.  It’s basically about how getting no respect is making his life unbearable.  It’s heavy and angry, has some good guitars, and sounds pretty genuine.  I guess it can’t be easy being the 8th (I think) lead vocalist in Black Sabbath.  I also dislike “The Kids Of Today (Don’t Understand the Blues)”.  Basically about what the title says.  It has a synth riff in the verses that is kind of at odds with the title, but maybe that’s the point.

Aside from the two songs that didn’t click with me, Scream comes off as an honest, classy traditional metal album.  It strikes me as a bold attempt to carry the Sabbath flag, during a period when Black Sabbath were not recording.  (Sabbath later got back together with Dio under the name Heaven & Hell, and made one final crushing studio album.)  The songs stand up on their own, with powerful, memorable riffs.  The vocal melodies and indeed the vocal performances are Martin at his best.  This is just a straight great metal album, for those who like it the way they used to make it.

Kids of today.  They just don’t understand!

4.5/5 stars