Never Say Die

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

 

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Speak of the Devil / Talk of the Devil (1983)

 

OZZY OSBOURNE – Speak of the Devil (1983 Epic)

After Randy Rhoads died, Ozzy really seemed to have gone into a tailspin. He just seems to have been completely miserable at the time and he really tries to bury the albums he made in this period. Speak Of The Devil, a live album featuring Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) on guitar, was not even included on Ozzy’s 2002 reissue program and went out of print.

Ozzy owed his label a live album, and had actually recorded one too (Randy Rhoads Tribute).  With fresh wounds from the loss of Randy, Ozzy didn’t want to do a live album at all.    So a compromise instead; Speak of the Devil (Talk of the Devil overseas) consisted entirely of Black Sabbath songs.  At the same time, Sabbath was releasing their own double live album, Live Evil.  This direct competition poured fuel over an already volatile feud.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL_0003I always hate to compare Ozzy’s versions of Sabbath songs with the originals. Ozzy’s have always sounded different because of the guitar players he’s chosen to use over the years. These Gillis versions are about as authentic as Ozzy’s been, until the fortuitous discovery of Zakk Wylde five years later.  Gillis is a flashier player than Iommi, but without Randy’s intricate classical bent.

You absolutely cannot argue with the track list (from the Ritz, in New York). This is Sabbath boiled down to its black core. These are the desert island songs, and I love that “Never Say Die” and “Symptom of the Universe” were included.  Through the classics, Ozzy sounds tremendously drunk.  Colossally smashed, not quite completely out of his fucking head yet, but close.  Still lucid, not yet totally annihilated.  His voice takes on an angry shade when he starts reminiscing about the the groupies at the old Fillmore East (“The Wizard”).  (Sounds like a naughty word was awkwardly edited of out this ramble, too.)

I do love a moment when, just before breaking into the aforementioned “Wizard”, Ozzy says to somebody (a roadie?) “Hey, what’s happenin’ man?”

The vocals sound like they’ve been sweetened in the studio.  They’ve been double tracked, or manipulated to have that effect.  I’m normally not a fan of that kind of thing, but it’s still a great listen.  There’s some annoying feedback at points…it doesn’t bother me too much, hell, when I first heard this album (on cassette) in 1991, I couldn’t even hear the feedback, for the shitty fidelity of cassette tape.  I’m sure Ozzy considers the album to be sonically embarrassing, that seems to be his modus operandi.

Of note, “Sweet Leaf” did not manage to make the original CD release, but has been restored to this version, its CD debut.  It was on the original cassette version, a cassette-and-LP-only “bonus track” at the time.  (Aaron, that means you gotta buy remastered or LP.)

Band lineup: Osbourne/Gillis/Sarzo/Aldridge/Airey.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: sHEAVY – The Electric Sleep (1998)

sHEAVY – The Electric Sleep (1998 Rise Against Records)

Last time, we talked about the “moment of epiphany” when I first heard this band.  This is my favourite album by Sheavy, choice band from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Electric Sleep is an intense listen, throbbing and bottom-heavy, but it’s especially striking for its similarity to early Black Sabbath.  My buddy Tom often said that this seemed like it should have been the next Sabbath album, as if Ozzy never left in 1979.  I disagreed, as I found it to be more the mold of earlier period Sabbath.  It doesn’t matter; if hearing a band that sounds pretty much exactly like the original Black Sabbath offends you in any way, then don’t listen to Sheavy.

The album opens with “Virtual Machine”, and Steve Hennessey’s distorted computerized yowl is mesmerizing.  The riff detonates, it’s a keeper, and Sheavy have kicked me in the buttocks with the first track.  “Velvet” abruptly changes the landscape to something more acoustic, atmospheric.  A Sabbath analog would be a song like “Solitude”, for example.  But then “Destiny’s Rainbow” arrives to kick your posterior again once you’re getting too comfortable.

“Electric Sleep”, the title track, recalls “Hand of Doom” from Paranoid.  “Born In A Daze” has a groovier feel.  You know how Sabbath kind of got a bit groovier on Never Say Die?  Songs like “Junior’s Eyes”?  Maybe Tom’s right, and maybe this album does sound like a followup to Never Say Die at times.

My favourite song is the stormy “Automaton”.  This one actually reminds me of early Queensryche lyrically, when they were still singing about computers and robots and other cool stuff:

If all the secrets they’ve been hoping to find,
Unlock the programs buried deep in my mind,
And am I human or just a robot slave?
They sent me here so their world I could save, yeah-ahh!

Musically, “Automaton” is also the least Sabbath-like.   The riff is swift, stout and precise, but not very Iommi, which is fine.  And there’s a cool slide guitar hook that recurs in the song which helps give it a unique sound.  This one’s a winner:  my favourite Sheavy song, period.

That’s a hard act to follow, but Sheavy do so with the mournful “Savannah…Flights of Ecstasy”.  In his best vintage Ozzy delivery, Hennessey laments the loss of someone close:

She forgot to breathe,
She forgot it was make believe,
Can’t avoid her eyes,
Never cared for long goodbyes.

If I had to compare this to a Black Sabbath song, it would actually be “Lonely Is the Word”, from Heaven and Hell.  Hennessey’s Ozzy stylings aside, musically this has the same kind of vibe…until it gets heavy and riffy close to the end.  Then suddenly it’s Vol. 4.  

“Saving Me” gets the heads banging, but “Oracle” is something else.  Beginning with a didgeridoo (an instrument that Black Sabbath definitely never used), it’s obvious that this song is a carbon copy of “Black Sabbath” itself.  The riff is the same “devil’s triad”.  Throw in some cool Jimmy Page “Dazed and Confused” wah-wah guitar licks on top and you have an idea of what this mash-up sounds like.

The album closes with “Stardust” and “Last Parade”, a duo of heaviness 15 minutes in length total.  “Stardust” itself is loaded with guitars, no less than eight players are credited on it!

I think if this album wasn’t so derivative of the original Black Sabbath, it would be worth 4.5 stars due to the sheer quality.  However, I think I have to knock off half a point simply because you can play “name that Sabbath song” for several tracks.  Although Uncle Meat says the same is true for moments of Black Sabbath’s new album 13, I’m going to give Sheavy…

4/5 stars