Ozzy Osbourne

#533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

STOPARRETThe below is a personal non-preachy discussion on living life as a Christian heavy metal fan.  I’m not interested in changing anyone’s personal convictions, just telling a story.  If this bothers you, press “back” now.

 

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GETTING MORE TALE #533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

Any fan of heavy metal music who is also a believer in the Lord above has had to come to grips with this apparently hypocrisy.  How can one follow the word of God and yet listen to Ghost?

Believe In One God Do We,
Satan Almighty,
The Uncreator Of Heaven And Evil,
And The Unvisable And The Visable,
And In His Son,
Begotten Of Father,
By Whom All Things Shall Be Unmade,
Who For Man And His Damnation,
Incarnated,
Rise Up From Hell,
From Sitteth On The Left Hand Of His Father,
From Thense He Shall Come To Judge,
Out Of One Substance,
With Satan,
Whose Kingdom Shall Haveth No End.

I wrestled with this contradiction very early in life. As a young Catholic-raised kid discovering rock music, I wanted to make up my own mind. One of my earliest sources of music via the magic of Sunday afternoon taping sessions was my next door neighbor George.  In addition to the Kiss discography, George had most of the Maiden, Priest and Ozzy catalogue either on LP or cassette.  George wasn’t particularly religious, but one afternoon he did tell me, “I won’t listen to anything Satanic.”  I took that to mean that Maiden, Priest and Ozzy lyrics checked out A-OK.

Many people of faith have found that their religious convictions shake and waver over the years.  That period for me began in the 1990s, although I never considered myself an agnostic or an atheist.  I was in the early years of my University career; that period when you think you know it all.  I remember some fierce discussions around the dinner table with me loudly proclaiming that I was the only sitting authority on whatever subject had come up.  My parents remember them too, as the naive younger me spouted off about whatever I read on an overhead projector.  Meanwhile, I was frustrated that they didn’t seem to be giving my lecture serious enough consideration.  Some dinners ended up with me storming up to my room in anger with my food unfinished.

One of my earliest courses in University was my first year introduction to Anthropology.  The prof, whose name long escapes me now, was an animated character.  His long hair was always tied up in a ponytail on the back of his head.  He wore suits and ties to class, which most profs did not.  Many (especially in the psych department) preferred socks and sandals.  He told anecdotes and moved around a lot.  He always kept one hand on the podium.  The class noticed his storytelling sessions always proceeded with one hand firmly anchored, keeping him in a tight orbit at the front of the classroom.  He was a fantastic teacher and I briefly considered a career in Anthropology before I realized it involved a great deal of travel and going out of doors.

He was most certainly an atheist, which is unsurprising considering that the first semester of the class was about primate evolution.  He was fascinating, and though I never doubted the science of genetics and natural selection, he certainly proved to me that the simple 7-days 7-nights story of the Bible did not happen as simply as it was written.  That could only be allegory for a sequence of events that humanity did not have words for or basic knowledge of at the time.  Knowledge is cumulative.  We know now that we can follow the development of life through fossils, getting older and older as we dig deeper.  Things line up, make sense.  He explained to us why the concept of a “missing link” is a logical fallacy.

None of this bothered me.  Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a spiritual person at that age, I just assumed any God who is truly all knowing and all powerful could easily create the universe as it was, with the laws of nature, physics and all the matter inside it, via the Big Bang.  It would still turn out exactly as He envisioned it to, because that’s the definition of an all powerful God.  There didn’t seem to be any contradiction to me.  I tried to argue this as part of an intro Philosophy course paper that I wrote the same year.  I attempted to go to the quantum scale to explain things and blew it fabulously.  That paper was a C-, if I recall correctly.  The T.A. that marked it suggested that the quantum section should have been axed completely.  (He was absolutely right!)

At the same time, I was very deeply invested in a love of heavy music, having collected at least 400 tapes at that stage.  Stryper aside, none of them were Christian rock.  There were plenty of masters of the dark arts, however:  Alice Cooper, the Ozzman, the Sabs, Priest, Maiden and the lot.  As least, that’s the way many religious folks seemed to think it was over the years.  I couldn’t hear any Satanism in their lyrics.  Look at the words to Sabbath’s “After Forever”:

I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ,
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced,
Will you be so sure when your day is near, say you don’t believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down, now you can’t retrieve.

Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone,
Open your eyes, just realize that He’s the one,
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate,
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes! I think it’s too late.

Because the song also has a line that goes “Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope – do you think he’s a fool?,” some folks are likely to get their panties in a bunch. Context in any art form is important, often true with lyrics.  It’s hard to imagine Ozzy sitting there seriously worshipping Satan when he’d rather be drinking, don’t you think?

At the same time, I was collecting the albums of Savatage, and their lyrics sometimes had a clearly Christian bent.  Their Streets album features a character called “D.T. Jesus” and a full-on Holy character redemption.  This didn’t bother me either.  It stirred warm memories of Bible stories that I learned in school.  Most importantly at that time, I was learning that music lyrics are not always meant to be taken at face value.  Take Poison for example.  You might think that the “Unskinny Bop” might be an exercise regime.  They cleverly disguised their true intention with made-up words.  Ozzy isn’t singing about his belief in the undead in “Bark at the Moon”.  Maybe he’s inspired by some movie he saw as a kid.  Does it really even matter?  It’s just a song.  It’s just entertainment.

OZZYThere is one instance when paying attention to the words does really matter, such as when a vulnerable youth might think “Flying High Again” sounds really fun and cool because Ozzy said so.  But that is where the parents must step up.  It’s not Ozzy’s responsibility, nor the state’s, to monitor what your kids are doing.  Pay attention to what they are listening to and make sure you give them the straight talk on any issues that concern you.  That’s what my parents did (unbeknownst to me).  My mom read over the lyrics when I wasn’t home.  She never had made any musical demands of her son other than “turn it down” when it was too loud.

I felt a stronger return to my faith around the time I met my wife.  Our connection seemed beyond just two random people falling for each other.  It seemed like two puzzle pieces coming together.  Like I’d finally found the one who understands and puts up with my bizarre self, and vice versa.  It’s not about thinking “I was made for loving you, and you were made me loving me,” so much as feeling it.  One thing I learned from Philosophy class is that faith is not something you can prove or disprove.  The definition of an omniscient and omnipotent God means He or She could create the universe we live in without leaving any trace of His/Her existence, nor any purpose we can comprehend.  Maybe we’re all just chess pieces on a big chess board.  You don’t know and you can never prove it one way or another, because how do you know your “proof” isn’t just another move in the chess game?

Faith means you believe something or not.  I think science is pretty bang-on with how it describes how the universe behaves, and will continue to modify and reshape its theories based on what comes flying out of the next particle accelerators.  It’s an exciting time to be following science, as we unlock some of the most elusive particles predicted by theory.  At the same time, events in my life (far more than just meeting my wife) have made my heart lean further in the direction of faith than disbelief.  I think whoever it is that created the universe did so with the laws of nature that we study today.  I think that science is peering into the mind of God, as Einstein suggested.  I came to these conclusions on my own; only later did I realize many got there before me.

As for lyrics about Satan even though I’m on the other guy’s side?  I think it’s all about being a good person in the time you’re given on this Earth.  I don’t care what you call it; that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.  As long as you try to go about your life without being an asshole, sure we can be friends.  For example I’d be foolish to exclude you from friendship just because we don’t share the same opinions on (delicious) olives.  I’d be equally foolish to exclude you just because you have different ideas about how we all got here.  I think, if anything, we’re all here to help each other.  We should do that anyway, even if it’s just holding a door open for your neighbor.  There are some things that some Christians consider hellfire-worthy sins that I could care less about.  It was always important for me to find a balance between my spiritual beliefs and what I know to be right or wrong.  I’ve encountered a few Christians who say that homosexuality in a sin.  A really bad one, too.  I don’t want anything to do with that statement.  I know in my mind and my heart that it doesn’t matter what gender you’re attracted to.  What matters is using your time on this Earth to be the best person you can be.

I like Ghost; I don’t have to sing along to their music if I’m not feeling the words.  That’s free will, and I don’t think I’ll go to hell for exercising it, even though some folks have warned me that’s where I’m headed.  I hope that when it comes to the important choices in life, I’ve made more of the good kind than bad.  At the end of it all, that seems to be more important.

Reverend X.  Much different than Catholic school.  Is that a phone book?

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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

Scan_20160330 (2)

 

 

#469: Stump LeBrain (Getting More Retro!)

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GETTING MORE TALE (Retro) #469: Stump LeBrain Week, by Aaron!

“Getting More Retro” is a sub-series of my music stories Getting More Tale.  I posted this back in March in 2012, when nobody was reading except Aaron and my old boss from the Record Store.  Before that, Aaron posted it on the KeepsMeAlive (Feb. 19).  And now, for the third time, here’s Stump LeBrain Week!

I had become such a dominating force on the 4 O’Clock 4-Play, my favourite music contest on 107.5 Dave Rocks, that listeners were now writing in 4-Play quizzes specifically to stump me!  For a while there it seemed everybody wanted to be the one to put an end to LeBrain’s reign!

Craig had me in the studio for the contest, live on the Craig Fee show, during what he dubbed “Stump LeBrain Week”.  Each day that week, I came in at 4 o’clock in order to play the contest on the air.  Craig selected five 4-Plays, one for each day.  If I answered correctly, I won the prize (I Mother Earth tickets).  If I was stumped, the person who wrote the 4-Play question would win the prize.

At the end of the week, I sent Aaron audio CDs of all my appearances minus commercials.  He was kind enough to document it in the written word for history.  Since very few saw this when I re-posted it at the launch of this site, I’m re-posting it once again for you!  Re-use and recycle, baby!

Big thanks to Aaron for listening to all five shows and writing it down, and of course thanks to Craig for giving me the opportunity!  Here we go.  Ready?

 


Four-Play #1 (submitted by Chris Cottingham)

01 Motley Crue – Shout At The Devil

01 Mike’s Guess: ‘tracks that were not singles’ (no)

02 Rolling Stones – Brown Sugar

02 Mike’s Guess: ‘bands that have toured with guns ‘n roses’ (no)

03 Bruce Springsteen – Cover Me

03 Mike’s Guess: ‘special lp packaging’ (no)

04 Loverboy – Working For The Weekend *

04 Mike’s Guess: ‘album covers featuring pants’ (yes!)

* at this point, before Mike’s last guess, it was exposed that the Motley Crue song was supposed to have been Live Wire, which changed everything, and he got it from there.

Comment: He still got it, even with a wrong song played. Improbable? Never! The man is a machine.

Score: Mike is 1/1.

 

Four-Play #2 (submitted by The Crook in Elmira)

01 Motorhead – Ace Of Spades (live)

01 Mike’s Guess: ‘artists who’ve done duets with Ozzy Osbourne’ (yes!)

02 Alice Cooper – School’s Out

03 Dio – Holy Diver

04 Lita Ford – Kiss Me Deadly

Comment: He nailed this one before the first song was even over. Jeez.

Score: Mike is 2/2.

Four-Play #3 (submitted by Kathryn Ladano, Mike’s sister)

01 Rush – Subdivisions

01 Mike’s Guess: ‘album covers with dogs on them’ (no)

02 Neil Young – Rockin’ In The Free World

02 Mike’s Guess: ‘all Canadian artists’ (no)

03 Guess Who – Runnin’ Back To Saskatoon

03 Mike’s Guess: ‘songs about Canadian cities’ (no)

04 Loverboy – Turn Me Loose

04 Mike’s Guess: ‘all artists who sang on Tears Are Not Enough’ (yes!)

Comment:

Broadcasted live from Chicopee ski resort. This was not the Four Play that Kathryn had wanted played, so her confidence at being able to stump her brother was pretty low, at the outset. It shocked me that Mike had never heard the Guess Who song before. I thought everybody knew that song.

Score: Mike is 3/3.

Four-Play #4 (submitted by Greg Laughtenschlager)

01 Megadeth – Hangar 18

01 Mike’s Guess: ‘science fiction, aliens, conspiracy theme’ (no)

02 Quiet Riot – Mama We’re All Crazy Now

02 Mike’s Guess: ‘books (1984, Roswell)’ (no)

02 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘stripey pants’ (no)

03 Iron Maiden – The Trooper

03 Mike’s Guess: ‘bands that opened for Sabbath’ (no)

04 Dio – Rainbow In The Dark

04 Mike’s Guess: ‘all four albums covers were paintings with mascots’ (yes!)

Comment: Definitely a HEAVY set, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And Mike nails it. So cool.

Score: Mike is 4/4.

Four-Play #5 (submitted by Nick Byerjean sp?)

01 KISS – Beth

01 Mike’s Guess: ‘songs that originated as b-sides’ (no)

01 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘no members of the band played on the track’ (no)

01 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘crappy songs from great albums’ (no)

02 Guns ‘N Roses – Used To Love Her

02 Mike’s Guess: ‘single monikered album titles’ (no)

02 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘songs with unusual percussion’ (no)

02 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘songs people think is about one thing, but it’s about something else” (no)

02 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘acoustic ballads’ (no)

03 Aerosmith – Angel

03 Mike’s Guess: ‘bands led by duos’ (no)

03 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘bands who shortened their name from something longer (no)

03 Mike’s Extra Guess ‘all are bands from America’ (no)

04 Slash with Andrew Stockdale – By The Sword

04 Mike’s Guess: ‘songs released in even numbered years’ (no)

04 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘all albums released in leap years’ (no)

04 Mike’s Extra Guess: ‘songs released in Canadian-hosted Olympic years’ (yes!)

Comment: OK, that was RIDICULOUS. Hearing him work through that last one was incredible. Even with all the extra guesses, that answer was from so far out of left field. Wow.

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

 

RIP Delores Rhoads

RHOADS


REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Prince of Darkness (2005 Sony box set)

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0001OZZY OSBOURNE – Prince of Darkness (2005 Sony)

Let’s pretend that you’re involved with Ozzy Osbourne’s management or record label.  When it comes time to release that first “definitive” box set, I’m sure you’d have your own ideas for making it the best box that Ozzy could release.  Ozzy Osbourne in 2005 had eight mostly great studio albums, numerous live records, and more rarities than you could shake a stick at.  They certainly had a lot of music to choose from.  I greeted the eventual release of Prince of Darkness with great excitement at these rarities…but tremendous disappointment at the overall listening experience.

A 4-CD box set is a lot of listening and in order to keep it riveting from end to end, you have to pick the right tracks and sequence them for maximum firepower.  Somebody at Sony’s box set department didn’t get my memos on that, obviously, because Prince of Darkness is one of the most annoying box sets to listen to in its entirety.   They decided to do two discs “anthology” style, with live and rare tracks mixed in.  The third disc is a questionable collection of Ozzy collaborations.  The final CD is the worst of all:  covers that Ozzy recorded and later released on their own album, Under Cover!  A CD that was released only months after Prince of Darkness itself — with additional bonus tracks to milk it further, forcing the completist to buy it again!

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0004I have so many complaints about this set that I felt it best to list them all off in point form.

1. Never, ever start your box set off with a live track.  Even if that live track is “I Don’t Know” from Randy Rhoads Tribute.

2. Because this set was released in 2005, you are hearing the re-recorded bass and drums on all the songs from Blizzard and Diary…not the classic original versions.

3. Same with the tunes from Bark at the Moon.  These are the remixed versions found on the 2002 reissue of that album.  There are only two songs from that album anyway.  “Bark” itself is an unreleased live version.

4. Two CDs is not enough space to represent Ozzy’s album output in a box set, especially when you include the studio albums, live albums and rare tracks too.  The early Randy Rhoads material makes up the bulk of disc one, leaving the Jake E. Lee years under represented.  There are no songs from The Ultimate Sin at all, only the three live tracks originally for the Ultimate Live Ozzy EP.

5.  There are a few baffling exclusions, such as “Miracle Man” (first single with Zakk) and “I Just Want You”, in favour of also-rans such as “Spiders”.

6. The collaborations disc is a total mess.  “Purple Haze” is just a Hendrix cover from the No Rest For the Wicked era, by Ozzy’s band.  It’s not a collaboration, just a cover they did for the Make A Difference Foundation CD called Stairway To Heaven/Highway To Hell.  It’s a real challenge to listen to this whole CD in one sitting.  One moment you’re rocking out to a killer version of “N.I.B.” with Primus, the next you’re barfing through a piece of crap with Tony Iommi and Wu-Tang Clan.  From Was Not Was to Miss Piggy, at least the CD is diverse, and it does collect a lot of Ozzy’s singing from albums I don’t have.  I already had the Miss Piggy track but not the cover of “Stayin’ Alive” by Dweezil Zappa! Nor did I have “I Ain’t No Nice Guy” by Motörhead, from the mediocre March ör Die.  This disc is too jokey and not at all consistent.

PRINCE OF DARKNESS_0005

7. Even though the third disc collects a variety of tracks from a number of CDs, I am certain that Ozzy fans who buy this kind of box set already had some of them.  Including “Psycho Man” by Black Sabbath (not even a single remix version) from the Reunion CD (2008) is odd.  Many Ozzy and Sabbath collectors already have the Nativity in Black CDs, where the Primus and Therapy? tracks come from.

8. “Nowhere to Run (Vapor Trail)” by DMX, Ozzy Osbourne, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, The Crystal Method and Fuzzbubble is edited!  This track was from the South Park album and still features Isaac Hayes’ introduction, as “Chef”.  For reasons I cannot explain at all, the swearing and “n” words are blanked, and there were a lot of them.   It’s also missing ODB’s rant at the end, which itself was edited off later versions of the South Park CD.  (I have an earlier version with the rant intact.)

9. The packaging leaves a hell of a lot to be desired.  Inside the box which is just book-style, you will find a nice big booklet that just sits loose inside.  There is no way to secure it in, so it’ll fall out any time you pick it up!

10. Speaking of that booklet, the liner notes suck.  Ozzy has a brief note about each song, but not necessarily any useful information.  For example, regarding that South Park track, all we’re told is that Ozzy bit the head off Kenny.  Nothing about how that random assortment of artists was assembled.  The book is padded out with lyrics and shoddy credits that aren’t very accurate.  “Bark at the Moon” live for example was recorded in 1982-1983 according to the notes.  Come on, guys!  Not good enough for a box set.

11.  The entire fouth CD sucks.  You can read my review of the expanded Under Cover version of it here.  (Long story short: 1/5 stars.)  The only difference is that the box set includes Kelly Osbourne’s duet with daddy, on “Changes”.  This song was only included on the Japanese version of Under Cover but not the regular domestic.

Fortunately, Prince of Darkness is not a total bust.  Some of the unreleased tracks are real treasures, such as the demo of “S.I.N.” called “Won’t Be Coming Home”.  I prefer this to the album version from No More Tears by a long shot, as I do the twangier “I Don’t Want to Change the World”.  I also love the demo for the emotional ballad “See You On the Other Side”, which features previously unheard saxophone accompaniment.  I appreciated that they included the live version of “Perry Mason” from the Ozzfest 1 CD, which enabled me to sell off that pretty crappy album.

It’s easy to bitch and complain (don’t I know it?) but if I were to make a 4 CD Ozzy box from the same period, I would have done it very differently.  The covers CD would be axed completely and the rarities set aside to a disc all their own.  The first two “anthology” discs would be strictly studio versions, and original studio versions at that, with only a sprinkle of tracks from Randy Rhoads Tribute.  I would try to squeeze in more rare tracks from B-sides and EPs, and I would definitely try to mix them in with the collaborations so that you’re not left listening to so many of those novelty tunes in a row.

Buyer beware — Prince of Darkness is not the feast you were hoping for. This is a poorly executed package. When you have an artist like Ozzy Osbourne, you really gotta screw up bad to put out a set that is this hard to listen to. Prince of Darkness is going back on the shelf, for a good long while.

2/5 stars

CONCERT REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Zombie, In This Moment 1/21/08

Review written January 22, 2008.  Dedicated to Peter M. Cavan!

OZZY OSBOURNE/ROB ZOMBIE/IN THIS MOMENT live at the ACC, Toronto Ontario, 01/21/08, on the Black Rain tour

OZZYWhen you pay $100 a ticket you’d better get a hell of a show, no pun intended. While Rob Zombie rose to the occasion and put on the show of a lifetime, Ozzy Osbourne stumbled, carried only by his seasoned band and the love of a metal craving audience.

First up were newcomers In This Moment, who played a short 4 song set to a half filled house. Singer Maria Brink managed to get the crowd going even though most of them didn’t know there was a third band on the bill. Coming out in her trademark blue dress, and screaming her lungs out, I could not believe the power in this woman’s voice. The whole band was hampered by horrible sound which unfortunately rendered her screaming and singing unintelligible. However, at one point she let loose and screamed for a good 30 seconds straight…how she does this is beyond me, I sure can’t! In This Moment played their hit “Beautiful Tragedy” second-to-last and then revved up the audience to see Rob Zombie.

This was Zombie’s last night of the tour, and his crew played pranks on In This Moment through most of their set, however it was dead serious once Zombie hit the stage. Hidden by curtains, the audience could not see Zombie’s amazing stage set until the lights came up. And that was not to happen before we were treated to a surprise: Rob Zombie’s Grindhouse trailer “Werewolf Women Of The S.S.” starring Nicholas Cage as…FU MANCHU! (Zombie is considering making a full movie based on this trailer.)

Then the lights came up, dancing girls on either side of a giant devil head, and band roaring. The head cracked open and an adrenalized Rob Zombie emerged to “American Witch”! What an entrance.

John 5 was at the top of his game on guitar, playing with his teeth, behind his back, throwing his instrument all over the stage. For his guitar solo he even played a snippet of “Oh Canada”, but more on that shortly.

Zombie played all the hits with tons of syncopated pyro behind him, so much that you could feel it from the nosebleeds. “Dragula”, “Living Dead Girl”, “Thunderkiss ’65” and of course “More Human Than Human” were all played expertly, Zombie himself all over the stage at all times. He had ample video footage behind him, showing original film footage from House Of 1000 Corpes, The Devil’s Rejects, his own animation, and classic horror films such as Nosferatu.

Zombie’s crowning moment was during John 5’s guitar solo, at which point he grabbed two flashlights and headed into the crowd, all backed by John 5’s incredible shredding. I mean, come on folks…this is the guitar player that David Lee Roth chose to stand where Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Steve Hunter and Jason Becker have stood.

The only thing wrong the whole Rob Zombie show is that there was so much going on at once, with the video screens, dancing girls, drumming robots, props, lights, and pyro, that you can’t see it all at once. I would like to see Rob Zombie twice or three times…difficult now that his tour is over!

A short break ensued, and then we were treated to some video footage courtesy of the Ozzman. It was a humourous medley of popular film and TV footage from the last year, all recut to star Ozzy himself! Imagine Ozzy in: The Queen. Or Ozzy under Azamat’s ass in Borat! It was good stuff, but unfortunately it underlined that the once and future singer of Black Sabbath has now become something of a joke himself.

Ozzy and his band (Zakk Wylde on guitar, Mike Bordin on drums, Blasko on bass, and Adam Wakeman on keys) then blasted through his first single from the new Black Rain CD, “I Don’t Wanna Stop”. A great opener, unfortunately hard to appreciate with Zakk Wylde’s guitar sounding so harsh in the ACC. Ozzy played most of the classics with very few surprises: “Bark At The Moon”, “Suicide Solution”, “Crazy Train”, “I Don’t Know”, “Mr. Crowley”, “Road To Nowhere” and “Not Going Away” from the new CD.

Ozzy’s problem, both as a solo artist and with Black Sabbath, is his unwillingness to change his setlists. While I’m sure everybody there would have died and gone to heaven if Ozzy played a song like “You Can’t Kill Rock And Roll” or “Diary Of A Madman”, his setlist was based almost entirely around his Blizzard of Ozz and No More Tears CDs. Too predictable, Ozzman. His other problem is his lack of range. His voice cracked many times, and the band lowered the key for him the old songs.

A few disappointing choices: Ozzy did not play “No More Tears”, but instead treated us to the overrated “I Don’t Wanna Change The World”. And for an encore, yes, of course…”Mama I’m Coming Home”. Shame about that, as there are so many better songs to play. “Mama” sure did get the cigarette lighters out [see picture below].

Zakk Wylde did a ridiculous 10 minute guitar solo, which sounded mostly like razorblades coming at your ears. He too played with his teeth, but it was only when he quoted Randy Rhoads’ classic “Suicide Solution” live solo that sparks flew.

As a last song, of course, Ozzy played “Paranoid”. He had to. He couldn’t show up and not play any Sabbath material, although “Iron Man” and “War Pigs” didn’t make his short set. Shame, considering that he reminded the audience that Toronto is where he recorded Never Say Die.

In the end, we all got tired of Ozzy’s endless “I can’t fucking hear you” and “Go extra extra extra crazy!” When Ozzy shouted “I still can’t fucking hear you” for the 100th time, people started responding, “Because you’re fucking deaf”!

There was no question that Ozzy came, saw, and conquered because of his excellent band and the love that the crowd had for him, but it was also obvious that this was Rob Zombie’s show, and there was nothing Ozzy could have done to change that, aside from bringing Randy Rhoads back from the dead.

In This Moment – 3/5 stars
Rob Zombie – 5/5 stars
Ozzy Osbourne – 3.5/5 stars

ozzy

 

#376: The Rock n’ Rasslin’ Connection

“Piledriver” by Koko B. Ware

RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#376: The Rock n’ Rasslin’ Connection

My dad turned me on to wrestling.  He grew up with golden age greats — guys like Mad Dog Vachon, Sweet Daddy Siki, Little Beaver and many more.  I was raised on re-runs of those old matches (on the rare occasions they were on) and of course Vince McMahon’s WWF.

For me, it all began around 1985.  McMahon had been boosting the WWF with cross promotions into music and movies.  Hulk Hogan became pop star Cyndi Lauper’s “bodyguard”, and she began making appearances at WWF events, until “Rowdy” Roddy Piper assaulted her, kicking off a feud with Hogan that culminated in Wrestlemania I with Mr. T!  It was a fun time to watch wrestling.

WWFThe wrestling characters looked like rock stars.  Some, like the Demolition and the Ultimate Warrior, didn’t look too different from bands like Kiss.  Most of the guys had long hair.  It was easy to see the visual connection.

McMahon released The Wrestling Album in late ’85, capitalizing on his music connections.  Wrestlers were given the chance to sing campy theme songs, while rock star Rick Derringer contributed a legitimate rock track called “Real American” for Hulk Hogan, for which a music video was made.  This was followed by a second album called Piledriver, on which Derringer recorded a heavy metal theme song for the tag team Demolition.

“Real American” by Rick Derringer

Ozzy Osbourne appeared in Wrestlemania II, by the side of the British Bulldogs for the tag team championship. Wrestlemania III, even bigger than the first two, was attended by Alice Cooper in the corner of Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts was facing off against a music-based character, an Elvis impersonator called the Honky Tonk Man. While Roberts lost the match, he and Cooper exacted revenge by dumping a huge python named Damien all over Honk Tonk’s manager, “Colonel” Jimmy Hart (himself a musician – Hart had a Top 5 hit in 1965 with the Gentrys on a song called “Keep on Dancing”).

PILEDRIVERThe next step was a Grammy-style WWF awards show called the Slammy Awards. I caught the 1987 installment, billed as the “37th Annual” even though it was only the second. The wrestlers were given the chance to lipsynch their songs while chaos ensued backstage between “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and “King” Harley Race. It was plenty stupid, obviously completely fake, and a lot of fun.  I actually watched it again not too long ago and made it all the way through!

The family went to WWF events about once a year.  They were held at the Auditorium, and the seats were shitty, but we did get to see Randy “Macho Man” Savage when he was the champion of the world!  It was Boxing Day, Dec 26 1988.  All my shitty camera captured of him was a red and black sequinned blur.  You can see Miss Elisabeth’s hair and arm holding the ropes for him.  Both these stars are dead now.  Savage was facing off against Akeem (formerly One Man Gang) in a non-title match.  I also have some pictures of “Canada’s Greatest Athlete” Iron Mike Sharpe, and Axe and Smash (the Demolition with manager Mr. Fuji) from the same night.  A magical blur, these pictures are!  Emphasis on the blur.

I don’t follow wrestling anymore, and I haven’t since the 80’s.  If I see an old match from my day, I still stop and watch it.  Just like a good song, an old classic wrestling match sure can bring back the memories.

Who was my favourite, you ask? André Roussimoff, better know as André the Giant. Known for his huge size and equally huge heart, the Giant used to wrestle and defeat multiple opponents at the same time. Author of the Princess Bride, William Goldman said, “André was one of the gentlest and most generous people I ever knew.” For those reasons, he always will be my favourite wrestler.  Second to André would be his friends in Demolition, Axe and Smash, who you can see in the pictures below battling the Powers of Pain.

“Demolition” by Rick Derringer

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Just Say Ozzy (1990 EP)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Just Say Ozzy (1990 Epic EP)

Nobody was shocked when Ozzy Osbourne, the man who said he hated live albums, put out his fourth (!) solo live release in 1990. (His other three live releases were the Mr. Crowley EP, Speak of the Devil, and Randy Rhoads Tribute. This does not include the Ultimate Live Ozzy EP which was…not live.) The liner note by Ozzy attempts to justify its release. “Firstly, ‘Shot in the Dark’,” begins Ozzy. “I am happier with this version than the original.” (Oooh, sick burn on Jake.) Ozzy continues, “Secondly, the Sabbath songs – To have recorded them one last time with Geezer Butler, Zakk and Randy says it all for me. It’s a chapter of my musical career I can now close.”

What the fuck did that mean?

Was Ozzy going to stop playing Sabbath songs?  Did anyone actually believe that?  The bitter liner notes accompany a front cover emblazoned with all four band members’ names, in the same sized font as Ozzy’s.  And on the front cover is not Ozzy Osbourne, but guitarist Zakk Wylde! (Albeit from behind so you can’t see his face, and he’s just in one corner of the cover.)  It all seems to deliver a message of “I am focused on the present, not my past.”  This quartet was fully expected to record the next Ozzy studio album together, athough ultimately that did not happen.  Geezer left in 1991 for a reunited Dio-era Black Sabbath.  So much for not looking back!

JUST SAY OZZY_0005

Just Say Ozzy functioned as a stopgap.  Ozzy would take his time with the next LP (which at that time was tentatively titled No Dogs Allowed, then Don’t Blame Me), but No Rest for the Wicked was already two years past.  They had to release something, so here it is.  One careful listen will reveal a lot of studio trickery was employed afterwards. Indeed, if one focuses on the crowd noise you can hear edits everywhere. Billboard magazine revealed that the music for this album was re-recorded in the studio with audience noise overdubbed.

Having said that, if this kind of trickery doesn’t bother you (and if you own Kiss Alive! or Frampton Comes Alive then it shouldn’t too much) then this is a great EP. Just Say Ozzy‘s meager six songs feature the only recordings of the brief Osbourne/Wylde/Butler/Castillo lineup. I was always a fan of those particular guys and there’s something to be said when you have two original Black Sabbath members in the band, while Black Sabbath only had one.

Since this EP was from the No Rest tour, three of its heaviest songs were showcased: the single “Miracle Man”, “Tattooed Dancer”, and “Bloodbath in Paradise”. No ballads.  These three songs are nice to have, but are not even close to competing with the better known hits.

From The Ultimate Sin comes “Shot In The Dark”…yes, Ozzy’s so-called “preferred version”.  And it is indeed very good.  Zakk Wylde was a talented kid even then, and I love the youthful “go for it” attitude in his playing. “Shot in the Dark” features an extended solo that established Zakk’s place with his axe predecessors.  Then, a deuce of Sabbath: a smokin’ “Sweet Leaf” and probably the best live version of “War Pigs” that I have ever heard.

Yeah, that’s what I said.

This Zakk-infused version of “War Pigs” is, in this humble writer’s opinion, the best live version ever released. Zakk’s guitar digs deep into the strings with those nice wide vibratos. It’s just monstrous, plus with Geez on bass, it has that slink it needs.  Randy Castillo (RIP) was certainly no slouch, and his relentless fills here are solidly entertaining.

3/5 stars.  Shame about that crappy cover art though.

Tracklist:

  1. “Miracle Man”
  2. “Bloodbath in Paradise”
  3. “Shot in the Dark”
  4. “Tattooed Dancer”
  5. “Sweet Leaf”
  6. “War Pigs”