the godfather of heavy metal

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – No More Tears (remaster)

“Politicians make decisions, they’re the ones to blame, so don’t blame me.”  — Ozzy Osbourne

OZZY OSBOURNE – No More Tears (originally 1991, 2002 Sony remastered edition)

No More Tears was a big hit for Ozzy and is usually hailed as a “comeback” and “his best album since Randy Rhoads”. But is it?

No More Tears certainly offers chills, thrills and new sounds.  Slide guitar on an Ozzy album?  Check out “Mr. Tinkertrain”.  Zakk Wylde was starting to spread out and grow, really exploring his southern roots and adapting that to heavy metal.  No More Tears might be the peak of Ozzy’s collaborations with Zakk, as they really did produce some magic here.  Some of the stuff Zakk does on “Mr. Tinkertrain” alone is career-defining.

Ozzy was also trying to escape his “satanic” image, and No More Tears was his step away from that.  It’s also a step towards the mainstream.  Second track “I Don’t Want to Change the World” is an example of Ozzy’s turn to radio-ready hard rock.  It’s a shame because after the chunky guitar assault of “Mr. Tinkertrain”, a speedy metal track like “Don’t Blame Me” would have been perfect in the second slot.  “I Don’t Want to Change the World” is unfortunately not much better than a Motley Crue filler track.  It’s repetitive and despite Zakk’s squeals and licks, fails to launch.  His solo at least scorches hot.  Then the whole thing gets stuck in the mud.  “Mama, I’m Coming Home” (lyrics co-written by Lemmy) was the hit ballad that I never liked.  “Mama” more than any of the other tracks really represented Ozzy’s desire to break free of the shackles of his own image.  There are better ballads on the album.  “Mama” is so generic it could have been recorded by literally anybody.

Moving past, the album catches a little air due to the groovy chugging riff of “Desire”.  The stock melody doesn’t do it many favours, but momentum is restored.

Ozzy did well by discovering his newest member, bass player Mike Inez who later went on to Alice in Chains.  Inez was a co-writer on the title track “No More Tears” and his bass line has become a signature hook.  “No More Tears” is one of Ozzy’s greatest achievements as a recording artist.  This is a direction he should have explored further.  Even though it’s incredibly memorable and accessible, “No More Tears” has slightly progressive and psychedelic elements mixed in.  Its groove was detuned and modern, but the samples and keys bring it levels above what most other mainstream bands were doing in 1991.  And then there’s Zakk’s slippery slide guitar expertise.  It just doesn’t get any better than “No More Tears”.  Ozzy wanted to move beyond being the clown prince of devilish metal?  Mission accomplished and then some, in a completely fearless 7:24.  Ozzy was an innovator when he was in Black Sabbath, and in 1991 he became that again on “No More Tears”.

Opening side two, “S.I.N.” is great old-school Ozzy metal.  Call it “S.I.N.” or just “Shadows in the Night”, this track has the kind of classic hooks and soaring vocals that Ozzy is so good at delivering.  Ozzy had a core writing team of Zakk and drummer Randy Castillo, who wrote this killer.  Lemmy stepped in to help out on “Hellraiser” which Motorhead recorded as well on 1992’s March ör Die.  “Hellraiser” is too middle of the road to be classic.  Even Motorhead’s version kind of sucks.

A stock ballad called “Time After Time” is a tad better than “Mama, I’m Coming Home”.  It has some pretty sweet melodies and harmonies going for it, and another brilliant Zakk solo.  “Zombie Stomp” brings back the heavy, simply by living up to its name.  You got a name like that, you better stomp, and this one stomps like all the beasts in the jungle are coming for you now.  It’s also plenty of fun.  Surely an underappreciated Ozzy career highlight.  Drummer Randy Castillo had a lot to be proud of on this one, as he took the spotlight for the two minute tribal intro.  When that’s all over, Zakk powers the groove.

More fun ensues on “A.V.H.” (no idea what that stands for).  A little bit of southern pickin’ from Zakk gives way to an adrenaline powered blast.  It’s a shorty compared to some of the more epic lengthy songs.  Finally “Road to Nowhere” ends the album with a retrospective.  “I was looking back on my life, and all the things I’ve done to me.”  It’s easily the strongest ballad on the album and one of Ozzy’s personal best.  “The wreckage of my past keeps haunting me,” wrote Ozzy in 1991, perhaps not knowing that it always will.

There is no arguing the importance of the song “Mama, I’m Coming Home” in the career of Ozzy.  It went top 30, and was huge on MTV.  Would No More Tears be a better album without it?  Should Ozzy have released it as a single or on a movie soundtrack?  Try this.  Remove “Mama” from the album, and put the B-side track “Don’t Blame Me”* in between “Mr. Tinkertrain” and “I Don’t Want to Change the World”. There is something to be said for a good B-side, and Ozzy has done a number over the years.  Yet “Don’t Blame Me” is far too good for that fate.  It combines riff with groove and hooks like nothing else on the album, and just listen to Zakk’s funky pickin’.  Fortunately it’s on the 2002 Sony remastered CD, along with a lesser B-side called “Party With the Animals”.  You might remember it from the 1992 soundtrack Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  “Animals” is definite B-side material.

Back to our original question.  Was No More Tears the “best album since Randy Rhoads”?  It’s quite good and easily his biggest since Randy Rhoads.  But it has filler, and some of that filler is downright annoying.  The remastered edition is the one to get, since you don’t want to miss out on “Don’t Blame Me”.  Bark at the Moon is likely the high water mark since the passing of Rhoads.  No More Tears is still one to own, even if you have the hits, for some killer and underrated album tracks (and one B-side).

3.5/5 stars

* Two early album titles used for this record were Don’t Blame Me and No Dogs Allowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – 13 (deluxe, Best Buy, all 5 bonus tracks)

BLACK SABBATH – 13 (2013 Universal deluxe, Best Buy, and Spotify editions)

Last year, Uncle Meat gave us his detailed review of Black Sabbath’s 13.  (His rating:  3.25/5 stars.  Check out his full review for the scoop on the first CD of this metal monolith.)  Having had almost a year to live with it myself, I think it’s time I got around to reviewing the songs he didn’t:  the bonus tracks!

The deluxe and Best Buy editions have “Methademic,” “Peace of Mind,” and “Pariah.”  “Methademic” is cool for being a fast-paced heavy rocker, something I associate more with a Dio kind of sound.  It’s a good track, good enough that Sabbath play it live.  Geezer’s got a serious groove going on with the bass part, and Brad Wilk is playing with furious drive.  You wouldn’t consider this song to be as good as any on the first CD of 13, but it’s a great bonus track.

“Peace of Mind” is of equal quality to “Methademic.”  This time Sabbath have gone back to doomy, but Ozzy’s vocal melody takes it to a special place.   All it’s missing is that looseness that only Bill Ward could provide.  It sounds so authentically Black Sabbath, but if you concentrate on the beat, you can hear that the loose swing of old is not there.  Having said that I enjoy “Peace of Mind” very much, especially when it picks up after the 2:15 mark.

My favourite of this trio of songs is “Pariah.”  It occupies a mid-paced groove which chugs along nicely.  Tony has a couple cool riffs in it, but once again Ozzy’s vocal seals the deal.  Tony’s guitar solo is icing on the cake.  I love when he has a chance to slow down and play bluesy, as he does here.

Japanese fans, and Best Buy shoppers have their own exclusive bonus track, and it’s the one with the best title:  “Naïveté in Black.”  You have to love that.  This smoker is similar to “Time Machine,” from Dehumanizer.  I don’t know why a song this good was left to Best Buy, because it’s better than the other three.  It’s definitely unique among the 13 songs for sounding more like Dio-Sabbath than Ozzy-Sabbath; perhaps that’s the primary reason.  Count me as a big fan of “Naïveté in Black.”

Finally even Spotify have a bonus track, which is “Dirty Women,” live.  This is with Tommy Clueftos on drums, from the same show as the recent Gathered In Their Masses live DVD (but not the CD).  I am fortunate enough to have an excellent quality copy of the song burned to a CD, the perfect final bonus track to 13.

But that’s not all folks.  With the deluxe box set edition, there’s a DVD as well.  There is a brief documentary about the reunion and recording of the new album.  There are quite a few humorous moments, but I do not consider this to be much of a bonus.  All this stuff is available for free on youtube.  I don’t value a physical copy of something like this as much as I value a physical copy of a song.

Best moment:

Fan – “I came all the way from Croatia!”

Ozzy – “Where the fuck is that?”

The deluxe set is large and very nice to look at, but I considered it sparse in terms of worthwhile goodies.  There are lots of large glossy photos, but they’re not up to handling repeatedly.  There’s a print of the “God Is Dead?” single art, a 2 CD set (minus “Naïveté in Black”), and 13 on double 180 gram vinyl LPs.  Everything is lovely and fragile.  There’s also far too much room in the box itself for everything, so things move around inside.  That’s a bit of a design flaw just to save on some extra cardboard packaging.

The Best Buy set came with a T-shirt, which I have kept in-package.  You can find pictures of both versions below.

4.5/5 stars (for 13 as a whole)

Best Buy:

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Deluxe:

 

 

 

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Scream (2011 tour edition)

OZZY OSBOURNE – Scream (2011 tour edition)

If you liked Ozzy’s previous album, the quite good Black Rain, then I think you might like Scream even better. As everybody knew, it was Ozzy’s first new studio album of original material without Zakk Wylde since he joined the band. (Jerry Cantrell did play on the perfectly awful covers album Under Cover.) Many wanted to know, “Is Gus G any good?”

Yup.

Ozzy’s never had a bad guitar player, and Gus G is a speed demon. I don’t know alot about the guy, but he seems to emulate Zakk with those “Wylde” bends, yet he also has this fast neo-classical vibe. If you hear that Ozzy live EP that came around the same time (iTunes Festival 2010) you will find that he really nails a Zakk-like vibe on the old Ozzy stuff. On the Sabbath classics, he does justice to Iommi’s chunky riffs. And he’s fast…really fast. In other words, he is kind of the best of all worlds. I’m not saying he’s better than Zakk, because personality goes a long way.  I’m just telling you what I hear.

SCREAM_0002Songwise, Ozzy wrote the album again with Canadian producer Kevin Churko, with some co-writes by Adam Wakeman. Churko also played drums even though Tommy Clufetos was credited. I really like Scream, and I can’t say there’s anything weak on it.  I’ve had a chance to live with it for a few years and I still enjoy it.  Maybe a couple filler tracks here and there, but nothing I hated. Most of the rhythms are chunky and staggered, gated like some nu-metal band but still well within the realm of Oz. The excellent “Soul Sucker” and “Diggin’ Me Down” in particular emphasize this modern sound.  I happen to like both songs a lot.

Yet there are surprises on here. I wouldn’t call them “ballads” per se, but “Time” and “Life Won’t Wait” change the pace. “Time” re-emphasizes Ozzy’s old love of the Beach Boys with its lush “ooh, ooh” backing vocals. “Life Won’t Wait” is a softer, bass-driven mid-tempo rocker with an amazing chorus as only Ozzy can deliver. The bass line really reminds me of another song, “Take a Picture” by Filter.

The rest of the album is heavy, maybe Ozzy’s heaviest. At times it reminded me of Zombie, at others, Sabbath. In general though it is identifiably Ozzy. “Let Me Hear You Scream,” the lead single, is a fast heavy Ozzy rocker designed for firing up the concert crowd. While Scream does not worm its way into your noggin the way Blizzard of Ozz did, it’s still a pretty good record. Ozzy seems very proud of it, and rightly so.

Lyrically, Ozzy’s in familiar territory. His lyrics to me are always underrated (whether he writes them or not). On Scream, he has tracks for his beloved audience as always: “Let Me Hear You Scream” and the touching outro “I Love You All”. On others he’s talking about religion. “Diggin’ Me Down” asks the question, how long must we wait for Jesus Christ to come back? “Crucify” seems to be about crooked preachers again, or perhaps just those who prey upon the desperate.

SCREAM_0004This being Ozzy, a “tour edition” was released not too long after I bought the original. In fact, I bought Scream as a digital download just to get the bonus track “One More Time”, a heart-racing rocker with a great tempo. I also bought this album on Japanese import to get the “Jump The Moon” (not really exceptional) bonus track. Hindsight is always 20/20, and I should have learned from the past album, Black Rain. It too had bonus tracks for different markets, and it too was reissued with all bonus tracks intact on some kind of tour edition.  So Ozzy’s done it again, with this “tour edition” designed to promote his American tour. You can tell by the missing black flag, now replaced with an American banner. Ozzy has also stuck on a “new” song called “Hand of the Enemy” which to me wasn’t as good as the rest of the material on the album. Besides that, there are four live tracks: “Let Me Hear You Scream”, “Bark At The Moon”, “No More Tears” and the Sabbath classic “Fairies Wear Boots”.  This is the second released live version of “Let me Hear You Scream”, though this is the first version available on a physical release.   All four live tracks are great, with Ozzy’s newest band playing competently with their own flavour. Best of the live tracks is “Fairies Wear Boots”, on which Gus G perfectly captures the guitar riff. Plus it’s a song that Ozzy plays less frequently, so that’s a bonus.

I also bought this album on double vinyl. The vinyl edition omits the live songs, but includes an exclusive single edit of “Life Won’t Wait”. So in total, I ended up with Scream four times!  (I gave the Japanese import to my friend Peter.)

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ultimate Sin (1986)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ultimate Sin (1986, 1995 Sony remaster)

I know Ozzy isn’t especially fond of this album (or anything about the whole Jake E. Lee period) but I love it.  Hell, Ozzy hasn’t even offered it in any of his reissue programs.  It’s out of print, and Ozzy never plays any of these songs anymore outside of “Shot in the Dark”.

I don’t know why I love it so much.  I get why some people aren’t fond of it.  Ron Nevison butchered the production, for one thing.  Randy Castillo was such a powerful drummer, with a recognizable style.  Here he sounds plastic with awful sounding cymbals.  It’s a shame because the drum parts themselves are great.  Ozzy acknowledges being in a real “down” state at this time, and it shows in the tired vocals.

Yet I love it!  Maybe it’s Jake E. Lee, who is incredible.  He’s flashy in that 80’s way, but with balls.  He’s not just fluttery solos, although he certain can do that.  His riffs are choppy his fills stunning and classy.  I think Jake was a great replacement for the late Randy Rhoads, even though his true self wouldn’t shine through until Badlands.

ULTIMATE SIN_0003I like every single song.  The title track, “Secret Loser”, “Fool Like You”, “Lightning Strikes”…these are punchy Ozzy rockers.  They are well written songs, and longtime contributor Bob Daisley has credits on 8 of the 9 songs.  To me, that speaks to a certain level of quality.  Verses and choruses are strong and melodic.  The guitar riffs, solos and fills are all equally catchy and adroit.  Even one of the less interesting songs, like “Never Know Why” is still listenable today due to the catchy melody, and Jake’s flange-y guitar part.

Many of the songs such as “Thank God for the Bomb” and “Killer of Giants” return Ozzy to the anti-war stance that Black Sabbath took in the 1970’s.  I remember the 80’s clearly, and it seemed like every other week, there was a TV documentary or movie about the Soviets and the nuclear threat.  To me as a kid, Ozzy’s voice of protest eased my mind! Surely, Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev would listen to Ozzy? “Killer of Giants” is quite an achievement musically, going from electric to acoustic to heavy all with Jake E. Lee at the rudder.  It’s an awesome song.

The big hit and first single was the last song, “Shot in the Dark”.  This is bassist Phil Soussan’s only writing contribution on his only Ozzy album.  Later, he’d go on to co-write the excellent Vince Neil album Exposed, which proved he wasn’t a fluke.  It’s a great mid-tempo rock song, although the video used to kinda frighten me as a kid.  Frighten and titillate all at once.  I was 13.

And on the topic of “Shot in the Dark”, why did bands in the mid-80’s always seem to wear sequined bathrobes? I’m looking at you, Mr. Simmons circa 1986…

I look at The Ultimate Sin as a 5/5 in terms of songs and musical performances.  I’ll dock it 1 star for Ron Nevison’s clunky production and Ozzy’s tired lungs.

4/5 stars

And maybe this is a good time to rant about these fucking 1995 Sony 22 BIt SBM Digital Remasters.  Oh, I have no problem with the sound of this CD.  It’s the fucking covers!  Why did they crop the awesome artwork and put that dumb OZZY along the side?  My Lord.  I had so many customers (Gord and Glen specifically) who refused to buy these remasters because the cover is dumb.  Not to mention putting the tracklist in a circle on the back cover, making it annoying to read.

  1. The Ultimate Sin (3:43)
  2. Secret Loser (4:08)
  3. Never Know Why (4:28)
  4. Thank God for the Bomb (3:53)
  5. Never (4:18)
  6. Lightning Strikes (5:13)
  7. Killer of Giants (5:41)
  8. Fool Like You (5:19)
  9. Shot in the Dark (4:16)