tony iommi

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Japanese import)

OZZY OSBOURNE – The Ozzman Cometh (1997 Sony Japan 2 CD set)

By 1997, Ozzy had reclaimed his crown as the prince of darkness.  The successful Ozzfest, including a partial Black Sabbath reunion (Mike Bordin instead of Bill Ward) had introduced Ozzy to a wave of nu-metal youngesters.  Why not cap the year off with a greatest hits album?  It wasn’t Ozzy’s first (1989’s Best of Ozz preceding it) but it was his first for most of the world.  Incredibly, given the Ozzy camp’s ability to muck up important releases from time to time, it was a particularly good package.

The Ozzman Cometh has had a number of issues over the years, but we won’t get into the ones that came after Sharon meddled around with re-recorded tracks.  Initially there was a limited edition 2 CD set and a standard single disc.  The lucky fans in Japan got an expanded 2 CD set with two bonus tracks.  That’s the one you see pictured here.  It comes in a non-standard extra thick jewel case due to the extra Japanese booklet inside.

The big deal of this new compilation was the inclusion of recently discovered early Black Sabbath tapes — “Ozzy’s 1970 basement tapes”.  Wikipedia tells us that these are actually BBC recordings:  “The John Peel Sessions” of 26 April 1970.  These have yet to be included on any Sabbath deluxe, so you have to be sure to get The Ozzman Cometh to complete your Sabbath collections.  “Black Sabbath” and “War Pigs” commence the set right out of the gate.  These tapes are raw but clean, and Geezer Butler has remarkable presence.  It’s a very sharp picture of what young Black Sabbath sounded like.  The lyrics are still a work in progress for those who love such differences, but Ozzy sounds even more like a man possessed.  “War Pigs” is still in its “Walpurgis” form, the “Satanic” version, and this is the clearest you will likely hear it.

Onto the hits:  Ozzy’s grudge against The Ultimate Sin was apparently already in play.  On the US CD, only one track from the Jake E. Lee era was included and it’s “Bark at the Moon”.  In Japan, “Shot in the Dark” is substituted in replacing Zakk Wylde’s “Miracle Man”, bringing the Lee content to two.  However the Randy Rhoads era is the star of the disc, with his version of “Paranoid” lifted from the Tribute album.  Included are, for the most part, the expected usual Rhoads songs:  “Crazy Train”, “Goodbye to Romance”, and “Mr. Crowley”, but no “I Don’t Know”.  Instead it’s the more interesting “Over the Mountain”.

As for Zakk Wylde’s legacy, it’s hobbled by the missing “Miracle Man”, since “Crazy Babies” doesn’t adequately capture his madness.  “No More Tears” is present as a single edit, and “Mama, I’m Coming Home” is necessary for any hits CD catering to people who just want some Ozzy songs they like.  It’s unfortunate that “I Don’t Want to Change the World” from Live & Loud takes up space.  The Zakk era ends with two good songs:  “I Just Want You”, the excellent dark ballad from Ozzmosis, and “new” song “Back on Earth”.  You had to have a new song, and according to the liner notes this was an unreleased one from the Ozzmosis era featuring Geezer Butler on bass.  Fortunately it doesn’t sound like an inferior song, just one too many ballads for the album.  (It’s written by Taylor Rhodes and Richie Supa.)

The second CD contains more treasure.  “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” are bonus Sabbath songs from the same Peel session.  Like the first two, they are crisp and probably essential to any serious fan of the original lineup.

Japan got two extra songs from movie soundtracks, enabling you to get them on an Ozzy CD.  The first is the excellent “Walk on Water”, Ozzy’s only studio recording with Zakk Wylde’s replacement Joe Holmes.  If you wanted to know what an Ozzy album with Holmes would have sounded like, here’s a good indication.  It would have been not too dissimilar from Ozzmosis but with some really different guitar playing.  Sure sounds like Mike Bordin on drums!  The other soundtrack song is “Pictures of Matchstick Men” featuring Type O Negative as the backing band.  It’s pretty forgettable.

The Ozzy interview from 1988 is 17 minutes of nothing special.  Here’s an interesting fact for you.  When stores were solicited for this album in 1997, I can distinctly remember the papers saying the interview would be a new one conducted by Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  I no longer have that piece of paper, and memory is what it is these days, but that’s what it said.  For whatever reason the 1988 one was used instead.  Go ahead and let me know how often you play it.  You can tell it was taped in the UK, at a rehearsal or soundcheck, because you can hear Zakk wailing away in the background.

The Japanese CD also comes with a neat sticker sheet with all of Ozzy’s album artwork on it.  I think the US CD has some screen savers.  I’d rather have the stickers.

Ozzy and company did the greatest hits thing right and have never actually done it this well since.  May as well track down a 2 CD Ozzman Cometh and get those Black Sabbath tracks you’re missing.

4.5/5 stars

VHS Archives #82: Tony Iommi & Cozy Powell talk Headless Cross on the Power Hour (1989)

Michael Williams asks some tough questions of Tony Iommi including “Why carry on as Black Sabbath?”  You have to remember that in 1989, Black Sabbath was considered irrelevant.  Ozzy was all the rage, leaving Sabbath in the dust far behind.

Other topics discussed:

  • The Live Aid reunion with Ozzy
  • Satanism in Sabbath music or lack thereof
  • “Heavy metal”
  • Rap artists (Sir Mix-A-Lot) sampling and covering Black Sabbath
  • Tony’s favourite version of Black Sabbath

What do you think of Tony and Cozy’s answers?

Then, stay tuned for another separate bonus interview taken from a CNN report!

 

REVIEW: We Wish You A Metal Xmas and a Headbanging New Year – Various Artists (2008)

WE WISH YOU A METAL XMAS AND A HEADBANGING NEW YEAR (2008 Armoury)

Yep, It’s another Bob Kulick album with various guests.  You know what you’re going to get.  Let’s not dilly-dally; let’s crack open the cranberry sauce and see what a Metal Xmas sounds like.

Generic!  A truly ordinary title track features the amazing Jeff Scott Soto on lead vocals, but it’s a purely cookie-cutter arrangement with all the cheesy adornments you expect.  Ray Luzier fans will enjoy the busy drums, but this does not bode well for the album.

Fortunately it’s Lemmy to the rescue, with “Run Rudolph Run”, an utterly classic performance with Billy Gibbons and Dave Grohl.  All spit n’ vinegar with no apologies and nary a mistletoe in sight.  I remember playing this for my sister Dr. Kathryn Ladano in the car one Christmas.

When Lemmy opened his yap, she proclaimed “This is bullshit!  How come they get to make albums and not me?”

Lemmy Kilmister, pissing people off since day one, has done it again.  You can buy the CD for “Run Rudolph Run” even if the rest is utter shit.

A silly “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” by Alice Cooper echoes “The Black Widow”, but novelty value aside, is not very good.  A joke song can only take you so far, and Alice is usually far more clever.  (At least John 5’s soloing is quite delicious.)  And even though Dio is next, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” comes across as a joke, too.  Which is a shame because the lineup is a Dio/Sabbath hybrid:  Tony Iommi, Rudy Sarzo, and Simon Wright.  Dio’s joyless, dead serious interpretation is amusing only because of its unintentional dry humour.

Funny enough, Geoff Tate’s “Silver Bells” has the right attitude.  Even though Geoff is perpetually flat, his spirited version (with Carlos Cavazo, James Lomenzo and Ray Luzier) kicks up some snow.  That makes me happy, but it pains me to say that Dug Pinnick’s “Little Drummer Boy” (with George Lynch, Billy Sheehan and Simon Phillips) doesn’t jingle.  Ripper Owens, Steve More & pals team up next on “Santa Claus is Back in Town”, so bad that it borders on parody.

The most bizarre track is Chuck Billy’s “Silent Night”, with thrash buddies like Scott Ian.  Chuck performs it in his death metal growl, and it’s pure comedy.  Oni Logan can’t follow that with “Deck the Halls”, though it’s pretty inoffensive.  Stephen Pearcy’s “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” adapts the riff from “Tie Your Mother Down” and succeeds in creating a listenable track.  “Rockin’ Around the Xmas Tree” is ably performed by Joe Lynn Turner, sounding a lot like a Christmas party jam.

The final artist is Tommy Shaw with John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”.  It’s an authentic version and while not a replacement for the original, will be enjoyable to Styx fans.

Christmas albums by rock artists are, let’s be honest, rarely worthwhile.  This one has only a handful of keepers so spend wisely.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Iommi – Iommi (2000)

“Like many projects featuring multiple singers, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag but with more gems than turds.”

 

IOMMI – Iommi (2000 Virgin)

Iommi is the first released solo album by Tony Iommi, but actually the third recorded.  The first was 1986’s Seventh Star, released as “Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi”, with Glenn Hughes on vocals.  10 years later, Tony recorded another album with Hughes often referred to as “Eighth Star“, which was released in 2004 (after the drums by Dave Holland were re-recorded by Jimmy Copley) as The 1996 DEP Sessions.  Then finally in 2000, Tony took a page from the successful Santana formula book and did an album with various lead singers called Iommi.

Like many projects featuring multiple singers and assorted musicians, the album called Iommi is a mixed bag, but with more gems than turds.  The guitarist picked an interesting assortment of vocalists, mostly artists big in the 90s.  It’s telling that Tony’s good buddy Glenn Hughes isn’t one of them (though Hughes returned on 2006’s Fused).  Clearly commercial interests were most important when it came to selecting the singers and songs.

The inimitable Henry Rollins gets the enviable opening slot with “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.  Rollins sounds best with a heavy riff behind him, and this one is pure grunge.  Producer-de-jour Bob Marlette co-wrote almost every song, and there’s little doubt that this is how Iommi acquired its “modern” edge.  Rollins creates a swirl chaotic rock around him, but the riff alone would have sunk without Hank.  Iommi seldom writes such atonal, monotonous guitar parts as “Laughing Man (In the Devil Mask)”.

Skin (Skunk Anansie) is surely one hell of an underrated singer, and her track “Meat” howls.  Iommi’s solos and riffs sound much more like what comes naturally from him.  Then, it’s the unfortunate sound of 90s drum loops and samples.  It’s Dave Grohl’s tune “Goodbye Lament”.  Because as soon as one thinks of Iommi or Grohl, we think of drum loops, am I right?  Fortunately Grohl has ex-Sabbath bassist Lawrence Cottle and Queen maestro Brian May on his track.  He plays the drums when they finally do kick in.  Three of those four guys played on Headless Cross!  The drum loops suck and date the song to a certain period in time, but fortunately Grohl knows how to write good melodies so it’s not a total bust.

Phil Anselmo (Pantera) takes the very Sabbathy “Time is Mine”.  That riff sounds like it may have been later used on an actual Black Sabbath record.  The track simmers with fury, then Phil lets it rip loose.  The only way to make Sabbath heavier than Sabbath is to include a singer like Anselmo.  Drumming is Seattle legend Matt Cameron.

The expressive Serj Tankian (System of a Down) lets his pipes have their way with “Patterns”, amidst more of those annoying samples.  It absolutely sounds more System than Sabbath, which is fine since both are heavier than fuck.

The one guy that pulls off a truly Black Sabbath-sounding song is the guy you’d least expect:  Billy Corgan.  Yet his “Black Oblivion” comes closest to the spirit of classic Black Sabbath, in terms of length and epic riffage.  Billy plays bass and guitar on the track as well — what a phenomenal bassist!  (The drummer, Kenny Aronoff, knew Corgan from the 1998 Smashing Pumpkins tour on which he played, and then Aronoff went on to play on two more Iommi solo discs.)

The Cult’s Ian Astbury makes Iommi sound like — who else? — The Cult!  Brian May returns for some guitar (with Cottle and Cameron on bass and drums).  The Cult rarely employ such monolithic riffs, but the chorus is pure Cult.

“Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide mother,
Flame On!  And now I breath in this dirty black summer,
Flame On!  I bought the truth in the mouth of my brother,
Flame On!  I used to bleed like a suicide motherfucker.”

Shame about the damn loops, like something discarded from Chinese Democracy.  They also infect “Just Say No to Love” featuring the late Peter Steele of Type O Negative.  Like Astbury, he makes Iommi sound like his band, which already sounded a bit like a Black Sabbath parody.

The biggest disappointment on the album is second to last.  “Who’s Fooling Who” is a virtual Black Sabbath reunion, with Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward returning to the fold.  On bass is Lawrence Cottle, making it 100% Sabbath alumni, 3/4 original.  And it’s easily the most boring song on the album.  The best thing about it is Bill Ward, the first drummer who didn’t sound like a session guy.  A muffled Ozzy phones in his part, but Bill puts some effort into composing the percussion.  The best part is the instrumental burnout.

And then, a surprising finish:  Billy Idol, with a monstrous “Into the Night”.  Idol should consider doing heavy riffy metal like this more often — he’s good at it.  Though he effectively snarls his way through the slow riff, his punky side comes out when things get fast.  The contrast between riffs and tempos is half the fun.

With Iommi freshly consumed and digested anew, it’s obvious that good portion of what you heard was purposefully geared towards the nu-metal Ozzfest crowd.  The selection of musicians was clearly slanted post-80s, but it’s the loops and samples that really blow.  The blame must be laid on producer Bob Marlette, especially considering some of the loops sounded exactly like another band he produced:  Rob Halford’s Two.  The whole thing sounds like a “product”, though at least with some pretty incredible riffs behind it.

3/5 stars

 

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

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Past Lives (2002)

BLACK SABBATH – Past Lives (2002 Sanctuary)
(CD 1 is a reissue of 1980’s Live at Last (NEMS))

Black Sabbath’s Live at Last (1980) has been reissued so often that its Discogs listing shows 81 distinct versions.  Those don’t include the Black Sabbath live set Past Lives, of which Live at Last forms its first CD.  The second disc is all unreleased live versions, from shows in 1970 and 1975.  These consist of some of the big Sabbath numbers that weren’t on Live at Last (“Iron Man”, “Black Sabbath”) and more obscure material like “Hole in the Sky”.

“Hand of Doom” from Paranoid is an unusual though doomy way to open the CD.  It rolls from gentle bass to a roaring mania.  It is a taut performance largely because of Bill Ward’s enviable swing.  “Hand of Doom” was recorded in 1970, but jumping ahead to ’75, Ozzy’s intro to “Hole in the Sky” is cute.  It wasn’t out yet.  “Listen to it, you might like it, OK?” asks Ozzy.  Then, “Are you high?  Are you high?  So am I!”

Some Sabbath songs are like a brand new bulldozer, unrelentlessly heavy, yet shiny and cool.  “Hole in the Sky” is one such riff-monster, an indispensable slab of heavy metal.  It’s followed by another new one, and even heavier:  “Symptom of the Universe”.  Young, wasted Sabbath blast through it — and stay the fuck out of Bill Ward’s way!  The drummer is a tornado.  “Megalomania” makes it a perfect trifecta of new songs.  It’s an epic 10 minutes of different paces, riffs and melodies.  Unlike other metal bands, Sabbath often welded two or three unforgettable riffs together into mega-compositions.  Look at “Black Sabbath” for example — they could have made two songs out of it, but instead we have one massive monolith.  On stage, “Megalomania” is tense and never boring.  Ozzy shreds his voice to pieces.

As far as Past Lives goes, these three songs (“Hole in the Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe” and “Megalomania”) are the nugget of gold in the middle.  It’s a first official live release for most of them.  A live “Symptom of the Universe” was issued by a Tony Martin-era lineup on 1995’s Cross Purposes ~ Live, but that cannot compete with the vintage original lineup.*

It’s only oldies from there in.  “Iron Man”, “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Black Sabbath” (with unique Tony Iommi guitar intro) make up for their absence on Live at Last.  “N.I.B.” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep” from the first Sabbath round out the set.  Nobody did them better than the original band in the 1970s.

Today we have more original Sabbath to choose from that just Past Lives; two complete concerts were included in the recent Paranoid 4 CD box set.  Back in 2002, this kind of release warranted bigger fanfare.  The audio is not pristine.  Flutter, static and amp hum are part of the deal.  If you’re into buying archival live material, you know what this is about.

The original digipack release of Past Lives comes with a booklet, a poster, and most importantly a guitar pick.  Collectors will probably want to hold out for a version with pick intact, though finding one might be a “holy grail” item.  If you don’t care about such things, a simple jewel case release is widely available.

4/5 stars

 

* Sorry Harrison.

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live at Last (1980)

BLACK SABBATH – Live at Last (1980 NEMS)

Although the Black Sabbath discography is not that complicated, we still struggle to know exactly how to file Live at Last.  Recorded in 1973 (Vol. 4 tour), it was shelved because the band were not happy with it.  Much later on (1980) it was released officially but without the band’s consent or knowledge.  They have shunned it, while Live at Last has enjoyed a number of re-releases and remasters.  For maximum fun, why not track down an old vinyl pressing with the singer’s name spelled as Ossie Osbourne?  (The vinyl pressing is also one way to get a completely unedited version; most CD releases lack at least the band intro.)

Live at Last was, for many many years, the only live Black Sabbath album with Ozzy.  Live Evil, released in 1982, had then-current frontman Ronnie James Dio.  Although considered a sub-par album, you didn’t have much choice back then.  Excessive Tony Iommi guitar feedback may be one reason the band weren’t happy with it.

Starting with new single “Tomorrow’s Dream”, Sabbath sound coked to the brim.  Iommi’s guitar pukes sonic sludge, Bill Ward floating behind, and Geezer playing bass melodies from another world.  “Sweet Leaf” continues the trip; Ozzy howling “I love you!” while the stoned band pummels through.  Original Sabbath has a looseness that no other lineup possessed.  It’s just something special that happens with those four guys, and Bill Ward had the swing to it all.

Brand new tune “Killing Yourself to Live” hadn’t been released yet, but it’s pretty intact in live form.  “Get high!” screams Oz.  The challenging song demonstrates Sabbath’s ability to meld multiple memorable guitar riffs together into a single whole.  “Killing Yourself to Live” has at least three distinct riff sections, each cooler than the last.  Unfortunately the recording doesn’t allow us to really hear how the audience responded to the new material.

“Cornucopia” alone could be responsible for birthing half of grunge rock.  The young band’s energy is remarkable.  “Snowblind” is a blast, with Ozzy shouting “CO-CAINE!” rather than whispering slyly. Closing side one, we come to “Embryo/Children of the Grave” and its unforgettable chug riff that launched many a metal band.  You can hear the crowd clapping madly at Ozzy’s command to “Embryo”, before the riff cascades down like the Biblical flood.  Bill Ward paces it faster than the album version by several notches.  “War Pigs” also swings, a little faster than album, but with an unusually jazzy touch.

For some serious swing, check out the 20 minute “Wicked World” medley.  Ward jazzes it up like nobody’s business, when he’s not crushing the heavy parts.  Tony Iommi has a varied guitar solo section, becoming “Into the Void”, then a blues jam and the old standard “Sometimes I’m Happy”.  That turns into “Supernaut” and a drum solo, before reverting right back into “Wicked World” for the finale!  This insane extended track is the one to buy the album for.

After asking the audience several times “What do you wanna hear?”, Ozzy closes with “Paranoid”.  Once again it’s quite fast with Bill ahead of the beat.  Osbourne tells the crowd that they’re beautiful and of course “we love you all!”  and that’s that — a one hour live album on a single LP, all done.  No “Black Sabbath”, no “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Iron Man”, but plenty of the blackest Sabbaths.

Recommended CD edition:  Black Sabbath’s 2002 Past Lives set, which includes a slightly edited version of Live at Last plus a whole CD more of unreleased live stuff.  It even has a sticker on the front that says “Live at Last…deluxe edition”!  Full review of that CD tomorrow.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: 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 – 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)