tony iommi

REVIEW: Black Sabbath #1 – Rock-It Comics (1994)

BLACK SABBATH #1 – (1994 Rock-It Comics)

1979:  Ozzy Osbourne walks out on Black Sabbath, the band he has fronted for 10 years.  Things almost get physical, and then Ozzy pledges to rule the world on his own.  Tony Iommi swears to come out on top, with or without him.  Bill Ward looks down, knowing that it is truly time for a change.  Geezer Butler doesn’t want to give it up and recommends they call “that Dio-bloke”.

Malibu comics produced a highly fictionalized version of Black Sabbath’s early history in 1994, with stunningly rich artwork and co-written by one Terence “Geezer” Butler himself.  Understanding that this is a mixture of fantasy and history, “The Power of Black Sabbath” is a hugely entertaining comic.  The basic bones of the Sabbath story are there.  The gradeschool rivalry between Ozzy and Tony was real, but Tony never said “Give it up Osbourne, you sing like a girl!”  And it doesn’t matter because it makes for a good panel.  Meanwhile, a young Terry Butler is visited by a mysterious entity that allows him a brief glimpse at his own future.

As if like fate, the four members of Black Sabbath eventually merge together.  Their early history as “Earth” precedes the fame.  Dirty managers, “Blue Suede Shows”, and Jethro Tull stories are rolled out panel by panel.  “Why did I ever think about leaving Earth?” muses Tony, as a demanding Ian Anderson commands him to play a solo.  After another supernatural encounter, they finally settle on the name Black Sabbath.

Album by album their success grows, but they cannot shake their continuing and strange encounters with entities not of this world.  By the time of Never Say Die, tensions between Tony and Ozzy result in the temporary hiring of Dave Walker to replace the singer.  Ozzy eventually leaves permanently on his own “Crazy Train”.  Ending the story here, we learn that Geezer Butler has come to peace with the supernatural side of his life.

But that’s only half the book.  There’s still plenty more content of the non-illustrated variety.

An interview with Geezer Butler is about as revealing as ever.  Dig these insightful answers:

Q: Tell us about the new album.

A: It’s called Cross Purposes.  There are ten tracks on it.  We started writing it last February and finished in mid-July.  [He then runs down the band lineup.]

To its credit, Geezer claims that this comic is the most accurate portrayal of Black Sabbath to date, though it does include “poetic license”.

Next is a very cool gallery of photos that you couldn’t easily find anywhere in 1994.  These include full colour pictures of the Glenn Hughes lineup of Black Sabbath, and versions with Dio, Tony Martin, Vinnie Appice, and Bobby Rondinelli.  There are even a couple monochrome photos with Ian Gillan.  At the time these were some of the only pictures I owned of the band in these phases.

The next pages feature a discography, full colour with album art, lineups and tracklistings.  Included here is a warning not to buy Greatest Hits or Live At Last!  “You have an inferior product both in packaging and sound.  You are warned!”  Screw it, I’m buying Live At Last!  The last page is an autobiographical story by editor Robert V. Conte about buying his first Sabbath album Born Again (my favourite).  Within two weeks he had most of their records.

I’ve read a few critiques about this book complaining about the overly fictional portrayal of the band’s history.  I don’t think it particularly matters.  It’s obvious from the supernatural elements that this is not to be taken as gospel (pun intended).  The vibrant ink and colours capture the Black Sabbath members perfectly, and each panel is glorious to look at.  Not to mention it’s an oversized comic so every page has more bang for the buck.  The stylized dialogue keeps the story moving at a good pace, and though the story is but a brief overview, it’s fine for a single issue.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath/Motorhead – 07/22/1995 – Lulu’s Roadhouse, Kitchener Ontario

I thought this review had been lost.  I wrote it in 1995, saved it to floppy disc, later uploaded it to a site called sabbathlive…and when that site disappeared I assumed my review was lost too.  I was wrong!

Guest contributor Holen MaGroin somehow, and with great effort, retrieved the text.  You can compare this with the version I wrote from memory back in 2012.  I’m very grateful to have this back, one of the earliest reviews I ever wrote.  For the record the friends I was with included Iron Tom Sharpe but I can’t remember who else might have gone that night.  It was the night that made me into a Motorhead fan.

This is my first time reading it in decades, so this is almost as new to me as it is to you!  I will leave everything as-is. I can tell that the review is mostly original with a couple sentences added later on when I uploaded it to sabbathlive.  I will put that text in a lighter colour.

The biggest difference between the 1995 review and the rewrite I posted in 2012 seems to be my impression of Tony Martin.  Here I call him “wonderful” and in the version I rewrote from memory, I called him “so-so”.

 

 

BLACK SABBATH/MOTORHEAD – 07/22/1995 – Lulu’s Roadhouse, Kitchener Ontario

I arrived at Lulu’s with my friends at 9pm sharp, to find a nicely filled hall. Not too cramped yet at this early hour. Upon our arrival, we were informed that we had missed opening act Tiamat. None of us cared too much. While my friends were there to see Motorhead, I was there to see Black Sabbath.

Motorhead hit the stage on full octane with “Ace Of Spades”. From there on, it was no remorse (pun fully intended). Lemmy looks old, Phil Campbell looks old, but they played like teenagers, and it was refreshing to see. Lem and Phil’s onstage banter was funny as hell, and drummer Mikkey Dee (easily one of the fasted double-bass drummers in the world) was unreal. The highlights of Motorhead’s set were easily “Killed By Death”, “Iron Fist”, “I’m So Bad Baby I Don’t Care”, and the brand new “Sacrifice”. (Lem: “This song is so fucking fast, don’t try to dance
to it or you’ll break both your fucking legs!”) Every single song they played sounded terrific. Exciting riffs, awesome double bass, and cool vocals – if you can call them that. I’m now converted to the gospel of Motorhead: These guys are simply awesome.

The crowd received them very well. I think Lemmy, Phil and Mikkey looked pleased by both the turnout and the response to their set. Lem said he’d come back to play here “any fucking time”, but don’t they all say that?
This time it seemed they meant it. [NOTE: Motorhead did indeed come back to Lulu’s the next year.]

We went back to check out the T-shirts and hats. I really liked the new Black Sabbath FORBIDDEN T-shirts, which had the cartoon cover art. Even a hat would have been nice to own, but I was short on cash. I didn’t even have the $25 to cover a Sabbath hat. D’oh!

We decided at this point to try to stand at the front of the stage for Black Sabbath’s set. We had kind of figured that most people in Kitchener were there to see Motorhead, not Sabbath, and the crowd would thin out a little bit. We were totally wrong. It didn’t take long for the crowd to grow, and thicken in front of the stage.

We grabbed an awesome spot right up front, in between where the two Tony’s – Martin and Iommi – would be. However, this would not be the night to be standing close to Black Sabbath. I’m from small-town Ontario, and rough mosh pits were not what we were used to. During Motorhead’s set the crowd stood there politely, cheered madly after each song, and were generally well behaved, which is the way we liked it. We came to see the band, and hear the music, after all.

The first sign of trouble was when a fight broke out right behind us. A small Cobain-ish kid began pushing around a very large (we’re talking pro-wrestler large) man, who didn’t take it all that well. One headbutt later, the small kid was on the ground bleeding, and the large guy was out the door before security even noticed what had happened. They collected what was left of Cobain.

At 11:30 this was all forgotten. Black Sabbath hit the stage with a powerful version of “Children Of The Grave”. Tony Martin gave the song a fierce energy.

The first thing I noticed was that Tony Martin looked a lot older than I expected. I hadn’t seen any decent pictures of Black Sabbath for a couple years. Martin has small but friendly looking eyes, and receding hair. He sported an evil looking goatee, a long black shirt, black jeans and boots. By contrast, for some reason Tony Iommi looked a lot younger than I expected. He smiled a lot, and even moved around a bit on stage. This is Tony Iommi, the man known for staying riveted in one spot on stage!

Cozy Powell looked the same as he always has, same hair and all, although he did look a little chubbier in the face. Neil Murray looked identical to the way he looked in the “Feels Good To Me” video, five years previous. Keyboardist Geoff Nicholls was partly hidden on side stage. Why Black Sabbath don’t put him up front on the main stage is a mystery to me, he’s been in the band for 15 years now! However, the first thing that hit me about the rarely-seem Nicholls was that he was trying to look hip with his dyed blonde hair.

The set list included all the following songs, although I may have the order somewhat jumbled:

“Children Of The Grave”, “Neon Knights”, “The Shining”, “Get A Grip”, “The Wizard”, “Headless Cross”, “Rusty Angels”, “Can’t Get Close Enough”, “When Death Calls”, War Pigs”, “Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath”, “Black Sabbath”, “Heaven And Hell”, “Mob Rules”.

Encore: “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Heaven And Hell” [reprise]

I felt that Tony Martin was a wonderful frontman. He has his own style. During the instrumental sections of songs, he would back up a few steps, spread his arms like he was awaiting the coming of Christ, and shake his hair about. While singing, he makes eyes contact with you. He smiles a lot. He enjoys what he does. I genuinely felt like the smiles that Iommi and Martin gave off were real, and that’s the real reason that Black Sabbath are still around 25 years later. These guys just love playing music. Cozy Powell and Neil Murray were more reserved, but Iommi and Martin, the core of Sabbath, were happy just being up there.

All the Ozzy-era classics were received with tremendous cheers by the crowd. Tony Martin allowed the crowd to sing most of the lyrics to “War Pigs”. The Dio-era songs were met with equal excitement. Most people in our area on the floor sang along to every word. All the later material was drawn from Tony Martin’s albums, though nothing from the excellent TYR or CROSS PURPOSES, which I found disappointing. However, as Martin said during the set, Black Sabbath have over 200 songs in the catalogue,and you can’t play them all.

They played three of the best songs from the new FORBIDDEN album: “Get A Grip”, “Rusty Angels” and “Can’t Get Close Enough”. They were played well, I felt they sounded better than the album versions. For the “Can’t Get Close Enough” sections of dark fingerpicked guitar, Iommi switched from his Gibson to an unusual make of guitar that I’d never seen before and couldn’t identify.

The highlight of the set for myself was “The Shining”. It had always been my favourite Tony Martin-era song, and I was not disappointed. The surprise was that a lot of people in the audience also seemed to know that song. “Headless Cross” was played equally well, and I was amazed with how rich Tony Iommi’s guitar sounds live. However, this song demonstrated how much vocal range Tony Martin has lost in recent years. He could not hit the high notes. (Play the original and see how high he gets!) Instead, he sang an octave lower. Again, most people seemed to
know this song.

“When Death Calls” came as a surprise, since it was never released as a video like the other Martin-era songs. On the way to the show I said I wanted to hear some obscure 80’s Sabbath, and I got it!

The crowd just ate it up, everything Sabbath served, they ate up and asked for seconds. When the moshing began, I was a bit surprised, and made way further back so as to not avoid injury. A lot of people came out of that show limping, and I didn’t really feel like being one of them.

If I was the only person there surprised by the moshing, it looked like the stage-diving took even the band by surprise! When the first gentleman made his way onto the stage, Tony Martin appeared shocked and backed up a few steps. After this, a security guy parked himself on stage and pushed off every guy who made it up there. It was kind of strange seeing a security guy crouching on stage in front of Martin.

Sabbath ruled. They simply ruled. For sheer intensity they couldn’t match Motorhead, but they held their own. The set list was about as perfect as you could make it, since it’s impossible to squeeze in too many more. After all, the band couldn’t avoid the classics in order to play more material from the 90’s. It was also nice to finally hear Tony Martin’s live renditions of those classics. He really did an excellent job and I hope one day they’ll commit his voice to a live album.*

This was my first time seeing Black Sabbath live. Seeing them so close to home in such a small venue really was an amazing experience. I hope it’s not the last.**

 

 

* Cross Purposes Live was released in 1995 in Europe only.

** It was.

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Best of MusikLaden Live at the Beat Club

BLACK SABBATH – The Best of MusikLaden – Live at the Beat Club (1970 television performance)

When Black Sabbath released their Black Box in 2004 featuring all the original lineup’s studio albums in remastered form, they also included a bonus four-song DVD.  This disc was the oft-released television broadcast of a German show called Beat Club (later MusikLaden).  Sabbath made two appearances in 1970, and the Black Box was the most official release of them.  Before upgrading to the Black Box, I owned an earlier, unofficial DVD release.  I taped that DVD to cassette, and that’s what I’m listening to right now.

“Black Sabbath” is torrential, as intense as the young band was able.  Ozzy sounds as if possessed, truly terrified and warning us that something foreboding and terrible is coming.  “Paranoid” is strangely echoey and distant, but still as incendiary as 1970 Black Sabbath should be.  Interestingly, in this version it really does sound as if Ozzy is singing “end your life” instead of “enjoy life”.  A sparse “Iron Man” announces its arrival with evil Gibson guitar sonic bends.  This version of “Iron Man” is a little stiffer than others, but not for long.  Towards the end, Geezer Butler unleashes the hordes and the song stampedes to a close.

Finally and most notoriously is “Blue Suede Shoes”, a performance pretty much everybody has since disowned.  It’s not terrible, although it’s certainly uncharacteristic.  It’s as if Black Sabbath were suddenly encroaching upon ZZ Top’s territory.  Tony’s speedy solo is interesting if not typical, and the band really stepped it up.  I get why some would mock it; it’s kind of goofy and definitely not as impressive as the Sabbath originals.  But it’s…fun?  Is Sabbath allowed to be…fun?

3.5/5 stars

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.