tony martin

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.

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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: Mollo / Martin – The Cage 2 (2002)

Scan_20160208DARIO MOLLO / TONY MARTINThe Cage 2 (2002 Frontiers)

Three years out from their debut album The Cage, Tony Martin and Dario Mollo re-teamed up for a sequel, creatively titled The Cage 2!  On their second effort, Mollo and Martin broke out of a cage of sorts and made heavy metal music with a little more identity.  Keyboardist Don Airey did not return for this album, but in his stead is the legendary Tony Franklin on bass.

Heavy modern nu-metal touches highlight “Terra Toria”, a detuned beast with a bit of grunting on the choruses.  Thankfully the verses are piled high with Tony’s melodies, the same kind that he used to contribute to his Black Sabbath albums.  Mollo meanwhile lays down the shred with a Neal Schon vibe and plenty of power chords.  The heavy stuff takes a bit of a back seat on “Overload” which could have worked well as a Dio power ballad.  Underrated as a vocalist, Tony Martin has no issues delivering the hooks and high notes.  One thing I have loved about Tony Martin is that he also plays violin, and sometimes throws that into his songs, as he did on his solo album Scream.  “Overload” has a fast flying violin solo, and it’s a killer.

Distorted lead vocals on “Life Love and Everything” lend it a modern touch on the verses, but the layered vocals of the chorus make it clear that this is not nu-metal.  The guitar riff is a tricky shuffle, but with a groove.  It’s soul metal with the emphasis on the metal rather than the soul!  “Balance of Power” is just speed metal, along the lines of some of the things Sabbath had done on Tyr such as “The Lawmaker” and “Heaven in Black”.  If you miss that era of Sabbath, or the kind of fast metal that Dio was apt to do, then check out “Balance of Power”.  If you’re in  tune with 80’s Sabbath, check out “Amore Silenzioso”.  It is the closest thing to Black Sabbath’s “The Seventh Star” that I have heard, though not quite on that level.  A short keyboard based instrumental (“II”) closes that, and goes into “Wind of Change”, not the Scorpions song, but a ballad nonetheless.  If the songs on Cage 2 have a common weakness, it is that many are on the long side.  “Wind of Change” is too much ballad, though it does house an absolutely stunning guitar solo.

“Theater of Dreams” carries over with the 80’s Sabbath sound, and more intricate and cool guitars.  The slow groove combined with the might of Martin and the metal of Mollo make it a winner in these books.   Then they take a drive down Van Halen alley, with “What a Strange Thing Love Is”, not a bad tune at all, but definitely in the summer song style of Sammy Hagar.  It’s pop metal with soulful backing vocals, and it’s cool.

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The only serious mis-step is an ill-advised cover of “Dazed and Confused”.  It’s nearly impossible to do this song without sounding like a jackass.  As great as Martin sings most of it, he ruins it by adding in his own adlibs that just remind you, oh yeah,  it’s a cover of a better version by Led Zeppelin. Thankfully Mollo makes the guitar solo the centerpiece and it does the job without copying Jimmy Page.  Without this cover clogging up the works, the CD is actually more enjoyable.

Moving into the last lap, “Guardian Angel” pounds the ground with double bass and heavy riffing.  It has Iron Maiden elements but kicks ass all around.  Still they saved the best track for last, which is “Poison Roses”.  This melancholy closer is the most memorable in a batch of pretty strong heavy metal songs.

You have to give Tony Martin credit.  He’s a great singer, a good songwriter, but no matter what kind of albums he makes, he remains in the shadows.  Too bad.  Fans would do well to seek his his collaborations with Dario Mollo.  They compete in quality with the albums Tony made in his better known band.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Mollo / Martin – The Cage (1999)

Part one of a two-parter!

Scan_20160109DARIO MOLLO / TONY MARTIN – The Cage (1999 Dreamcatcher)

When Ozzy Osbourne returned to Black Sabbath in 1997, that was undeniably a very exciting moment in heavy metal, and rock in general.  By ’98, original drummer Bill Ward even returned to the band, completing the original lineup.  We were rewarded for our patience with two new Black Sabbath songs called “Psycho Man” and “Selling My Soul” by the original lineup, but otherwise it was the beginning of a long drought.  Though Sabbath toured and played festivals, it was the sparsity of new material that pissed off a few fans, this one included.

Thankfully during this Sabbath ice age, some former members kept the flame alive with new heavy metal music.  Former vocalist Tony Martin, who was ousted for Ozzy’s return, recorded three albums with Italian guitarist Dario Mollo.  1999’s The Cage, featuring Don Airey (Deep Purple) on keyboards, is their first collaboration.  This helped scratch the Sabbath itch during the drought.

A jagged Dio-ish guitar riff commences “Cry Myself to Death”.  The doomy edge is present.  Martin sounds as if in peak voice.  The thirst is quenched.  It’s easy to imagine a song like this could have been on a followup to 1995’s Forbidden.  Dario Mollo is nothing like Iommi, being capable of heavy modern shreddery at maximum velocity.  This is proven on “Time to Kill”.  This time the vibe is like “Lawmaker” from 1990’s Tyr album.  The pace is breakneck, but Don Airey is more than capable of keeping up on the keys.  This is a stunning metal track mixing the spirit of old with the talent of new.  It verges on regal Priest-isms by the solo break, blazing on to the end in a frenzy.

Don Airey plagiarizes his own keyboard part from Judas Priest’s “A Touch of Evil”, for an instrumental intro called “The Cage”.  This serves as the start for a moody Dokken-esque ballad called “If You Believe”.  Don Dokken only wishes he could still write a song this good, a quality dark ballad, perhaps akin to Sabbath’s “Feels Good to Me”.  Then “Relax” also operates on a dark Dokken / Whitesnake vibe.  Mollo’s shredding on this would would make Eddie Van Halen nod in approval.  And speaking of Whitesnake and Cov the Gov, guess what they cover later on in the album?  “Stormbringer”!  Don makes the keyboards a bit too spacey on that one, but it is an otherwise pretty authentic cover, and the guitar solo is virtually note for note.

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“Smoke and Mirrors” is pretty lame.  “Some girls, they look really pretty but they tell you lies,” sings Martin.  Well maybe, but some singers sing real good but struggle on the lyrics.  The weakest track so far, “Smoke and Mirrors” has a sleezy rock vibe, like a latter-day Europe track.  Mollo’s playing is the highlight but the song is pretty skippable.  “Infinity” is more Sabbathy, reminding me of “Headless Cross”.  Onto “Dead Man Dancing”, I think of Gary Cherone and Extreme.  The song boasts a soaring Martin chorus and plenty string mangling by Mollo.  Then it’s onto “This Kind of Love”, a dead ringer for Van Hagar.

The album closes on “Soul Searching”, (kind of similar to Sabbath’s “Nightwing”) which is something I wish Dario and Martin had done more of during the writing of this album.  It would be nice to hear more of the sounds of their own personalities rather than songs that remind us of other bands.  That’s rock and roll; the great struggle.  It is not easy to carve out your identity among the thousands of bands who already have.  The Cage is loaded with great music, and the playing is above reproach.  What it lacks is originality.  Even in the guitar playing, I would say that Dario Mollo owes John Sykes a debt of gratitude, though he is certainly no slouch.  I just crave more originality in the tunes.  Yes, part of the appeal of following ex-Sabbath members like Tony Martin into a solo career is to hear a bit more of that sound you loved.  There are just too many moments on The Cage that sound like songs you already know.

3.25/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Children of the Sea – Live in Brazil ’94

Scan_20150927BLACK SABBATH – Children of the Sea – Live in Brazil ’94 (Disc Media)

The Cross Purposes tour was not a happy time in Black Sabbath.  Geezer Butler had felt that this band (featuring himself, Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, and new drummer Bobby Rondinelli) should have had a new name and not been billed as Black Sabbath.  Rondinelli left mid-tour, so Tony and Geezer called up the original Sabbath skinsman Bill Ward.  With this historic lineup, 3/4 of the original band were intact (the same ratio as today’s Sabbath).  They went to South America to play five shows.  Then Butler quit after a furious standoff with Iommi.

This broadcast footage is all that remains of this very short-lived lineup of Black Sabbath.

The set opens with “Time Machine”, a Dio-era song that neither Tony Martin nor Bill Ward originally appeared on.  The sound is pretty horrendous, coming in slightly better than bootleg quality.  The crowd noise is too high, and the backing keyboards of Geoff Nicholls actually drown out the lead guitar.  Nicholls’ backing vocals are also more audible than they should be.  As a frontman, Martin does his best, which involves spreading his arms wide and shaking his hair.  A long haired Ward has a completely different rhythm on this track than Vinnie Appice gave it.  Another Dio number is next, “Children of the Sea”.  Ward at least played on this Heaven and Hell classic.  Haters would be critical of Martin’s version of Dio songs, but Dio quit. Ozzy wasn’t ready to come back.  Iommi carried on, and that’s how it went down.  Martin had to sing the old songs to the best of his talents and he helped keep the ship afloat during these difficult years.  Having Bill Ward on this track lends it a required authenticity.

There are certain songs that Sabbath has never dropped from the set, that are very difficult for most singers to perform.  “Black Sabbath” is top of the list.  Ozzy’s possessed original can never be duplicated or imitated.  A big part of that, however, is that Bill Ward’s primitive drum fills were such a big part of it, and Bill’s back on this one.  With 3/4 of the original Sabbath there, this version actually works out.  It’s one of the most true to the original of the versions released by any post-Ozzy lineup of Black Sabbath…except it is edited!  It halts abruptly at the half-way point, to awkwardly go into “War Pigs”.  This concert was clearly cut down to fit into a one hour (with commercials) time slot.  Why half of “Black Sabbath” was sacrificed instead of something else, I don’t know.  Shoddy.  At least “War Pigs” is intact, with Bill (shirtless now) providing the loose backbone it always had on album.  It acquires a jazzy feel during the slow outro.

Iommi gets a guitar solo (could have edited this out instead of “Black Sabbath”, but what do I know?) which has shades of “Too Late” from Dehumanizer.  Then it’s “Paranoid”, with Bill behind the beat as it should be.  Martin bites into every word, doing a fantastic job of it.  I have several live versions of Martin doing “Paranoid”, but this one is the best and most true.

When it’s time for “Headless Cross”, the rhythm section are not the ones who recorded it (Lawrence Cottle on bass and Cozy Powell on drums).  It’s weird to think of Bill Ward playing drum parts that Cozy Powell wrote.  Geezer sounds more at home, and is able too bring his trademark slink to the bass.  Offstage, Geoff Nicholls quite obviously provides the high notes in the chorus that Tony Martin can no longer hit, whether by voice or sample I do not know.  There’s another awkward edit into “Iron Man”, a song most singers except Ozzy struggle with.  This could have been excised.  We finally blast into “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”: better, even though nobody can hit the unholy notes that Ozzy did on the studio version.

That’s the last track..  The back cover claims that “The Hand that Rocks the Cradle” is next, but there is no such track.  Bastards!  To compound the error, they got the song title wrong by just having “The Hand that Rocks”.  Not that this is the only mistake on the track list.   “Babbath Bloody Sabbath” is pretty funny, especially since this title carried over to the song menu on the DVD!

SABBATH COTS

Wardrobe wise, I like Geezer’s sweater with the crosses on it; that’s nice.  Tony Martin has a cool, steel plated leather jacket, which looks as if raided from Rob Halford’s closet.  Iommi sports silver cross center-chest, while Bill Ward is right out of 1975 with the long hair and track pants.

There are issues with the audio sync on this DVD, probably originating from the broadcast but carried over even though it would be easily fixed.  Sloppy release.  I’m sure that this is ripped from a VHS recording of the broadcast, due to the obvious spots where commercial breaks are edited out.

Maybe the original uncut tapes are out there somewhere. If so, somebody should release them.  This concert could have been a great little DVD release, but the various audio and editing flaws make it a difficult viewing.

2/5 stars

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REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Sabbath Stones (1996)

Bought at HMV, Stone Road Mall, Guelph ON, on import for $29.99 in 1996.

BLACK SABBATH – The Sabbath Stones (1996 IRS)

The Sabbath Stones, a record-company cash-grab, is a greatest hits compilation of Sabbath’s Tony Martin years (mostly) plus a smattering of bonus tracks. While it is not perfect, and so many great songs were omitted, it is still a really great listen from start to finish. Tony Martin is probably the most derided of all Sabbath vocalists. Having seen Sabbath live on their final tour with Martin (also including Cozy Powell and Neil Murray) I can say that I quite enjoyed that incarnation of Sabbath. Also, in 1996 when this was released, albums such as Headless Cross and The Eternal Idol were very hard to find on CD.  With that in mind, read my track-by-track breakdown.

1. “Headless Cross” — This compilation is the IRS years (that’s the record label, not the government agency) and thus starts with their first IRS album, Headless Cross. The title track is one of those underground classics. The groove here is monstrous (thanks, Cozy)  and the notes Martin hits in the chorus are superhuman. This track, back in 1989, was Sabbath getting back to a truly heavy evil sound. Shame that the keyboards (on all tracks by Geoff Nicholls) are mixed so high!

2. “When Death Calls” — One of my favourites from Headless. Beginning with fretless bass (by temp bassist Lawrence Cottle) and haunting vocals, you’d almost think this was a ballad. By the end, it’s breakneck, with Tony Martin singing these evil lyrics about how “your tongue will blister” when Satan says you’re to die! The guest guitar solo by Brian May will sear your soul.

3. “Devil and Daughter” — A third great track from Headless, an album loaded with great tracks. This is an uptempo one all the way through!

4. “The Sabbath Stones” — From 1990’s underrated Tyr album. I quite liked Tyr. “The Sabbath Stones” is a fast one, wicked, but muddy in sound as was all of Tyr. Once again, Martin hits inhuman high notes by the end.

5-7. “The Battle Of Tyr/Odin’s Court/Valhalla” — These three tracks are actually all bits of one long piece, on Viking mythology. Sabbath at the time were trying to get away from the “Satanic thing”, and Vikings were still evil enough to sing about. Some fans didn’t like that turn of events but I think Sabbath were well ahead of their time. “The Battle Of Tyr” is a keyboard-y bit, just an intro to get you in the mood. “Odin’s Court” is acoustic, with Iommi picking a simple melody while Martin sings about “leading us on, to the land of eternity, riding the cold cold winds of Valhalla”. That takes us into the main meat of the trilogy, the “Valhalla” portion. One of the most powerful of all Martin-era tracks, with great keyboard accents and a memorable Iommi riff, this was my favourite track off Tyr.  (It’s either this one, or “Jerusalem”.)

8. “TV Crimes” — A brief departure from the Tony Martin years. In 1992, he was out and Ronnie James Dio, Geezer Butler, and Vinny Appice were back in. The album was called Dehumanizer and even though it did not sell well, a hardcore following now consider it among the very best Sabbath albums of all time, and possibly one of the best things Dio’s ever done. Why it was underrepresented here with just one song is beyond me. There should have been at least three Dehumanizer tracks on this CD (I would have nixed “Devil and Daughter” and “The Sabbath Stones” in favour of two more with Dio singing.) Anyway, “TV Crimes” (the single) is here, and while not one of the best songs from Dehumanizer, it and “Time Machine” were the two most well-known.

9. “Virtual Death” — Tony Martin is back, with Rainbow’s Bobby Rondinelli and Geezer Butler too!  That would not last long, as Geezer soon fled back to Ozzy’s solo band to record the Ozzmosis CD. “Virtual Death” is hardly one of the better songs from the Cross Purposes album, a decent record if a bit soft. Having said that, the soft tracks were really quite good and “Virtual Death” was just a grunge song.  Black Sabbath influenced that whole scene, but they ended up copying Alice In Chains’ trademark vocal style on “Virtual Death”.  That double tracked vocal melody could have come right off Dirt.

10. “Evil Eye” — Another puzzling Cross Purposes selection.  I can’t think of a reason to include it.  There was once a legend that “Evil Eye” was co-written by Eddie Van Halen, who went uncredited.  The same rumour suggested that Van Halen either performed the guitar solo or wrote the solo for Iommi to play.  Joe Seigler of black-sabbth.com has busted this rumour as false.   My two tracks from this album would have been “I Witness” (fast one) and “Cross Of Thorns” (slow one).

11. “Kiss Of Death” — Finally we arrive at the end of the Martin years with the dreadful Forbidden album. It’s sad because it wasn’t the end that Tony Martin deserved. The album just got out of hand and next thing you know, Ozzy was back. This track was at least one of the strongest ones. A killer, slow closer with some unbelievable Cozy Powell drum fills, if it had been recorded right it would have just slammed you in the face.

12. “Guilty As Hell” — Another Forbidden track, and one of the weakest. “Can’t Get Close Enough” should have been subbed in. Just filler.

13. “Loser Gets It All”TREASURE!  The Japanese Forbidden bonus track, finally available domestically! (Please note, the Cross Purposes Japanese bonus track “What’s The Use” is still unreleased outside Japan, dangit.) This song, a shorty just over 2 minutes, is actually stronger than all the other Forbidden stuff. Good riff, good keyboards, not bad sounding. Shame it was buried on a Japanese release.  Why?  Who knows.  Maybe Tony Martin does.  Tony, drop me a line.  I’d love to talk.

And that finishes the final IRS album, and the final one for Martin. He’d been replaced once before by Dio, and now finally by the once and future Ozzy, and it’s all over for him.  Since then he’s taken a back seat to his more famous predecessors, although he released the strongly reviewed (by me) Scream solo album in 2005.  He also did a number of albums with guitarist Dario Mollo, two of which I own but have to revisit.

There are three “bonus tracks”, songs that were included under license, from the period before the IRS years.  The inclusion of these songs really make the album a fun listen.

14. “Disturbing The Priest” — My favourite incarnation of Sabbath was 1983’s Gillan/Iommi/Butler/Ward and this is my favourite song from Born Again. It’s so evil you’ll feel like you need to confess your sins after listening! I have no idea how Gillan managed such demonic screams. Brilliant selection!

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15. “Heart Like A Wheel” — I’m actually quite fond of the Glenn Hughes fronted album, Seventh Star, but this song has no place on this album. Granted Sabbath played it live on the ’86 tour with Ray Gillen subbing in for Hughes, but it’s too slow and bluesy. The title track or “In For The Kill” should have been subbed in.

16. “The Shining” — Tony Martin triumphantly ends the album with his first single with Black Sabbath.  “The Shining” has a vintage Iommi riff, and more ungodly high notes. There are early demos of this song from before Tony joined the band, with other singers, as Iommi had this riff a long time before.  A 1984 demo entitled “No Way Out” was recorded with Ian Gillan’s short-lived replacement singer, David “Donut” Donato.  Then it was re-written and re-sung by Ray Gilllen, and this version was recently released on the Eternal Idol deluxe edition. Tony Martin’s version then is the third incarnation of the song that I have, and it’s a triumphant one.  I love the way this album was bookended with Tony Martin songs.

That’s the CD: 80 MINUTES LONG! You just can’t argue with cramming that much music onto one disc. And yes, you can get 80 minutes onto a CD, and this album is the proof.

While I have argued against the inclusion of some songs, by and large this is a well-made compilation, for a record company cash-grab. Considering the Martin years have been buried, I think it is well worth owning. I listened to it all the time.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Forbidden Rough Mix (bootleg)

BLACK SABBATH – Forbidden Rough Mix (bootleg CD)

Black Sabbath’s Forbidden album has a unique place in the Sabbath canon.  It is almost universally condemned by casual and hard core Sabbath fans alike.  I am one of the many who did not like Forbidden, and you can read about why right here.  It was also the final studio album released under the Black Sabbath name, until now.

Forbidden should have been great.  It had the uber-talented Tyr lineup of Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Cozy Powell, and Neil Murray.  Even with all that muscle, it came out as the weakest Sabbath album ever, probably hindered by Ernie C’s limp production.  I was eager to get my hands on the “rough mix” of Forbidden, which supposedly sounded a lot better.

This CD, simply titled Forbidden Rough Mix is dubbed from a cassette.  That said, it sounds a lot better than any cassette I’ve ever dubbed.  It’s bootleg quality, and I’m fine with that.  The only unfortunate thing is that it is all instrumental versions.  You can hear some of Tony Martin’s vocal bleeding through from somewhere, but it’s not mixed in.  Maybe he was singing scratch vocals in the studio for the band to play along with.  I know that Forbidden was a time of upheaval in the band, with Martin not knowing if he was in or out at any given time.  Ice T was coming in to lay down his own vocal tracks, and nobody would tell Tony if this was for the whole album, one song, part of one song, or what the deal was.

Anyway, if you were hoping for better sounding versions of the Forbidden songs, then this might be as close as you get.  Even though it’s the same album, this version sounds somehow faster and heavier.  It’s some kind of audio illusion, because the drums are unfettered, and you can hear the cool bass runs.  Neil Murray’s bass is much more interesting than it comes across on the original album.   Everything sounds more Sabbathy.   There’s some stunning guitar work buried in there.  This could have been a great album.

Even though it’s just instrumental, the title track “Forbidden” is so much better than the album version.  I can listen to Cozy’s drums!  There’s a lot more keyboards, as performed by Geoff Nicholls in this mix.  Even “The Illusion of Power”, one of the worst songs on the original album, is a cool, traditional sounding Black Sabbath death march on this CD.  Throw an eerie sounding Ozzy lead vocal on top of this instrumental track, and you could have had something appropriate for the Volume 4 album.

‘Tis a shame.  A bloody shame.  There’s been a rumour floating around for years that Tony Iommi is trying to get this album re-released in deluxe edition format.  If that’s the case, great but I’m not counting on it.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – The Eternal Idol (deluxe edition)

I’m addicted to buying these deluxe editions.  I think this is the last of my Black Sabbath deluxes. Check out more of my Sabbath deluxe reviews by clicking here!

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BLACK SABBATH – The Eternal Idol (2010 deluxe edition)

The years of chaos were seemingly coming to an end as Black Sabbath stabilized into a solid core of Tony Iommi, Geoff Nicholls, and new lead singer Tony Martin. The drum and bass positions would continue to swirl for another year, right up until the Headless Cross tour. Getting to this point was not without struggle, and this new Deluxe Edition illustrates this beautifully.

I’m going to sidestep the issue of “Does The Eternal Idol really deserve the Deluxe Edition treatment?” and just be glad it’s out. There are, after all, two B-sides here that were ridiculously expensive to acquire on 12″ vinyl. Those songs, “Some Kind of Woman” and the original version of “Black Moon” (which would later be re-recorded on Headless Cross) finally complete the Eternal Idol picture. And they’re not bad songs either, particularly “Black Moon”. “Strange Kind of Woman” I haven’t wrapped my head around yet. It’s this uptempo boogie rocker, and aside from “Blue Suede Shoes” I don’t think I’ve ever heard Black Sabbath boogie before. But it’s not bad, Tony’s playing is awesome, but maybe…ill advised is the term I’m looking for?

The bonus disc is the entire album’s original recording with former vocalist Ray Gillen (their seventh singer) before he was replaced by Martin (their eigth). This had been mostly available on a very common bootleg called The Ray Gillen Years, but missing a couple tracks. Now, the entire album as recorded by Gillen can be heard, and in much better sound quality.  Gillen was a very different type of singer, bluesier, very Coverdale-esque.  He later reappeared with his Sabbath-mate Eric Singer in Jake E. Lee’s Badlands.

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I can still remember keeping up with the Sabbath story via their music videos on MuchMusic. I was surprised when I saw that the “new” singer, the bearded Glenn Hughes, had been replaced by the much cooler looking Tony Martin. Skeptical, I watched the video for the first and only single “The Shining”. Lo and behold, the song was awesome! The riff (which goes back to an old unreleased Sabbath song from 1984 called “No Way Out”, featuring a lineup of Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward and David “Donut” Donato) was powerful and epic.  As good as any riffs Sabbath had done with Ronnie James Dio. The new chorus shimmers with intensity. This new singer rocked! Unfortunately, Martin would spend his entire career with a “mini-Dio” or “Dio-clone” tag. The similarities are that Martin has a similar range and equal amount of power, but not the grit, and a different character. Fortunately for him, Martin would stick around for 5 albums, but never shook the “replacement singer” tag.

Aside from “The Shining”, I find The Eternal Album to lack lustre. “Glory Ride” is the only other song that was single-worthy, a great romp that reminds me heavily of “Strange Wings” by Savatage (a song that featured Ray Gillen on backing vocals, coincidentally!) The rest of the songs…well, they ain’t bad, I guess. They’re just unremarkable, which is not good for a band that has seldom been anything but.  “Born To Lose” is fast and furious, as is “Lost Forever”. “Scarlet Pimpernel” is one of those atmospheric Sab instrumentals that they were known for in the early days, and its inclusion was very wise. However, the songs so tend to meld into one another, with only “The Shining” and “Glory Ride” making my personal Sabbath road tapes.

I mentioned the creation of this album was chaotic. Aside from the replacement of the lead singer position mid-album, there were also two drummers: Eric Singer departed to be replaced by ex-Sabbath drummer Bev Bevan! But by the tour, Bevan would be replaced by ex-The Clash drummer (Dr.) Terry Chimes. Dave (brother of Dan) Spitz partially recorded the bass to be replaced by ex-Rainbow and Ozzy bassist Bob Daisley. Daisley was gone before the video for “The Shining” was filmed, to be replaced by a mystery man who nobody bothered to catch the name of. You can see him in the video. The story goes, they needed a bassist for the video and pulled this guy off the street. For the tour, Jo Burt filled the bassist slot. Neither Chimes nor Burt would stick around to the next album, Headless Cross.

Did you get all that?

The Eternal Idol was a crucial step towards solidifying Black Sabbath once again, after the chaos of the previous years, but it would be the next album, Headless Cross, that was a resounding return. A much more solid album, Headless featured the new nucleus of the two Tonys and the legendary Cozy Powell on drums. Session bassist Lawrence Cottle (a great fretless player) was replaced for the while by Cozy’s longtime rhythm partner, Neil Murray. That lineup of Powell, Murray, Iommi and Martin (always with Geoff Nicholls on keys) would prove to be one of the most stable in the band’s history and the one that I saw when I first saw Sabbath live in 1995 on the Forbidden tour.

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. My point was to show that this album was really not the “comeback” that it could have been, but merely a step towards rebuilding Black Sabbath. You have to admire Tony Iommi for not giving up. The Eternal Idol is not for those fans who just like Ozzy, or just like Dio. Eternal Idol is for the metal maven who wants to know every chapter in the band’s history. Otherwise, I can’t recommend it, except for the two songs “The Shining” and “Glory Ride”. Purchase accordingly.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Forbidden (1995)

BLACK SABBATH – Forbidden (1995, bonus track)

Once upon a time Black Sabbath were the most vital metal band around, but not in 1995.  The 80’s and early 90’s were much rougher, with a rotating lineup of singers, drummers, and bass players. Only original member Tony Iommi and longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls weathered the storm consistently.

Bill Ward and Geezer Butler were both playing in Black Sabbath again in late 1994, but by 1995 both had bailed (for the umpteenth time) again.  That left Iommi with Nicholls and singer Tony Martin not knowing what was going to happen next.  There were rumours in the press that Ice T (yes, Ice T) would be soon joining Sabbath.

That didn’t happen (thank God!) and the lineup here is nothing but pure heavy metal pedigree.  It is also a reunion of the 1989-1991 Tyr band.  Neil Murray and Cozy Powell were back on bass and drums.  This would be Murray’s second and Powell’s third Sabbath album.  Murray and Powell, of course, also did time together in Whitesnake, forming a rock solid rhythm section that only great chemistry can produce.

So what happened? What went wrong? Why does Forbidden suck so bad?

The reasons are threefold. One, the album was rushed out amid much confusion within the band. Rumours of Ozzy’s return abounded and Martin didn’t know if he was in or out. Morale sucked.  Second, the record company insisted on a more “current” sound. Thus, the album was produced by Body Count’s Ernie C, and I guess that is the connection to Ice T, who guest raps on the opening track.   Third, I think the album was recorded in roughly a week and doesn’t really sound finished.  Rather, it sounds like a demo sonically and song-wise, with all the filler songs that don’t normally make it to a released album.

Powell, normally a thunderous drummer, is reduced here to a dry hollow whollop thanks to Ernie C’s crummy production.  It’s too bad because Cozy is playing some serious awesome drums that you can’t hear properly.  The entire album suffers, the vocals sound raw and rushed, and the songs smack of second rate tunage.  Granted, everybody knows that Iommi has bags and bags of tapes full of riffs, and some of these riffs are great. However, a riff cannot make a song, and without decent vocal hooks, this Sabbath album is as flat as they come.

It is truly a shame that Tony Martin had to go out with this as his final Sabbath album, after years of loyalty and being dumped twice! I saw them on this tour, and they were great. Shame they were supporting a terrible album.

Highlights:

“Can’t Get Close Enough” is close indeed to being a great song, but not quite. It has a great mellow intro and then this incredible distorted riff kicks in, but the vocal track is slightly underwhelming.

“Kiss of Death” is the closing epic, and best song on the album. Cozy’s drum rolls are like the thunder of Valhalla by the time you get to the choruses and outro. The song reaks of anger and betrayal. “Nothing you can do will hurt me, I am indestructible,” sings Martin over a slow, powerful riff.  Wonder if he knew the writing was on the wall as far as his tenure in the band went.

And that’s it. “Rusty Angels” and “Forbidden” have great riffs but are otherwise not noteworthy. “I Won’t Cry For You” had potential as a ballad, but is inferior in every way to similar songs like “Feels Good To Me”, for example. This album is so dead, so lifeless, not even the grim reaper on the cover can be bothered to stand up.

I know some critisized the cover of this album as being too cartoony, but once you open it up and get the full picture, it is much better. The reaper is sitting next to a tomb, and out from the tomb are the ghosts of all five Sabbath members, Ice T, Ernie C, and lots of ghouls and goblins, done in MAD Magazine type charicatures. It’s a rare fun cover from a band that usually takes its doomy image far too seriously.

Shame that the album isn’t as fun. In the 15 years (and counting) since I bought it, I can usually count on it as a sleeping aid. It’s just that boring.

1/5 stars

OF NOTE: Japanese version had a bonus track, a short 2 minute song called “Loser Gets It All”. It is, sadly, the best track on the album. The good news is that you can get it on a compilation album called The Sabbath Stones if you can’t find the Japanese version.

Side one
1. “The Illusion of Power”
2. “Get a Grip”
3. “Can’t Get Close Enough”
4. “Shaking Off the Chains”
5. “I Won’t Cry for You”

Side two
6. “Guilty as Hell”
7. “Sick and Tired”
8. “Rusty Angels”
9. “Forbidden”
10. “Kiss of Death”

Japanese bonus track
11. “Loser Gets It All”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSHOq_bhMwI&w=560&h=315]

Part 136: Black Sabbath, July 22 1995 (REVIEW!)

Sadly, my concert review for this show no longer exists.  Ye olde floppy discs don’t exist anymore, and the site that once hosted the review (sabbathlive.com) no longest exists.  Therefore I’m forced to re-write this as a Record Store Tale.

RECORD STORE TALES PART 136:  Black Sabbath July 22 1995

July 22, 1995.  Tom, myself, and a few of the boys decided to go see Black Sabbath.  They were playing Lulu’s Roadhouse, the world’s longest bar, with Motorhead opening.  It felt like a step down for both bands, but the place was packed.

We arrived just before Lemmy hit the stage.  They ripped into a scorching set to promote their latest album, the high-octane Sacrifice.   I remember Lemmy introducing the title track:  “Don’t try to dance to this one or you’ll break both your fucking legs!”  At the end of their set, Motorhead promised to return (and they did a year later).

I remember Tom and I being blown away by Motorhead.  I didn’t own any — this show officially was what made me a fan.  I kicked myself for not really paying attention to them earlier, but better late than never eh?

Motorhead remain today one of the best bands I’ve seen.

But I was there to see Black Sabbath.  We moved closer to the front of the stage to be in position.  We chose a spot perfectly between where the two Tony’s would be, right up front.

The crowd was getting a little drunk and restless.  A fight started…well, I hesitate to really call it a fight,  it was over before it started.  We all turned around to see this big huge dude headbutt this little tiny Kurt Cobain looking guy.  Knocked him out cold.  Then the big guy realized everybody was watching and hastily made an exit.

Then, Black Sabbath:  Tony Iommi, Tony Martin, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, and Geoff Nicholls.  What we didn’t know was that Cozy only had seven more gigs after this one.  Then he would be replaced by another Sabbath vet, Bobby Rondinelli.  And of course little did I know that I’d never see Cozy live again in any band:  He was killed in a car accident 3 years later.

They hit the stage to the classic Martin-era opener, “Children of the Grave”.  Sabbath’s set was sprinkled with tunes from the Ozzy era (“War Pigs”, “Iron Man”, “Paranoid”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Black Sabbath”) and the Dio era (“Heaven and Hell”, “Mob Rules”) and many of his own tracks.  They played three from the lacklustre new record, but at least three of the better songs:  an awesomely dramatic “Kiss Of Death”, the explosive “Can’t Get Close Enough”, and the filler song “Get A Grip”.

It was just before “Get A Grip” that the stagediving began.  Tom vacated the stage area right away.  “Get a grip is right!” he said to me.  “I’m out of here.”  Two songs later I followed him.  This drunk girl started grinding me from behind, so I took the first chance to slip away and catch up with Tom.

The one song I really came to see was “The Shining”, one of the best Martin-era tunes, and his first single with the band.  Sabbath delivered.  They also played two from Headless Cross including “When Death Calls”.  Neil Murray played the chiming bass intro to this song that I’d never heard before.  It was the only unfamiliar song.  I resolved to get Headless Cross as soon as possible.  (It took two months for Orange Monkey Music in Waterloo to get it from Europe.)

Vague memories:

Tony Martin was a so-so frontman.  Much of the time, he would spread his arms Christ-like and shake his thinning hair.  He talked a lot and I remember he had small, beady but friendly looking eyes.  He did the best he could.  He sang his ass off, although he had lost a fair chunk of his range.

I remember Iommi ditched his SG for an unfamiliar red guitar during the overdriven “Can’t Get Close Enough”.

I could barely see Cozy, which is my biggest regret.

I was pleased that Sabbath played a well-rounded set with new stuff.

Little did I know that the end was near.  Not only was Cozy soon to be out, but promoters cancelled much of the end of the tour.  Sabbath headed over to Japan, threw “Changes” into the set (OMG!) but were done by the end of the year.  For the first time in a long time, Sabbath were put on ice while Tony (Iommi) worked on a solo album with Glenn Hughes.

Meanwhile, the lawyers were conspiring to create a new/old Sabbath lineup.  By 1997, Ozzy was back, and the band now featuring founding members Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and new drummer Mike Bordin of Faith No More.

I’m glad  to have seen Sabbath with Martin.  He did five albums, and I like three of them.  I think he did the best he could under difficult circumstances.  He’s a talented guy, so it’s great to have seen this lineup especially since Cozy would be gone so soon!