In the introduction to the DVD, we see Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler driving to the Rod Lever Arena in Melbourne. There are backstage shots of the crew, the soundboard monitors, the dressing rooms where the three legendary players warm up, Butler with his bass, Iommi working out a riff and Osbourne on a stationary bike. There are fan testimonials, parents in Venom t-shirts talking about how Sabbath is the best thing that ever happened to rock and roll and whatnot. For some reason, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith are there — I guess they were in town. Then the siren blares, the screen goes black and as the drums start the intro to “War Pigs,” the band’s logo appears on screen in its wavy Master of Reality font: Black Sabbath. With Live… Gathered in Their Masses (Vertigo/Republic Records), the forefathers of doom chronicle two nights in Melbourne on their Spring 2013 Australian tour. It was the first round of dates they did to herald the arrival of the Rick Rubin-produced 13 (review here), the first Osbourne-fronted Sabbath album since 1978’s Never Say Die. Alongside such classics as “Into the Void,” “Black Sabbath” and “Symptom of the Universe,” 13 cuts “Loner,” “Methademic,” “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” are aired, totaling about an hour and 43 minutes of footage — more if you get the deluxe edition, which also has “Under the Sun” and CD version of the release, etc.
Anyone who followed Sabbath in 2013 or approached the new album with realistic expectations should probably know what they’re getting. This isn’t a warts-and-all kind of bootleg, it’s a commercial live release culled from two distinct shows. It’s been gone over in the studio, cleaned up. Its sound is crisp, its editing is tight, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are brilliant, Ozzy does his best with the voice he has left, and they are, of course, well received by the Aussie crowd(s). Like 13 itself, Live… Gathered in Their Masses was never going to be anything innovating, but it’s a set-piece for fans and there you go. Most of the shots of drummer Tommy Clufetos — listed as a “guest musician” along with keyboardist Adam Wakeman (son of Yes‘ Rick Wakeman) — are from behind when they’re just of him, and the stage design is the same large oblong triple-screen they had on their subsequent US arena run. Are they the original Sabbath? Nope. Any mention of drummer Bill Ward? Nope. Does Live… Gathered in Their Masses stack up to, say, the utter brilliance of their Paris 1970 bootleg? Nope. Is it as close as you’re ever going to get at this point? Yeah, probably. Much as with the gig I caught on the US tour (review here), by the time they played “Into the Void,” I felt like I got what I came for. The difference was that with Live… Gathered in Their Masses, it’s the second song, though the highlight of the whole release might just be an up-close look at Butler stomping his wah pedal at the start of “N.I.B.,” near the halfway point of the set.
Clufetos‘ drum solo after “Symptom of the Universe” lasts a full six minutes — pretty bold for a DVD, though I think that’s shorter than it actually was live — before he thuds out the kick intro to “Iron Man,” and as Iommi chugs out the intro to “Children of the Grave,” it’s easy to remember what made me a Sabbath fan in the first place. The bass could stand to be higher in the mix — always — but they keep it together the whole time, Osbourne lagging some toward the end but keeping his command of the crowd firm throughout. “Children of the Grave” is sandwiched by “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” (the latter the first song of the encore), and as they did later in the year, they tease the intro to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” before going into the encore of “Paranoid.” Why not just play the song? I don’t know, but at least they’re consistent. “Dirty Women” and “Electric Funeral” are relegated to bonus-track status, but “Paranoid” sounds like as much of a race as ever, the band building ample adrenaline to get them across the finish line. By that point, Osbourne is pretty much hunched over, but they’re still laughing like jerks and you do get a sense of the legendary frontman in the class-clown role even as he stomps his feet — that exercise bike obviously having done some good — while Clufetos keeps a steady if somewhat mechanical beat behind, a metal drummer with some swing. When it’s done, a few kisses are blown, a bow is taken and they split as the credits start to roll.
Fans who know what they’re getting and still want to get it will, and anyone who didn’t see them on tour in 2013 who wants to get a feel for what they missed or maybe did see them and wants to relive the experience — this is the audience for Live… Gathered in Their Masses. I don’t think the intention here was to make history anyway. The cynical view is it’s a cash-grab, but if that’s the case, it’s no more true of Live… Gathered in Their Masses than of the whole reunion, and for all its polish, the DVD is a representation of the live performance that at very least Black Sabbath — such as they are — are entitled to make.