It’s been a quick four years since the passing of Ronnie James Dio. One of heavy metal’s most principle figures, an inimitable voice that continues to ring out a righteousness that the entire genre in its wake has aspired to, Dio succumbed to stomach cancer on May 16, 2010. From The Vegas Kings through Elf, Rainbow, Black Sabbath, Dio and, finally, Heaven and Hell, his was a legacy a lifetime in the making. He was there at metal’s birth, and as a frontman and the architect of some of its most landmark moments — from Rainbow‘s Long Live Rock and Roll to Black Sabbath‘s Dehumanizer — he was human, had his ups and downs, but was as close to a god as anyone singing in a rock and roll band ever could. Truly larger than life, as the inspiration he continues to spark proves every day.
Though at the time of his death he was talking about getting back with the Dio band and creating the second and third parts of what would have made a trilogy out of the narrative to the 2000 concept album, Magica, his last studio-recorded output was Heaven and Hell’s The Devil You Know(review here), which reunited him with Black Sabbath‘s Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Vinny Appice. They toured on that album, were a stately live act, and did justice to the Dio-fronted Sabbath more than I think anyone could have anticipated. Thinking about hearing them play “Falling off the Edge of the World” from 1981’s Mob Rules, I still get a chill up my spine.
That song, the penultimate on the Mob Rules before the epilogue of “Over and Over,” is just one of the factors making the album so essential. The follow-up to Sabbath‘s 1980 debut with Dio in the vocalist role replacing Ozzy Osbourne, Heaven and Hell, it built on that record stylistically, whether it was Iommi making another toss-off single into a landmark opener with “Turn up the Night,” or the bizarre sway of “Country Girl,” the epic “Sign of the Southern Cross” or the sing-along in the making “Slipping Away,” Mob Ruleswas an album that ingrained itself on heavy metal’s consciousness, and its reverberations continue to be felt. Through his work, timeless, Ronnie James Dio remains vital and very much present. Here. We may never get another Dio album — posthumous live releases, collections and tributes notwithstanding — or another tour, but Dio‘s catalog is a canon that generations to come will explore and grow to love, just as generations have done for the last 40-plus years.
Quick week, but I guess that’ll happen without a Monday. I was driving back north from being in New Jersey last weekend. Didn’t hear any complaints and wouldn’t really expect to, but in case anyone was wondering what was up, that was it. Pretty rare at his point that I’ll take a whole day off between Monday and Friday, but every now and then it’s unavoidable. Believe me, as I sat in the seemingly eternal traffic of I-95 North, the compulsion was there.
Heading out to see Swans in Boston tomorrow, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve been battling in my head back and forth which show I’m more excited for, them or Fu Manchu, but I think it’s a different appeal either way. That Fu show is on Tuesday, and I’ll have a review on Wednesday. Next Friday, Negative Reaction come north. They’re always a good time as well, and it’s been a minute at this point, so I’m looking forward to that too. Doesn’t look like there’s much of a way to lose.
Well, changing up the radio adds modus seems to have fallen flat at least in terms of the immediate response, but I’ll keep it going for a bit anyway, see if anything catches on. Can’t really judge anything by its first day, especially on a Friday. Was grateful to see the Fu Manchu review getting shared around. Hey, it’s the internet. I don’t get a lot of comments, so I take what I can get in terms of judging a response. If that’s Facebook likes for the time being, then until something else comes along, so be it. I appreciate it all, each one, everything. Thanks to everybody who downloaded the podcast as well. It’s been a while since I was able to do one of those, and I was glad to see there were still a few people interested.
There’s more stuff next week I’d like to plug, but it’s late and I’d rather just let the Sabbath ride out. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please check out the forum and radio stream.
Posted in Reviews on December 26th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
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,” 13cuts “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 Masseswas 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 Massesstack 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.
“What the hell are you going to do with those?” asked The Patient Mrs. when I got back to the car and showed her the two Black Sabbath 8-track tapes I’d bought at the annual “Not Just” Rock Expo outside of Philadelphia this past Friday afternoon. It was a fair question. My answer was somewhat less reasoned: “Set up an altar and worship them as gods, who fucking cares?”
My point, expressed with my usual eloquence, was that it wasn’t about listening to Heaven and Hell and Sabbath‘s 1970 self-titled debut — which I can do at this point on any number of physical media — but just about enjoying owning the albums on this format. And hell, if I wind up with an 8-track player someday, at least I’ll know what to put on first. Whether that came through or not, I was greeted with the usual rolled eyes and a, “Time to go.” Fair enough. We were already running late.
This was the 27th “Not Just” Rock Expo — it’s actually put together by the same dude who does the Second Saturday Record Show in Wayne, NJ, that I’ve enjoyed many times in the past — and it just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Held in Oaks, PA, which is northwest of Philly, this past Friday and Saturday, normally, it’d be well out of my geographic range at this point for a day trip, but The Patient Mrs. and I (also the little dog Dio) spent Thanksgiving in Maryland. Friday found us heading back north to see family in New Jersey, so the “Not Just” Rock Expo was more or less on the way, and that’s just how I sold The Patient Mrs. on the idea of making a stop.
The GPS took us what felt like halfway across PA, but we got there eventually and found the hangar-sized room where the expo was happening. Three long, two-sided rows of vendors were set up, and there was a good crowd there. I recognized a few faces from shows and such, and while it might not have been just rock, there certainly was enough of it. It seemed like almost every table, save perhaps that run by King Fowley of Deceased, had one or another kind of Beatles memorabilia on offer, but there were plenty of other ways to spend money as well. More money than I had, but I did alright. The first place I looked had Death‘s Individual Thought Patterns on tape for like two bucks, so I made that happen, and an original Alternative Tentacles pressing of Neurosis‘ Souls at Zerothat I’ve very much enjoyed revisiting despite a skip or two in “The Web,” as well as Death in 3s by Meatplow, which I picked up essentially because I recognized the name and thought it would be fun. So far that’s worked out.
Across the aisle was a vendor who had an entire section devoted solely to Repertoire Records reissues. Fuck me. But for the ones I already owned, I probably could’ve shelled out $300 on that stuff alone and walked out of the “Not Just” Rock Expo with a smile on my face. I didn’t. Money’s tight, and sooner or later I’d have to buy gas to get back up to Massachusetts, so I nabbed the digipak version of Atomic Rooster‘s In Hearing Ofand left it at that. By then, The Patient Mrs. had adjourned to the car, but I made my way through at what was apparently a leisurely place — when it was over, I seemed to have lost an extra hour in there somewhere — finding other odds and ends along the way like a Nuclear Blast edition of the first Count Raven CD, a full-jewel-case promo (imagine such a thing!) for Russian Circles‘ debut, Enter, and a cheap tape copy of Band of Gypsysthat made the rest of the ride to Jersey a little easier to take, despite traffic.
Toward the end of the last row, a guy who had some other decent stuff as well was selling a copy of the 2007 split between Sons of Otis and Queen Elephantine for $20. I wanted it. I was decently enough past my spending limit, however, so I offered the $13 in my hand, he said no, and I put the disc back. The one that got away. More the fool I, since I can’t seem to find the CD version online anywhere. That’ll show me not to recklessly shell out dollars.
It was a downer note to end on, but overall, I can’t really complain. I hadn’t even known the “Not Just” Rock Expo existed until reading a post about it Thanksgiving night on Thee Facebooks, so considering that and the tri-format haul, I’d say I did alright. They’ve already got the space booked for the 28th installment of the “Not Just” Rock Expo (their website is here), and if you happen to be in the area, it seems like a good way to make yourself late to wherever you might be headed next.
Queen Elephantine, “The Battle of Massacoit/The Weapon of the King of Gods”
It’s well documented at this point that by the time 1976 rolled around, Black Sabbath had demolished the majority of their brain cells. If you ever need proof of this, look no further than the immediate drop in quality between 1975’s Sabotage, which brought such classics as “Hole in the Sky” and “Symptom of the Universe,” and 1976’s Technical Ecstasy, which languished in the comparative mediocrity of “Rock and Roll Doctor” and “It’s Alright.” It’s like you could pinpoint the exact moment where they traded pot for cocaine for real (“Snowblind” notwithstanding) and where the music took a backseat to the chemicals their money could buy.
Of course, they toured for several more years before giving Ozzy Osbourne the boot in 1978, and got it together enough to put out Never Say Die before that, which though it was a far cry even from the heights of 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbathlet alone the sacred texts of their first four albums, was still a step up from Technical Ecstasy, which was arguably the nadir creatively of the band’s first Osbourne-fronted run — Black Sabbath‘s actual rock bottom would come years later, prior to reuniting with Ozzy in the late ’90s — and a record that while it showed some stylistic experimentation on a song like “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” wound up an utter bore.
Which brings me around to “Dirty Women” and Sabbath‘s Fall 1976 North American tour in support of Techincal Ecstasy. It’s a cut that Sabbath played even up to their latest US run, which heralded another reunion with Osbourne and the long-awaited new studio album, 13(review here), and I don’t know if they wrote it so that the ladies in their audience would take their tops off in the arena crowds, but the softcore vintage porn they played while trotting out the chorus seemed hopeful. Probably less likely in 2013 — these are mothers who’ve brought their children to the show! — than it was in 1976.
I’ve chased down a couple bootlegs from that ’76 tour, and almost universally, Sabbath are a trainwreck. Osbourne was never one for remembering lyrics when the band were at the top of their game, but even up to Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward‘s playing, they’re like the dudes at their own party who threw up on the rug. Just a mess.
I’m not a big fan of the song “Dirty Women,” but in the context of that tour and of the utter self-directed wrecking ball that Black Sabbath became in that era, it’s perfect. Of the versions I’ve heard from that tour, the soundboard recording from Pittsburgh, taped Dec. 8, at the Civic Arena for the King Biscuit Flower Hour is my favorite. It’s raw and raunchy and caked in its own crust like nothing else from Sabbath that I’ve ever come across. When Osbourne starts in with, “Ohh dirty women,” he sounds like he’s about to fall over. I don’t know whether to cringe or laugh or travel back in time and call a doctor. Amazing.
Take a listen:
Black Sabbath, “Dirty Women” live in Pittsburgh, PA, Dec. 7, 1976
I just wanted to end this week with an album I love. On a high note, maybe, but even more than that, just something that I can’t see being the person I am without. So here we go, Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell. It’s not a record I can claim to be Johnny Groundfloor on — it came out a year before I was born — but it has touched me profoundly over the years and I’ve gone back to it over time the way you do to things when they become a part of who you are. It’s been a while since last I made my way through, and I’ve missed it. Fucking “Children of the Sea.”
Yeah, you can go ahead and argue in favor of Ozzy-fronted Sabbath. I don’t even necessarily disagree. The way I see it, Master of Realityis just about the best heavy album ever made. It’s apples and oranges — or for a comparison of two even more disparate things — Ozzy and Dio. I’m glad both exist, I’m glad Geezer Butler played in both and I’m happy to leave it at that.
What a week. If I was drinking, I’d already be drunk. I was out this afternoon to meet with a guy from the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center to explore funding options for buying a bar. It went like this: “Uh, I see here you’re poor. There’s no funding for poor people.” I’m not out yet, though that was a fun hit to take. Then I went to the grocery store and had — not one, but two! — debit cards declined. I was doing a pretty good job on the maintaining thing, keeping my head together, but then it was time to break out Heaven and Hell, which is right up there in my book with watching Futurama in the dark.
Normally — though using such a word feels like a perversion of the concept — I’d probably follow up the one (Heaven and Hell) with the other (Futurama in the dark), but instead of sitting on my ass and wallowing in the waste of space and precious oxygen I’ve let myself become, I’m going out tonight. Gonna go catch Cortez and Pants Exploder at Radio in Somerville, then tomorrow there’s an early show for Esoteric and I might just hit that too, because fuck it, music’s still good.
There was a lot this week I didn’t get to post. In addition to reviews for one or both of the shows above, look for reviews to come of The Freeks and Mos Generator, an interview one way or another with Dave Wyndorf of Monster Magnet and some new audio from Supervoid. So there’s a lot as ever. I’ve got some work-type work to finish up, so I’m going to get through that while Heaven and Hellrounds out and then have a bite to eat before I head to Radio for that show. If you’re going, I hope I’ll see you there.
And even if not, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. If you get the chance, please hit up the forum and the radio stream.
Posted in Reviews on August 13th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Houses on the way into the Comcast Center had signs on their lawns advertising $30 parking. I guess earning a buck or two on the side is probably a good way to offset some of the annoyance that must be inevitable when you live next door to an amphitheater. People were taking advantage, too. By the time I pulled into the parking lot, there were pedestrians walking up alongside the car, eyes forward in pilgrimage concentration. It was Black Sabbath. Getting there was as top as priorities come.
I always forget the scale of these kinds of shows. The parking lot looked like a camp of heavy metal refugees. Ozzy and old Metallica blasted out of outside-of-this-parking-lot-I-drive-this-because-I’m-a-dad tailgating SUVs, lawn chairs were set up; grills ablaze, beers chugged, footballs thrown. For many, it looked like the only show they’d see this summer; and I don’t say that to condescend. Their appreciation was clear to discern through the ritual, and though it’s never been my thing, I find that admirable at least in concept. It was hard from the start not to view the night as a kind of religious experience.
The sun was setting over the hill and the sky turning pinkish-purple, and at the reasonable hour of 8:30PM, my planet and the planet on which reside the gods of doom themselves would align as Black Sabbath rolled through supporting their first number-one album and first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted outing since 1978’s Never Say Die, the Rick Rubin-produced 13.
Invariably, 13(review here) has been the subject of much debate since its release, with points ranging from “No Bill Ward, no Sabbath” to “What the hell did you expect?” finding ground and various levels of validity along the way. It’s an album I found underwhelming at best — overproduced as it was almost certain to be and doing little to capture the spirit it purported and attempted to of the band’s earliest works, with uninteresting drumming to back the otherwise stellar leads of Tony Iommi and always pivotal bass of Geezer Butler. It was never going to be a Sabbath landmark in any other than the commercial sense, and it wasn’t. Songs were catchy but largely undercut by a self-awareness that sapped them of the vitality they were shooting to hone, as heard on the single, “God is Dead?,” and the reinvention of one of their most essential works — the song “Black Sabbath” — that showed itself on album opener “End of the Beginning.”
Nonetheless, the record exists and it’s been talked about since the original lineup first reunited in 1997, so for that alone if not the actual songs, it’s an event. And if it gives me an excuse to go and watch Tony Iommi play guitar and Geezer Butler play bass for about two hours solid, I don’t care if it’s 45 minutes of Osbourne practicing making armpit farts, I’m going to see the band live. I went into it knowing what to expect and that it could be pretty rough depending on the night — they were still relatively lethal when I first saw them in 1998, but showed wear and tear over the years such that, when I last caught a show in 2005, I assumed it would be the final time — but honestly, I got what I came for by the time they were through “Into the Void,” which was the second song in the setlist. Everything else was gravy.
Perhaps less so opener Andrew W.K., who contrary to what I expected didn’t actually play a set so much as stand in a booth, toss out t-shirts and hit a couple quintessential rock tracks from AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, presumably off his iPod. The UK gets Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and the major-market US tour gets… Andrew W.K. as a half-assed fluffer/DJ? Really? Sleep and YOB popped into my head immediately as the first two on a list of acts worthy of opening the show. I don’t know if Sabbath‘s management were worried about being upstaged or if perhaps Andrew W.K. is just the best guy in the universe to tour with and he couldn’t get a band together in time, but it was worthy of a raised eyebrow and it got one. Hell, even give me Down as an opener and I’d understand where you’re coming from. It was puzzling.
But also short-lived. Andrew W.K. was gone as soon as he’d arrived, taking his raised podium with a hologram of his face on it with him, and a curtain was lowered as the stage was set for Black Sabbath. The place was filling up quickly as the already-stumbling crowd made its way to their seats or to the general-admission lawn behind, and they came on more or less right on time. The curtain lifted and there they were: Geezer Butler, Tony Iommi, Ozzy Osbourne down at the front of the stage, with drummer Tommy Clufetos on a high riser behind, backed by a trio of screens that showed shots of the band playing and sundry clips throughout of varying relation to what the songs were actually talking about — a stripper in a bejeweled gas mask during “Fairies Wear Boots” providing the night’s largest disconnect about halfway through.
Along with a trio of new songs spread throughout — “Age of Reason,” “End of the Beginning” and “God is Dead?” — the setlist was entirely comprised of material from the holy quadrilogy of Sabbath‘s first four albums, 1970’s Black Sabbath and Paranoid, 1971’s Master of Reality and 1972’s Vol. 4, save for a late inclusion of “Dirty Women” from 1976’s lackluster seventh album, Technical Ecstasy, which I found inexplicable until I realized as they started playing it that it was just an excuse to put vintage boobage on the screens behind, maybe in an effort to lull the largely-male audience into a trance and then snap them out of it with “Children of the Grave,” which closed the set proper, or maybe just to say, “thanks for showing up, enjoy some Bettie Page.” Whatever.
Osbourne and Iommi seemed at various points to have some issues with their monitors, but it didn’t have an effect on the sound in the front of the house, which was as huge and loud as I’m sure the neighbors could’ve possibly asked for, and by the time “Under the Sun” rolled into “Snowblind” and the ending section of “Age of Reason” reminded of one of 13‘s merits, the band was long since up to full speed. My seats were toward the left side of the stage, which put me in front of Butler, who held down that entire side of the stage with his usual subdued grace and sonic mastery. At the end of the show? Tony Iommi was smiling but tired in front of his Laney stacks, Clufetos looked like he had just run a marathon in jean shorts, Osbourne visibly reflected every second of the formidable calisthenic effort he put into the gig, and Geezer Butler came off like he could’ve played another two hours. And it’s not like he wasn’t going for it. He’s just that fucking good.
Of course I’m biased, but I don’t know how you could ever watch him play the “Bassically” intro to “N.I.B.” and not be. His foot on the wah, he set the tone for one of Sabbath‘s most quintessential riffs, and while Ozzy would later find his moment in “Iron Man” and Iommi seemed to relish and smile through every quiet measure of “Black Sabbath,” “N.I.B.” clearly belonged to the bassist and came off “Behind the Wall of Sleep” as naturally as one could hope. As regards Osbourne‘s performance, he rightly stuck to his comfort zone throughout the night and the set seemed to be constructed around that as well — nothing from the more vocally adventurous Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) orSabotage(1975), though the intro to “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” was tacked on as a precursor to the encore “Paranoid.” Neither he nor the years have been kind to his voice, but he did well to stay away from the highs in the “I don’t want to see you” lines toward the finish of “End of the Beginning” — opting not to sing those lines at all — and in cuts like “Black Sabbath” and the opener “War Pigs,” he delivered the notes with a charisma usually reserved for kings and the odd pope. Whatever else has come between them over the years, during “Into the Void” the frontman had his guitarist cracking up and he and Iommi walked off stage with their arms around each other at the finish of the set, the second half of which had taken a strange turn.
I guess it’s fair to expect Clufetos would have a drum solo. Gives the band time to rest and take a break, and as much as he’s not Bill Ward and by virtue of being a subsequent generation of heavy metal drummer can never bring to these songs the kind of swing that the man who wrote those parts could, Clufetos showed off a bit of groove and some considerable chops. But wow, it went on a long time. If you want to break the show into two 50-minute sets, fine, but to leave the guy out there for 10-plus minutes to carry an amphitheater crowd on the virtue of tom runs seemed like asking an awful lot. As with the rest of the show, he did his job well, but I was glad when he started the kick-drum thuds that announced “Iron Man” that he was soon rejoined by Butler, Osbourne and Iommi.
And whatever else one might say about the songs from 13, they are catchy — more infectious than good, particularly when paired with classics like “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Snowblind.” “God is Dead?” was followed by “Dirty Women,” and that was a bit of a lull, especially since I’d only just recovered from that drum solo, but “Children of the Grave” has the heaviest riff ever written and “Paranoid” was a necessary encore but also a welcome one, so Black Sabbath finished strong one way or another.
Maybe that’s what this tour is all about. It’s hard to imagine that since it took more than a decade for 13to surface, the sexagenarian metal forefathers will be in a hurry to get another one out — at least not before the requisite live album and DVD from this round of touring have surfaced — and once this album cycle is over, who knows? I would expect they’d make a return next summer or fall still in support of 13, but maybe this will have been my last time seeing Sabbath, and if that’s the case, again, I got what I went for by the second song, which makes it hard to complain about the rest.
Thanks for reading.
Black Sabbath, “Iron Man” Live at Comcast Center, Mansfield, MA, Aug. 12, 2013
Note: If you’re wondering at the lack of photos, I was asked by the band’s PR to restrict myself to one for the blog and did so out of respect to that request.
Posted in Features on July 18th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Prepare to be underwhelmed…
About two weeks ago, I took part with a slew of other alt-weekly journo types in a conference call with Ozzy Osbourne about the new Black Sabbath album, 13(review here). It was an hour long and there were I think 20 or so writers involved. Everyone, I was told, would get to ask at least one question.
I had never done a conference call before, and the idea seemed lame, but it was my only chance to get even a smattering of phone time with Ozzy and not-at-all-blown-away-by-13 though I was, I wasn’t going to miss probably the only chance I’d ever have to ask him anything, let alone something about the process of making this album after talking about it for so long.
Before calling in to the weird phone chat thing — like a partyline of people who’ve made terrible life choices — I made a list of questions to pick from should I be lucky enough to actually get a word in. All my questions were among the first asked, and not by me. By the time it was finally my turn to ask something, I had nothing left and had to come up with one on the fly.
So, after being a Sabbath fan for more than half my life and finally getting an opportunity to speak to Ozzy Osbourne himself (a man who has clearly had no shortage of media training), here’s how it went down — my question and a follow-up:
I just wanted to ask you a little bit about the sort of reception to the new material live. Obviously, there’s Sabbath’s catalog of classics, but in terms of mixing new songs in and the shows you’ve already done…
Ozzy Osbourne:So we recently went to New Zealand, Australia, and Japan, and we did a couple of the new songs. We said they’re all new. God, you’d think it had been released as a single or a first track off album, and so that – I remember when we played two shows in Auckland, New Zealand.
The first night they didn’t really respond much to it. The second night they’re all singing the lyrics with me. I’m going, I can’t even remember them that good. I mean, it’s good for us as well to do new stuff, because you know, we’re all tuned into “Iron Man,” “War Pigs,” “Paranoid,” and all of the old classics, but instead, it gives us as a band something refreshing to put into the show, and so I’m just glad that people have bought into the new songs.
You mentioned before the songs being in sort of a middle range you could bring live. How much of a consideration when you guys were writing the album was doing the songs live?
Ozzy Osbourne:Well, after keeping the people waiting for as long as we did, I certainly — I can still get the range, but I can’t do it onstage. Maybe one gig I can do it onstage, but then it’d be every other night, I mean, my voice gets tired you know? And so I personally specifically went in the studio and kept it a little comfortable range that I could do onstage, you know.
On the other end of the line from one of heavy metal’s true gods and I’m left asking about… playing the new songs live. As if he doesn’t shout, “Here’s one off the new album!” and everyone goes to get a beer in time to be back for “Into the Void.” I’d call it a bummer if it wasn’t so much better than nothing.
I didn’t attempt to dial in for another round, but didn’t hang up either, and just listened to the rest of the hour as other writers from around the country took turns flattering and lobbing softballs. The first question had been about Bill Ward and that got shut down pretty quickly to more or less set the tone. By the end of it, charismatic though Osbourne is and though — as with the record — I’d expected no more than I got, I had gone back to checking my email.
Posted in Reviews on June 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
I can no more pretend to be impartial about a new Black Sabbath album than I can about a member of my own family. Further, I don’t think any critic who can claim otherwise has any business reviewing 13, the first studio full-length by Black Sabbath proper since 1995’s Forbidden ended a lackluster streak with vocalist Tony Martin prior to a 1997 reunion with Ozzy Osbourne, the successor in many ways to guitarist Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler’s 2007 reunion with Ronnie James Dio that resulted in Heaven and Hell’s 2009 outing, The Devil You Know (review here), and an album which – had Dio survived his bout with stomach cancer – probably wouldn’t exist. Prior to Dio’s passing, Iommi – whose band Sabbath has always been – showed roughly no interest in getting back together with Osbourne at the fore and seemed content to let Black Sabbath’s original frontman languish on his path of a declining solo career. Sabbath had done live stints between 1997 and 2006, and in 1998 released the “Psycho Man” single to promote their aptly-titled Reunion double-live album, but another studio full-length with Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and drummer Bill Ward seemed like a daydream. Of course, it still is. In 2011, when the band announced they were together with the completion of an album in sight, the shockwave resonated far and wide, but a contract dispute with Ward resulted in Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk joining in his place for the recording of the Rick Rubin-produced 13. This would be narrative context enough were it not for 13’s being touted as an attempt to recapture the feel of the original Sabbath – untouchable records like 1970’s self-titled debut, the same year’s follow-up, Paranoid, the stonerly perfection of 1971’s Master of Reality and 1972’s Vol. 4 – and were it not for Iommi’s own cancer battle, which it’s easy to read 13 tracks like “End of the Beginning,” “Live Forever,” “God is Dead?” and “Damaged Soul” as reaction toward, regardless of whether or not they actually are.
First, whoever decided to bill 13 as a return to Sabbath’s heyday was a fool. 13 neither picks up where the band’s last Osbourne-fronted outing, 1978’s Never Say Die, left off, nor harkens back to the band’s earliest glories in any way other than periodically recycling a riff. As regards the production, it is stale in the modern commercial metal sense, and if Rubin’s stamp is anywhere on it, it holds about as much meaning in terms of authenticity as the “organic” produce at WalMart. Drums are triggered – for the most part, Wilk is a nonentity here, personality-wise, injecting simple fills and keeping a beat when called upon to do so (good work if you can get it) – guitars and bass are “corrected” and if there was any thought that Osbourne’s vocals were going to be presented in anything close to their natural state, let it be corrected by the ending apex of 13 opener “End of the Beginning,” on which he goes from his half-spoken drawl suddenly to suddenly pitch-perfect high notes for the line, “I don’t want to see you, yeah, yeah,” and then does it again – the irony being that in the prior verse come the lyrics, “You don’t want to be a robot ghost/Occupied inside a human host.” Granted, Dio’s vocals on The Devil You Know had pitch correction as well, and he sang to backup tracks on Heaven and Hell’s final tours, but he could sing! Osbourne could never hit the kinds of notes in “End of the Beginning.” In Sabbath, he had maybe three years where one would be right on a technical level to call him a singer and not only a frontman – 1974-1976 – and even then he knew better than to attempt such theatrics. It’s the first of many instances throughout of Black Sabbath playing it safe on 13, creating a sterile and in some cases cynical collection of self-aware heavy metal that only in the work of Iommi and Butler does any justice whatsoever to the band’s legacy. It’s an album they’ll be able to go out and tour on, but for fans of Sabbath who had some hope that 13 might come along and revitalize the career of one of the acts singularly responsible for the creation of heavy metal and its many subgenres – most particularly doom – all these eight tracks do is realize how foolish and unrealistic those hopes were in the first place.
All this I know, and then that utter lack of impartiality kicks in and I think of 13 as being Black Sabbath’s final album. I think of how closer “Dear Father” ends with the same sampled thunderstorm that starts their eponymous song at the beginning of Black Sabbath, the sheer foreboding meaning of that bookend in light of Iommi’s cancer – that this is it, that he’s dying – and even the lame, watered-down revisit of that atmosphere on “End of the Beginning” and the hackneyed lyrics of the following “God is Dead?” and “Loner” seem excusable as pathways to one last collection of Iommi riffs and solos, best accompanied as they’ve always been by Butler’s trailblazing bass work (the easy argument is that he’s the most vital member of the band, and 13 bears that out), and though it’s a shame Ward isn’t a part of it, shouldn’t I just take what I can get and as someone who’s had his life changed by Sabbath’s work be happy? Isn’t it enough that Sabbath have another record? Does it really need to be good, too?
Yes and no. As I said, 13 is an album that Black Sabbath – Iommi, Butler, Osbourne and Wilk or whoever they get – will be able to go out and tour arenas. They’ll put a couple new songs in the set along with the hits they’ve played on and off for over a decade, and if it’s to be Iommi’s last hurrah, no one will ever be able to say he didn’t earn it. Fans who saw them in their first run will go, younger fans will go, headbangers of all kinds of all generations, everywhere they go, the venues will be full. It will be successful. Even being panned by critics won’t matter – Sabbath have the armor of never having been a “critic’s band,” so that even though the critics now may be two generations’ worth of Sabbath fans critiquing a hollow representation of what made them legends, they’re protected by the number of people who show up, the sheer scale of their profile. Fine. Records like Master of Reality, Black Sabbath and 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath will belong to the underground no matter how many copies they sell, and for every one oldschool Sabbath fan who refuses to see what he or she alleges is a false version of the original band, two more are willing to buy that ticket. Neither side of the argument needs the other at this point, and history is on the band’s side – with over 20 people in and out of the lineup over the years, who’s to say what’s genuine? Sabbath will do what they will do to reach as broad an audience as possible – reuniting with Osbourne instead of, say, Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, with whom Iommi recently collaborated for the Whocares benefit single, speaks to wanting to gather maximum interest – and those unable to reconcile themselves to what the band has become don’t need to have a part in it if they choose to not. If Sabbath know the difference at this point, I certainly can’t imagine they give a rat’s ass. Ward was their tie to the authenticity they purported to be tapping into for the recording of 13, and they were quick enough to let him go. Does the album need to be good? Well, it needs a logo.