Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Mob Rules

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 16th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Black Sabbath, Mob Rules (1981)

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 Rules was 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.

Enjoy.

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.

The Obelisk Forum

The Obelisk Radio

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Black Sabbath, Live… Gathered in Their Masses: Transfer from Reality

Posted in Reviews on December 26th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

In the introduction to the DVD, we see Ozzy OsbourneTony 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 YesRick 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.

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Buried Treasure at the “Not Just” Rock Expo

Posted in Buried Treasure on December 3rd, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

“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 NeurosisSouls at Zero that 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 Of and 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 Gypsys that 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”

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Black Sabbath and the Dirtiest “Dirty Women”

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 11th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

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 Sabbath let 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

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 4th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Black Sabbath, Heaven and Hell (1980)

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 Reality is 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 Hell rounds 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.

The Obelisk Forum

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Live Review: Black Sabbath in Massachusetts, 08.12.13

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) or Sabotage (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 13 to 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.

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Here’s the One Question I Got to Ask Ozzy Osbourne about Black Sabbath’s 13

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.

And there you have it.

Black Sabbath, “Naïveté in Black” (2013)

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Black Sabbath, 13: At the End of the Storm

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.

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Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats to Support Black Sabbath on UK Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 17th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Wow. So this is a thing that happened. I knew Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats were kind of a big deal, but I guess I had no idea just how big. Apparently they’re a “Main Support to Black Sabbath” kind of big deal. Congrats to the band. Here’s the info off the PR wire:

UNCLE ACID ANNOUNCED AS MAIN SUPPORT SUPPORT TO BLACK SABBATH ON UK EUROPEAN TOUR. FULL PRESS RELEASE THIS TIME!!

Through the flickering flames of a pyre built from a thousand emaciated hipsters leap Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, black tongues distended and hair blown backwards…

The UK’s best new rock band are pleased to announce they have been invited by the legendary rock band Black Sabbath as the main support for their EU & UK arena tour in November and December 2013. The quartet have also been confirmed to play this year’s Reading / Leeds festival.

FULL DATES:
23-25-Aug UK Reading/ Leeds Reading/ Leeds Festival
20-Nov Finland Helsinki Hartwall Arena
22-Nov Sweden Stockholm Friends Arena
24-Nov Norway Oslo Telenor Arena
26-Nov Denmark Copenhagen Forum
28-Nov Netherlands Amsterdam Ziggo Dome
30-Nov Germany Dortmund Westfalenhalle
02-Dec France Paris Bercy
04-Dec Germany Frankfurt Festhalle
07-Dec Czech Republic Prague O2 Arena
10-Dec UK London O2 Arena
12-Dec UK Belfast Odyssey Arena
14-Dec UK Sheffield Motorpoint Arena
16-Dec UK Glasgow Hydro
18-Dec UK Manchester Arena Manchester Arena
20-Dec UK Birmingham LG Arena
22-Dec UK Birmingham National Indoor Arena

Formed in Cambridge by media-shy frontman K.R. Stars, in an era of profile building, brand-expanding and over-exposure Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats are a cult genuine phenomena. The dictionary definition of cult, in fact: “a system of religious worship, with reference to its rites and ceremonies. A group or sect bound together by veneration of the same ideal.” In this case: taking rock music back to its ritualistic beginnings when pagan heathens would stomp out a dirt-rhythm and howl at the moon. When music was the carnal catalyst for orgiastic midnight reckonings.

** New single Mind Crawler, with accompanying video to be released late August.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, “Mind Crawler” from Mind Control (2013)

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Ronnie James Dio — Three Years Ago Today

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 16th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

I just wanted to take a minute to mark out three full years since the passing of Ronnie James Dio. Short of thinking of every scumbag motherfucker still roaming the earth while he’s not and making myself angry, I’d rather not get lost in memorializing — everything’s been said and by people with better sentence structures than mine — but if heavy metal has a hall of immortals it’s only because Ronnie James Dio built it from the ground up. He remains, and will remain, much missed.

This clip of Dehumanizer-era Sabbath doing “Children of the Sea” is one of literally thousands out there, and if you find yourself lost among them and exploring one into the next into the next, I’m sure there are worse ways you could spend that time. Ronnie James Dio, 1942-2010.

Black Sabbath,”Children of the Sea” Live in Rio de Janeiro, 1992

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Here’s Why My Wife Fucking Rules — MACARONI SABBATH!

Posted in Visual Evidence on April 30th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

During the coverage of the first day of Roadburn 2013, in talking about my general sucktitude at existence, I said that the first meal I’d eaten in a couple days made me feel, “like someone had just given me a piece of particleboard with macaroni glued onto it in the shape of the cover to Volume 4, and by that I mean ready to take on the world.”

Well, I got off the airplane yesterday, and The Patient Mrs. presented me with this:

That’s right. It’s the cover of Black Sabbath‘s Vol. 4, made of dried pasta. She glued the pieces to a slab of slate — so much more doom than particleboard — and gave it to me as a homecoming present upon my return from the Netherlands and the UK last night. Rare are the times when I’ve felt more like someone in the universe truly understands who I am as a human being.

I’ve engaged in no shortage of The Patient Mrs.-worship in this space over the years, but seriously, in the days to come when I need an example of how fucking awesome my wife is — when perhaps I’m explaining to somebody about the dynamic of our relationship — I feel like I have a new milestone to work from. It’ll go like this: “I’m a self-absorbed jerk who does nothing that isn’t completely about me, and she made me Macaroni Sabbath. I’m the luckiest man in the world.”

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Frydee Black Sabbath – “Iron Man,” Live in Montreux, 1970

Posted in Bootleg Theater on March 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Yeah, I know I ain’t exactly pushing boundaries here by ending the week with Black Sabbath doing “Iron Man,” but this version — recorded in Montreux, Switzerland in 1970 — features one of the best Ozzy Osbourne lyric flubs I’ve ever heard, wherein the first part of the second verse becomes:

“Now he’s standing there
Iron Man don’t you dare
For he wants you to
Iron Man I love you.”

Brilliant. Yesterday, I was sitting at my office being fucking miserable listening to the no-indoor-voice dumbassery that plays out with unfortunate regularity, and then it hit me: I’m leaving, and not only am I leaving, but I’m going record shopping. I hit up Sound Exchange on the quick and in addition to a used copy of the last C.O.C. record (jewel case version), I got Sabbath‘s Live at Montreux 1970 and immediately dug in. The mere act of purchasing a Sabbath show I didn’t already own, but in order to make sure I didn’t wind up disappointed, I looked the gig up on my phone at the shop and saw the A+ rating for the soundboard set, and well, my mind was made up for me. I’d been hoping to pick up Blues Creation‘s Demon and Eleven Children, but this was more than I could ask.

And sure, the show was recorded before Paranoid actually came out about a month later in September, but still, that lyric flub is great. Also interesting that “War Pigs” is here in its “Walpurgis” form. If you want to hear the whole show, the bass is low and the vocals are high — typical soundboard fare — but the audio is crisp and the version of “Fairies Wear Boots” is nothing short of incredible for Tony Iommi‘s solo alone. Dig it:

So after a week distinguished by little other than how shitty it was, finding Live at Montreux 1970 did much to restore my doomly spirit. Combined with the snow day I took today, not sleeping late but not going to the office either, I feel almost human. Not quite, but almost. Better than I was two days ago, in any case.

Should your own doomly spirits require restoration, I hope Sabbath does the trick, and I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Lots of good stuff to come next week — Devil to Pay review, Clutch interview, and so on — so please stay tuned. In the meantime, I’ll see you on the forum and back here Monday for more high-gain sentence structures.

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Here are the First Five Records I Listened to on My New Turntable

Posted in Buried Treasure on March 4th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

It’s been a while since I’ve had a fully functional turntable, and by that I mean one that worked at all. Platters have been coming in for review for The Obelisk and I’ve managed to figure something out, either listening somewhere other than my office or whathaveyou, but really, it’s something that I’ve been missing up to this point. I tried several times to acquire a working one to no avail, until just this past week, Slevin rolled through with one he wasn’t using and set it up. Toss in a new cartridge, dust it off, and as you can see above, whamo, a working player of vinyl records.

Nifty, right? I traded him the busted Technics that formerly resided at the top of my office shelf system and he gave me this working Optimus, and since I don’t know the difference, I’m just happy to have one that actually can play an albums. I’ve had a pile of stuff here waiting to be written up or even just listened to, so at the end of last week, there was a bit of a binge in vinyl listening, one after another after another and so on. Can’t help it. Sometimes I get excited.

In the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d post the first five records I put on once I had the ability to do so. Needless to say, there have been several more since:

1. YOB, Demo

I haven’t asked to confirm, but I think this was actually the one that got Slevin on board for giving my pathetic ass in the first place. A couple weeks ago, I put up a rant, basically pissing and moaning at having bought myself the 2009 vinyl reissue of YOB‘s demo despite not being able to hear it, so when I finally could, it was the first thing I grabbed. Sure enough, the four tracks on the release — the three of the initial 2000 demo and one live track to close out side B recorded in 2005 — were as primitive as one would have to expect, way more Sleep-derived even than YOB‘s first full-length, but still a joy to hear after so long. Even as a curio, this one was worth the wait and since I’m planning on having this turntable for a while, I was glad I got to play this one first.

2. Asteroid, Move a Mountain 7″

Maybe this one was kind of obvious, since a review went up the other day, but wow, I was looking forward to hearing the latest from Asteroid. Aside from thinking they’re one of the best Swedish heavy rock acts going these days — balancing heavy psych jams with memorable songwriting and sounding so incredibly natural doing it as they do — I wanted to hear how they were developing with their new drummer and was glad to find that even on such a short, two-song release, they hadn’t lost that combination of structure and laid back exploration that has made both of their albums to date so much fun, indeed pushing it further on the B-side, “One Foot in the Grave,” which was some of their fastest material yet. I was already looking forward to their third full-length. Now even more so.

3. Mars Red Sky/Year of No Light, Green Rune White Totem

Mars Red Sky — whose new EP, Be My Guide, is due in April, in case you missed the news that just went up — were kind enough to send me a vinyl copy of their Green Rune White Totem collaboration with their countrymen black metal experimentalists Year of No Light, and I think it must have gotten lost in the shuffle around the time the hurricane hit, and then when I finally would’ve had the chance to hear it, there wasn’t a working record player to make it happen. I was bummed out, because although Green Run White Totem is up on the YuberToubes, I was dying to hear the real thing. The textures that Year of No Light bring to Mars Red Sky‘s rich, deep tonality make the 12-minute collaborative piece all the more fascinating, and the black and red vinyl give it a truly special feel. It’s one I’ll be returning to for sure, especially as Mars Red Sky get set for Desertfest next month and that aforementioned EP release.

4. Clutch, Strange Cousins from the West

The heartbreak of slightly ripping the sleeve when taking out the second of the two LPs in the special edition of Clutch‘s 2009 outing aide, Strange Cousins from the West was a listen a long time in the making. The packaging on the Weathermaker vinyl is astounding (and now ripped, god damn it) with foil and a six-panel gatefold, and when the first side of the first LP started, I swore up and down it was the wrong platter because it was “Freakonomics” instead of “Motherless Child.” Nope, just a different tracklisting than the CD. Given that this is an album with which I’ve spent significant time over the four years since its original release, it was probably the first one on this list that I could really get a sense for the difference the vinyl makes, the compression in the cymbals and warm pops, etc. Particularly in light of their new one (review here), it was cool to revisit Strange Cousins and hear the older material in a new light.

5. Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer

If I’m honest, I don’t even really know where this vinyl copy of Dehumanizer came from. Must have been a reissue that came through at some point, but it’s been in my office for a while now and so it was something of a matter of principle that it should get a play on initial run with the new turntable. The 1992 reunion album between Black Sabbath and vocalist Ronnie James Dio isn’t the best work of either party — and wow, that really came out on side B; I can’t even remember the last time I purposefully listened to “Too Late” or “Buried Alive,” and I named my dog after Dio — but for cuts like “I,” “Master of Insanity,” “Computer God” and “Sins of the Father,” Dehumanizer was well worth another visit. Now I just need to get a copy on tape and I’m all set.

Even though I have a working turntable in my possession, I don’t see myself going overboard as a vinyl collector or anything like that, but if someone’s got a 7″ for sale at a show or something is vinyl-only, at least I know I’ll be able to give it some due time without using someone else’s player or scrambling for a download. But mostly it’s just a review thing for stuff that comes in on LP. It’s not like I’m looking to start a vinyl library. Not like I’m already eying up Hypnos 69 splits on eBay or anything. Me? No way. Ha.

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Looking for Today: 20 Albums to Watch for in 2013

Posted in Features on January 15th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Last year was a monster. You might say I’m still catching up on reviews for records that came out in October. Yet here we stand in 2013. It’s a whole new year and that means instead of looking back at some of the best releases, it’s time to look ahead and nerd out at what’s to come. Frankly, either way is a good time, but with some of what’s included on this list, 2013 has the potential to be yet another incredible year for lovers of the heavy.

Across a range of genres and subgenres, there are bands big and small, known and unknown, getting ready to unleash debuts, follow-ups and catalog pieces that by the time December rolls around, will have defined the course of this year. It’s always great to hold an album in your hands, to put it on and listen to it for the first or 19th time, but part of the fun is the excitement beforehand too, and that’s where we’re at now.

Some of these I’ve heard, most I haven’t, and some are only vague announcements, but when I started out putting this list together, my plan was to keep it to 10 and I wound up with twice that many because there was just too much happening to ignore. The list is alphabetical because it doesn’t make any sense to me to rate albums that aren’t out yet, and I hope if you find something you’d like to add, you’ll please feel free to leave a comment below.

Thanks in advance for reading, and enjoy:

Acid King, TBA


We begin with only the basest of speculations. Would you believe me if I told you that 2013 makes it eight years since the heavier-than-your-heavy-pants San Francisco trio Acid King released their last album, III? Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You’d be like, “Dude, no way,” but it’s true. Eight friggin’ years. They’ve hinted all along at new material, toured Europe and played fests in the States like Fall into Darkness, but really, it’s time for something new on record. Even an EP. A single! I’ll take what I can get at this point, so long as it’s Lori S. riffing it.

Ararat, III


Chances are, the above isn’t the final art for Argentinian Los Natas-offshoot Ararat‘s forthcoming III, but frontman Sergio Chotsourian has posted a few demos over the last several months and the logo image came from that. Either way, with as far as last year’s II (review here) went in expanding their sound, I can’t wait to hear the final versions of the tracks for the next one. They’re still flying under a lot of people’s radar, it seems, but Ararat are quickly becoming one of South America’s best heavy psych acts. Do yourself a favor and keep an eye out.

Bezoar, TBA


Brooklyn trio Bezoar‘s 2012 debut, Wyt Deth, might have been my favorite album that I never reviewed last year, and needless to say, that’s not a mistake I’m going to make twice. The new songs I’ve heard the three-piece play live have ruled and an alliance with engineer Stephen Conover (whose discography includes Rza and Method Man) is intriguing to say the least. I’m sure whatever Bezoar come out with, the performances from bassist/vocalist Sara Villard, guitarist Tyler Villard and drummer Justin Sherrell will be as hard to pin down as the debut was. It’s a record I’m already looking forward to being challenged by.

Blaak Heat Shujaa, The Edge of an Era


Due out April 9, Blaak Heat Shujaa‘s The Edge of an Era will mark the full-length debut for the ambitious trio (now based in L.A.) on Tee Pee Records following on the heels of the impressive The Storm Generation EP (review here). From the Scott Reeder production to the band’s engaging heavy psych/desert rock blend, this one seems bound to win Blaak Heat Shujaa a lot of new friends, and if the advance EP is anything to go by, The Edge of an Era could prove to be aptly-titled indeed.

Black Pyramid, Adversarial


No release date yet, but so far as I know, Adversarial, which is Massachusetts doom rockers Black Pyramid‘s third album and first to be fronted by guitarist/vocalist Darryl Shepard, is recorded, mixed and mastered. Song titles include “Swing the Scimitar,” “Onyx and Obsidian,” “Issus,” “Bleed Out” and “Aphelion” (the latter was also released as a limited single in 2012 by Transubstans as a split with Odyssey), and having seen the band live with this lineup, expect no less than a beheading. Also watch for word from the recently announced side-project from Shepard and bassist Dave Gein, The Scimitar.

Black Sabbath, 13


There was a bit of a shitstorm this past weekend when the title of Black Sabbath‘s first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted album since 1978 was revealed in a press release. Nonetheless, 13 is set for release in June and will feature Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine on drums in place of Bill Ward, who last year was engaged in a well-publicized contract dispute with the band. Bummer though that is and as crappy and generic a title as 13 makes — especially this year — let’s not forget that Heaven and Hell‘s The Devil You Know also had a crap title and it was awesome. I’m not sure if I’m willing to stake anticipation on the difference between the vocals of Ronnie James Dio circa 2010 and Ozzy Osbourne in 2013, or Rick Rubin‘s production, but hell, is Geezer Butler playing bass on it? Yes? Well, okay then, I’ll listen. The world can do a lot worse than that and another batch of Tony Iommi riffs, whatever else may be in store.

Clutch, Earth Rocker


It’s a ripper. With Earth Rocker, Clutch reunite with Blast Tyrant producer Machine and the results are a record varied enough to keep some of the recent blues elements of the past couple albums (“Gone Cold”) while also showcasing a reinvigorated love of straight-up heavy rock numbers on tracks like “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle & Go” and “Cyborg Betty.” Longtime Clutch fans can expect a bigger guitar sound from Tim Sult, killer layering and much personality from vocalist Neil Fallon and yet another stellar performance from the best rhythm section in American heavy, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster. No doubt in my mind it’ll prove one of the year’s best when 2013 is done. Once more unto the breach!

Devil to Pay, Fate is Your Muse


Last month, I hosted a Devil to Pay video premiere for the Indianapolis-based rockers’ new track, “This Train Won’t Stop,” from the 7″ single of the same name that precedes the release of their Ripple Music debut full-length (fourth overall), Fate is Your Muse. If the 575-plus Thee Facebook “Likes” are anything to go by, anticipation for the album is pretty high. Reasonably so. When I saw Devil to Pay at last year’s SHoD fest, the new material was killer and the band seemed more confident than ever before. Stoked to hear how that translates to a studio recording and how the band has grown since 2009′s Heavily Ever After.

Egypt, Become the Sun


Technically speaking, Become the Sun is the full-length debut from North Dakota doomers Egypt. The band released their self-titled demo through MeteorCity in 2009 (review here), were broken up at the time, and reassembled with a new guitarist for Become the Sun – which is the only album on this list to have already been reviewed. I don’t know about a physical release date, but it’s available now digitally through iTunes and other outlets, and however you do so, it’s worth tracking down to get the chance to listen to it. Underrated Midwestern riffing, hopefully with a CD/LP issue coming soon.

The Flying Eyes, TBA


Currently holed up in Lord Baltimore Studios with producer Rob Girardi, Baltimore’s The Flying Eyes are reportedly putting the finishing touches on the follow-up to 2011′s immersive Done So Wrong, an album full of young energy and old soul. Along with Blaak Heat Shujaa above, I consider these dudes to be right at the forefront of the next generation of American heavy psych and I’m excited to hear what kind of pastoral blues works its way into their tracks when the album finally gets released. They’re a band you’re probably going to hear a lot about this year, so be forewarned.

Gozu, The Fury of a Patient Man


The melodicism of Boston-based Gozu‘s second Small Stone full-length, The Fury of a Patient Man (I swear I just typed “The Fury of a Patient Mrs.”) is no less striking than its album cover. I’ve had this one for a while, have gotten to know it pretty well and my plan is to review it next week, so keep an eye out for that, but for now, I’ll just say that the sophomore outing is a fitting answer to the potential of Gozu‘s 2010 debut, Locust Season (review here) and marks the beginning of what already looks like another strong year for Small Stone. I never thought I’d be so into a song called “Traci Lords.”

Halfway to Gone, TBA


What I’d really like to see happen is for Halfway to Gone – who are high on my list of New Jersey hometown heroes and who haven’t had a new LP out since their 2004 self-titled — to put out a new record in 2013, for it to lay waste to everyone who hears it, and for the band to finally get the recognition they’ve long since deserved. I’ve been charged up on revisiting their three albums since I saw them at the Brighton Bar this past July and after a long wait, rumors, breakups, makeups, etc., I’ve got my hopes up that this year is when these dudes pull it together and make a new one happen. It’s been too long and this band is too good to just let it go.

Kings Destroy, TBA


Confession time: I have the Kings Destroy record. I’ve had it for a bit now. It rules. I don’t know when you’re gonna hear it, but it’s strange and eerie and kind of off the wall stylistically and it doesn’t really sound like anything else out there. Last I heard they’re looking for a label, and whoever ends up with it is lucky. I use a lot of descriptors for bands and their albums, but rarely will I go so far as to call something unique. This album is. If you’ve had the chance to check out songs like “The Toe” and “Turul” live, you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t, then stick around because with all the sessions I’ve had with the tracks, I still feel outclassed by what these guys are doing. Shine on, you doomed weirdos.

The Kings of Frog Island, Volume IV


I keep going back to the video for “Long Live the King” that Leicester, UK, fuzz rockers The Kings of Frog Island put up back in October. No, really, I keep going back. It’s a good song and I keep listening to it. Just about any other details regarding their fourth album and first without guitarist/vocalist Mat Bethancourt (Josiah, Cherry Choke), Volume IV, are nil, but periodic updates on the band’s Thee Facebooks have it that progress on the recording is being made, and in the meantime, I don’t seem to have any trouble paying return visits to “Long Live the King.” Hopefully Elektrohasch stays on board for a CD release, and hopefully it happens soon.

Lo-Pan, TBA


Several times over the last couple months I’ve had occasion to say it to people and I’ll say it here as well: I think Lo-Pan are the best American stoner rock band going right now. I was interested to see how they handled the bigger stage for their opening slot for High on Fire and Goatwhore (review here), and as ever, they killed. I haven’t the faintest idea what their recording plans might be, if they’ll even sit still long enough to put an album to tape in time to have it out in 2013 — I suspect it depends on what tour offers come up in the meantime — but new songs “Colossus” and “Eastern Seas” bode well for their being able to continue the course of momentum that the excellence of 2011′s Salvador (review here) and all their hard work before and since has put them on.

Queens of the Stone Age, TBA


It probably wouldn’t be fair to call the upcoming Queens of the Stone Age album a reunion between Josh Homme and Dave Grohl since the two also played together in Them Crooked Vultures and Grohl only drummed on Songs for the Deaf, but it’s exciting news anyway and could mean good things are coming from QOTSA, whose last outing was 2007′s comparatively lackluster Era Vulgaris. The big questions here are how the time apart from the band may or may not have affected Homme‘s songwriting and where he’s decided he wants to take the Queens sound. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Sungrazer & The Machine, Split


With the Strikes and Gutters tour already booked to support it (dates above; or here), Dutch upstart heavy psych jammers The Machine and Sungrazer have teamed up for a split release as well that’s bound to feature some of the year’s best fuzz. The two bands have a lot in common, but they’re pretty distinct from each other sonically too, and with The Machine guitarist/vocalist David Eering helming the recording, you can safely bet it’ll capture the live, jammy feel both groups share. Latest word has it that the mastered tracks are in-house, so watch for more to come as we get closer to the Valentine’s Day launch of the tour.

Truckfighters, TBA


The Swedish fuzz juggernauts’ fourth album overall, this will be Truckfighters‘ first with new drummer McKenzo alongside the core songwriting duo of Dango and Ozo. They’ve been teasing recording updates and threatening song clips, but as soon as I run into something concrete, I’ll share. I’m especially looking forward to the Truckfighters album since it means they’ll likely come back to the US for another tour, and since 2009′s Mania (review here) was so damned brilliant. Not sure on a release date, but it’s high on the list of necessities anyway, however low it may appear alphabetically.

Valley of the Sun, TBA


All I’m going on in including Ohio-based desert rockers Valley of the Sun on this list is a New Year’s message they put out there that read, “Happy New Year, Brothers and Sisters!!! You can count on a Valley of the Sun full-length in 2013.” Hey, I’ve relied on less before, and even if you want to call it wishful thinking, the Cincinnati trio are due a debut full-length behind 2011′s righteous The Sayings of the Seers EP (review here). Even if it doesn’t show up until November or December, I’ll basically take it whenever the band gets around to releasing. Riffs are welcome year-round.

Vhöl, TBA


Well, I mean, yeah. Right? Yeah, well, sure. I mean. Well. Yeah. I mean, sure. Right? It’s a supergroup with YOB‘s Mike Scheidt on vocals, John Cobbett of Hammers of Misfortune on guitar, Sigrid Sheie of Hammers of Misfortune on bass and Aesop Dekker of Agalloch and Worm Ouroboros on drums. Album’s done, set for release on Profound Lore. So, I mean, you know, yeah. Definitely. No music has made its way to the public yet — though that can’t be far off — but either way, sign me the fuck up. Anywhere this one goes, I’m interested to find out how it gets there.

Vista Chino, TBA

After that lawsuit, it’s not like they could go ahead and call the band Kyuss Still Lives!, so the recently-announced Vista Chino makes for a decent alternative and is much less likely to provoke litigation. But still, the Kyuss Lives! outgrowth featuring former Kyuss members John GarciaNick Oliveri and Brant Bjork along with guitarist Bruno Fevery is of immediate consequence. I’m not sure what the timing on the release is, but they’ve already been through enough to get to this point that one hopes a new album surfaces before the end of 2013. What I want to know next is who’s recording the damn thing.

Yawning Man, Gravity is Good for You


Not much has been said in the time since I interviewed Gary Arce, guitarist and founder of influential desert rock stalwarts Yawning Man, about the 2LP Gravity is Good for You release (the Raymond Pettibon cover for which you can see above), but the band has been confirmed for Desertfest since then and they’re playing in L.A. on Jan. 25, so they’re active for sure and presumably there’s been some progress on the album itself. It remains to be seen what form it will take when it surfaces, and the lineup of the band seems somewhat nebulous as well, but when there’s a desert, there’s Yawning Man, and there’s always a desert. 2010′s Nomadic Pursuits (review here) was a triumph, and deserves a follow-up.

Anyone else notice that the “20 Albums to Watch for” list has 22 albums on it? Maybe I wanted to see if you were paying attention. Maybe I can’t count. Maybe I just felt like including one more. Maybe I had 21 and then added Vista Chino after someone left a comment about it. The possibilities are endless.

So too is the list of bands I could’ve included here. Even as I was about halfway through, a new Darkthrone track surfaced from an album due Feb. 25 called The Underground Resistance, and news/rumors abound of various substance concerning offerings from YOB, EggnoggWhen the Deadbolt Breaks, Mars Red SkyAsteroid, Apostle of Solitude, WindhandPhantom Glue, the supergroup Corrections House, Kingsnake, Sasquatch — I’ve already made my feelings known on the prospect of a new Sleep record — news went up yesterday about Inter Arma‘s new one, and you know Wino‘s gonna have an album or two out before the end of the year, and he’s always up to something good, so 20, 22, 35, it could just as easily go on forever. Or at least very least the whole year.

If there’s anything I forgot, anything you want to include or dispute, comments are welcome and encouraged.

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Canon of Heavy: Black Sabbath, Master of Reality (1971)

Posted in Canon of Heavy on October 24th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster


What do you say when staring into the face of the greatest album of all time? Fuck if I know.

For months, I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a periodic feature highlighting the best and most influential albums in heavy rock, stoner rock, doom, whatever — a Canon of Heavy. All along I’ve known that, though I didn’t want it to be like a top-10 or to go by number or date or any other particular order, the first inductee into said canon would have to be Black Sabbath‘s 1971 masterpiece, Master of Reality. The rest of the time since has been trying to figure out what the hell to say about it.

Because while endless words have been written in its praise and its singular influence has bled into enough bands and records to make Helen of Troy’s thousand ships look paltry, the basic fact of the matter is that Master of Reality was and is perfect, and that’s all the explanation it really needs.

No doubt I could stop right there and an entire section of the population who might see this post could only nod in agreement — “Yup.” — but it would be half-assed, and frankly, it’ll be more fun this way. Here are just a few of my reasons why it had to be Geezer Butler , Tony Iommi, Bill Ward and Ozzy Osbourne, and why Master of Reality had to be the first Canon of Heavy inclusion.

Is it the Best Album Ever?

Yeah, pretty much. Opinions vary and we can go back and forth forever about this or that record, what’s better about what, but when it comes down to it, Master of Reality really is flawless. From the coughs that open “Sweet Leaf” to the last chord that closes “Into the Void,” there isn’t a moment misspent. Sure, you have interludes “Embryo” and “Orchid” and the whispered section after “Children of the Grave,” but even these are perfectly suited to their purpose, no longer than they need to be to bridge the gap to and from the song before into the next track while adding to the atmosphere.

And each of its main tracks was a defining moment. “Sweet Leaf,” “After Forever,” “Children of the Grave,” “Lord of this World,” “Solitude” and “Into the Void” — you could look at any one of those songs and mark out its influence, whether it’s “Sweet Leaf” codifying what decades later would in no small part define stoner rock or  “After Forever” offering the earliest template for Christian metal — but more importantly to the idea of Master of Reality as a whole is how well they work with each other, driving you forward into the culmination of “Into the Void,” which comes as the final answer to successive exclamations of “this is the heaviest thing ever,” “no, this is the heaviest thing ever!” No matter how many times I hear Master of Reality, it never loses its power. One does not listen to it so much as one is brought into its countenance.

It was The Birth of The Heavy — and though it’s sold over two million copies since, it remains an underground treasure. You listen to Master of Reality and it’s not like putting on anything else, any other big release. The album connects on an individual level, and not just in a handshake-from-a-famous-person kind of way. Its thickened, sludgy lumber is the stuff of legend, but each legend is a personal, human story as well.

Third Time Around

We all know the cliche about thirds, so I’ll spare you that, but arriving in July 1971, Master of Reality came not even a full year after Black Sabbath‘s landmark second album, Paranoid and only 17 months after their self-titled debut, which is widely regarded as the moment that hard rock became heavy metal. Nonetheless, the growth the band underwent in that time — they toured as well, astoundingly — is stunning, and where Black Sabbath was formative and raw and Paranoid was chaotic and bitter, the third album refined all of Sabbath‘s ideas to that point into a drug-fueled lurch that they’d never again match. In their rush to get the next LP out and maintain their chart position, they wrote the single best collection of songs heavy music has ever known.

They were, by their own admission, drugged out of their minds at the time. And yet, their songwriting would never be in this space again. Black Sabbath and Paranoid are both truly great albums, and I don’t doubt that in time they’ll be included here as well, but the reason it’s Master of Reality first is because Master of Reality marks that crucial moment where “heavy” became more than just a mindset and truly manifested itself sonically in Iommi‘s guitar and Butler‘s bass, where the riffs came to ultimate prominence, and where the band hit the intersection of knowing what kind of music they wanted to be making without over-thinking their processes. The bassline of “After Forever,” the unmitigated stomp of “Lord of this World,” the percussive thrust of “Children of the Grave” — how much time did they actually spend on these songs? Hours?

With Master of Reality, Sabbath found the balance sound-wise they’d never be able to find in a real life filled with narcotic excess and personal drama. Further, it’s the most efficient album they ever made. By the time they’d record Vol. 4 in May 1972, that moment had simply passed, and while they were by no means done and there was still plenty more for them to say in their original incarnation, Master of Reality was as crucial as they ever got.

“Solitude”

There’s ongoing debate about whether it’s even Osbourne singing or Ward, but what’s special about the penultimate cut on the album is that it’s no less heavy than anything around it for its lack of assault. Sure, “Black Sabbath” from the same album was a creeper and “Planet Caravan” is a better execution of psychedelia, but “Solitude” is among the purest executions of doom ever recorded. You’re not journeying through space so much as through the depths of your own wretchedness, and long gone are tales of mysterious demons at the foot of your bed. All that’s left is yourself and the miserable bastard you’ve become:

My name it means nothing, my fortune means less
My future is shrouded in dark wilderness
Sunshine is far away, clouds linger on
Everything I possessed, now they are gone

Even “Paranoid,” which one could argue covered some of the same depressive lyrical ground, didn’t dare unmask itself to such an extent, and when they tried again to cover similar ground on “Changes” from Vol. 4, the result was a laughable farce of emotionality. The minimalist blues of “Solitude” is unmatched in the Sabbath catalog, which even elsewhere offers righteous judgment (“Lord of this World”) and brazen defiance (“Children of the Grave”), but never again the same kind of peculiar ambience and first-person exploration of damaged psyche. It is beautiful and doomed in like measure, and the lead-in it provides the introductory and signature riff of “Into the Void” gives both songs a context emblematic of the strength of the album as a whole work.

The Legacy

Goes without saying, again. Go grab a CD or record off your shelf of any even moderately heavy variety, and there’s a good chance that whether or not the band knows it, there’s some aspect of Master of Reality to be found therein. The album is elemental in the actual, scientific sense — providing the pieces through which compounds can be made. A lot of Black Sabbath from this period is like that. With Master of Reality though, this was the record the first two were driving toward and the record that the remaining five released by the original lineup were coming from.

In terms of a Canon of Heavy, Blue Cheer and Hendrix were heavy before it, and others like Budgie, Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin ran concurrent, but none could stand in line with its crushing weight or sheer sonic mass. And none have since, Sabbath included. One need only name a band from either the heavy rock, doom or sludge genres to find someone who’s tried, pivotal or obscure, but Master of Reality stands unto itself, carved in stone. Time has not diminished it, and I think if time tried, the record would simply kick its ass, which is the same treatment it has dealt out to everything else in its path for the last 41 years.

Like I said: perfect.

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