Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, The Eternal Idol

Posted in Bootleg Theater on January 26th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, The Eternal Idol (1987)

It’s taken me a really, really long time to come around to anything from the Tony Martin era of Black Sabbath. I’d say without hesitation it’s still a work in progress. In a way, it’s a matter of overcoming the narrative of the pre- and between-reunion years of Black Sabbath‘s ’80s and ’90s as a lost era for the heavy metal godfathers; a time spent wandering the wilderness for founding guitarist Tony Iommi that arguably began with 1983’s Born Again (discussed here) bringing in replacing Deep Purple‘s Ian Gillan to replace vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who himself took the reins following the band’s ultra-crucial first eight albums with Ozzy Osbourne. Aside from having an outright impossible standard to meet in following in the footsteps of three of rock and metal’s greatest frontmen ever, plus short-lived incarnations of the band as they worked with Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple) and Ray Gillen (Badlands), the Birmingham-born Martin was nowhere near the veteran presence of the likes of Iommi, who by 1987 was just coming off releasing the would’ve-been solo album Seventh Star with Hughes in 1986 and was long since the only remaining founding member of the band.

So what did Tony Iommi‘s Black Sabbath sound like on The Eternal Idol? Unsurprisingly, the band’s days of the innovative blend of heavy rock, dark psychedelia and blues that we’d come in the decades since to think of as doom were long gone. They’d settled into a mature, largely straightforward, hyper-produced commercial form of heavy metal, still very much driven by Iommi‘s guitar work, but without the loose swing and dynamic of their earliest days or the progressive majesty that emerged on the Dio-fronted albums, 1980’s Heaven and Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules. 30 years later, the snare from former KISS drummer Eric Singer sounds dated. Does that mean that The Eternal Idol and thus Martin‘s tenure were doomed from the start? If so, Martin still had a pretty good ride with the band. Admittedly, not every track on The Eternal Idol is a gem — “Nightmare” on side B feels like filler, despite being catchy, and though its last-minute uptick of energy is appreciated, the penultimate “Lost Forever” doesn’t accomplish much that “Hard Life to Love” and the following “Glory Ride” didn’t already bring to bear earlier on in dudely ’80s keyboard-drama — but even in opener “The Shining,” the subsequent “Ancient Warrior” one can hear shades the band working on a self-referential level, calling out pieces of the live version of “Heaven and Hell” (think “A big black shape…”) and “Children the Sea,” respectively. Which is to say nothing of the closing title-track’s semi-political bent — something Sabbath had proffered since “Hand of Doom” on 1970’s Paranoid — but rendered largely toothless on “The Eternal Idol” with a more generic, less pointed social critique. Ah, the Thatcher years.

So rather than necessarily pushing brazenly forward, as one might argue even the Gillan-fronted Born Again did in 1983 as arguably the harshest sounding record Sabbath ever put out, The Eternal Idol seems to be playing to form even as it presents a new incarnation of the band that would continue for the better part of the next decade, interrupted only by the temporary reunion with Dio for 1992’s triumphant Dehumanizer LP and corresponding tour. What, then is the appeal that finally won me over? Well, first of all, Martin is a killer vocalist. Having bassist Bob Daisley, who just a couple years before had played on the first couple Ozzy solo records, alongside Singer in the rhythm section didn’t exactly make for a powerhouse in the Butler/Ward tradition, but they could certainly hold down the straightforward roll of “Eternal Idol” or the motor-thrust of “Hard Life to Love,” and that allowed both Iommi and Martin to shine in their own performances, and while again, they’re not really breaking any ground, they did manage to give a more than solid showing of what Black Sabbath could be in the bizarre heavy metal climate that was the pre-grunge late ’80s. Big as their hair got — it got sort of big — Iommi was the spearhead of a prior generation, and The Eternal Idol was the beginning point of the band becoming stable and sustainable for the better part of the next decade. Like Black SabbathHeaven and Hell and Born Again before it, it set a tone that future outings would follow. Granted, they’re hardly considered the pinnacle of the band, but without The Eternal Idol, no question the shape of 1989’s Headless Cross1990’s Tyr (my personal favorite of this era), 1994’s Cross Purposes and 1995’s Forbidden — which was the final Black Sabbath studio recording until the band got back with Ozzy to record the “Psycho Man” single in 1998 and then the Dio-fronted bonus tracks included with the 2007 compilation The Dio Years that prefaced the splintering off of what became for all too short a time Heaven and Hell.

I’m not saying it’s all gold, or that the decade Iommi spent working with Martin — split up in ’92 by the reunion with Dio, overshadowed subsequently by the reunion with Ozzy — is some magical lost trove of groundbreaking heavy rock and/or metal. But it’s got some choice Iommi riffing, and whatever else you can say about Martin‘s style being very post-Dio, he’s better at it than most, so what the hell is there to lose? Hardly the first point in their career Black Sabbath went through the motions to keep themselves on the road, and frankly, I’m not inclined to hold that against them, especially now that their career is — allegedly — over.

You certainly know the drill by now. Whatever your preconceptions about this stage of Sabbath‘s tenure, I hope you’ll give The Eternal Idol a fair shot, and of course, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

So far this week I’ve had The Pecan home alone — that is, sans The Patient Mrs. — for parts of three days. On each of those days, he has taken food from me out of a bottle. Given our prior experience in this regard, this is a huge fucking triumph. Huge. Yesterday, she came home while he was still eating and he kept going — didn’t even stop because she was there. No way that would’ve gone down like that before. He’d have immediately been like, “Fuck this, give me the real deal,” and gone for the boob. I get it, but was still frustrating when it happened.

What led to turning that corner? I kind of just realized he doesn’t want to be held by me when he’s eating. I’ve alternated putting him flat on his back on the playmat and in his sit-upright chair in the kitchen while giving him the bottle, and that’s been okay. I’ve also been having oranges with breakfast, so I’ve been kind of rubbing my finger on the pulp there and giving him a taste of the juice off my finger, just to get him more used to different flavors and taking food from me in general. He still takes bites of scrambled egg from me as well and we have some sweet potato in the fridge that we’ve been waiting to try, but we haven’t really needed to because it’s gone so well with the bottle. I’m not willing to say we’re 100 percent out of that woods, but it felt really, really fucking good this week to be able to feed my kid after three months of complete and total failure at it.

I guess I should follow up on last week’s Friday post. Shit was pretty dire feeling and I conveyed that in the most honest, truest-to-my-mindset language I could. I spent a good portion of last week thinking of death as an easier out than the way I was living. That’s just how it was. I don’t apologize for that, and I don’t expect sympathy, or “tough love” or whatever else. I can only be the person I am at a given moment and I can only write from that perspective about being in that place.

If you’re concerned, I’m under the care of several professionals. I have a nutritionist I’ve started seeing twice a week for eating disorder counseling — she’s making me eat; it’s fucking torture but I’m doing it — as well as a regular therapist and my primary care physician, who just this week put me on klonopin in addition to the 30mg anti-depressant dose I take every day. It seems to put me to sleep, which may prove somewhat inconvenient in the long run, but after being up half the nights last week I’m at very least looking at as something of a win for the immediate.

That’s where I’m at. I’m in a really, really hard place, working through a lot of really, really hard shit that I think unless you’ve been where I am you probably neither understand nor particularly give a shit about. Even then, probably questionable on that second part. But I’m doing the work I’m supposed to be doing. I’m doing what I’m told. I ate roasted potatoes the other night. I’ve been eating bread. Fruit. Lots of fruit. It’s madness. I never knew I was into pineapple. Or grapefruit. Let alone mixing them together like I just did. Sheer madness. It has me out of my head.

So that’s that. For what it’s worth, I had to put on a second pot of coffee just to get through those paragraphs. Light roast, but still.

Next week is packed. Here’s what’s in the notes for next week. It’s stupid how full it is:

MON.: Beneath Oblivion track premiere; new Ararat video.
TUE.: Malady full-album stream/review; other stuff I don’t want to give away yet.
WED.: MaidaVale video premiere; Six Dumb Questions with Somnuri.
THU.: Lowburn EP stream/review.
Fri.: Cataclysmic Events track stream.

Goes without saying that all this is subject to change with no notice whatsoever. I’ve kind of decided to nix my 2018 most-anticipated list for the time being. Not enough hours in the day and I’ve got a lot going on otherwise, but if I can still make it happen even in some preliminary way — a list of names — I will try to do so. I’ve also started kicking around the notion of doing more t-shirts if there’s a way I don’t have to ship them out, because that was awful. We’ll see where I end up on that. I said “never again” on merchandise which would seem to make it inevitable, right?

If you’re interested or not, I’ll probably keep you posted.

Thanks again for reading, and please have a great and safe weekend. Don’t forget to hit up the forum and the radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Live Evil

Posted in Bootleg Theater on September 22nd, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Live Evil (1982)

Black Sabbath had already done the impossible by the time they released Live Evil in 1982. After a run of six albums resulting in several timeless and formative landmarks in the history of heavy metal, they’d seen something of a decline in the late ’70s with frontman Ozzy Osbourne and, after separating with him and hiring Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio for the vocalist role, managed to bounce back and not only produce two more records in 1980’s Heaven and Hell (discussed here) and 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), but to use those albums as a means for redefining their personality as a band and reclaim their place at the forefront of a heavy metal movement they helped to shape at its outset. When ’82 rolled around, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal was underway, and rather than languish as so many ’70s heavy outfits did with those not already undone by punk either breaking up or fading into obscurity, Sabbath — guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer ButlerDio on vocals and first Bill Ward and subsequently Vinny Appice on drums — stormed forward into the new decade and continued to have an impact and an influence still felt today. Unbelievable. How many bands get to do that twice? How many get to do it once?

But for the fact that the lineup was once again falling apart at the time — with friction between Dio and Iommi documented in the latter’s memoir and other sources — and perhaps in spite of its terrible here-are-our-song-titles-turned-into-people (note the War Pig, the Neon Knight, etc.) cover art, one might consider the 14-track Live Evil a victory lap. Its 14 tracks span an 80-minute runtime and find Black Sabbath hitting with maximum force and presence that comes through clearly from each player. I don’t know if Dio ever sounded so powerful again as he does on this version of “Children of the Sea,” and certainly I’ve never heard a thrust from Appice to match the surge he puts into “Neon Knights” at the outset. Ozzy-era classics like “N.I.B.” and “Children of the Grave” find Butler and Iommi utterly refreshed compared to how they sound on 1980’s band-unsanctioned Live at Last (nothing against that release, but if you want primo live Ozzy Sabbath, chase down the Asbury Park ’75 soundboard bootleg), and in extended versions of “Voodoo” from Mob Rules and the Heaven and Hell title-track brim with vitality no less than the screaming rendition of “The Mob Rules” or the nine-minute take on “War Pigs.” Captured while the band was on the road for the second of the LPs issued with Dio during their first run together, Live Evil has a stateliness and fury in kind, and though it would ultimately mark the capstone for this version of Black Sabbath, it perfectly summarizes the absolute mastery they conveyed at this point on every level — style, structure, charge and poise.

Of course, even when a band releases a whole show officially, let alone a live record compiled from multiple sources like this one, they’re putting the best representation of themselves forward, but even with that caveat, Live Evil absolutely soars. With a crisp mix much bolstered by the keyboard work of Geoff Nicholls (who, sadly, passed away earlier this year) and an absolutely vital blend of songs like “Sign of the Southern Cross” and “Black Sabbath,” it represents Black Sabbath acknowledging what by then was already their history as well as their unwillingness to be bound by it. As they finish with “Children of the Grave,” they leave no question as to their place in the lore of metal and the NWOBHM specifically, and though the language of their serving as forebears of doom didn’t really exist at the time, that too is no less chiseled in stone here via Iommi‘s solo in “Heaven and Hell” than by the swing of “Voodoo” or the lumbering heft of “Iron Man.” This incarnation, this band, this moment: Untouchable.

And temporary. Within a year of Live Evil‘s release, Ronnie James Dio would be out of Black Sabbath. His debut with his own Dio band on Warner Bros., 1983’s Holy Diver, kicked off a trio of releases with the lineup of Dio, Appice, guitarist Vivian Campbell and bassist Jimmy Bain rounded out by 1984’s The Last in Line and 1985’s Sacred Heart that further affirmed his place among metal’s greatest frontmen while achieving massive commercial success in the studio and on tour. Sabbath, meanwhile, tried to go three-for-three in bringing aboard Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan for 1983’s Born Again (discussed here), and while the result was one of their darkest, grittiest albums and one that’s only flourished in appeal in the years since, at the time it didn’t have the same kind of far-reaching success as either Heaven and Hell or Mob Rules before it, and the lineup didn’t last. Iommi would work with another former Deep Purple singer, Glenn Hughes, for the Seventh Star album in 1986 — reportedly supposed to be a solo record that was later stamped as a Black Sabbath release — before settling in with singer Tony Martin to begin the band’s next era in earnest, which would carry them until their 1992 reunion with Dio for the Dehumanizer LP, and then pick up again for two more outings in the mid ’90s — 1994’s Cross Purposes and 1995’s Forbidden — before Iommi, Butler and Bill Ward eventually reunited with Osbourne in 1997.

That’s not the end of Sabbath and Dio‘s complicated history together by any means. They’d get together again under the guise of Heaven and Hell in the aughts/early ’10s, tour and produce both a live and a studio album, the latter being 2009’s The Devil You Know (review here), and perform together essentially until sidelined by Dio‘s declining health and the battle with cancer that took his life in 2010.

If their work as Heaven and Hell proved anything at all, it was the continued relevance of this lineup and the sonic persona that made it distinct from any incarnation of Sabbath before or after. Live Evil represents that at its best and most vivid, and as always, I hope you enjoy.

Thanks for reading.

In the middle of a conversation about something else — I don’t remember what, but can only imagine it was baby-related as most things these days seem to be — The Patient Mrs. turned to me the other day and said this exact quote: “Also: we should listen to some Dio.” Sometimes a relationship provides you with a moment when you’re so filled with love that you feel carried by it, like you’re floating in its warmth and safety. My wife suggesting we put on Dio was, for me, one of those moments. Naturally I chose Live Evil to close the week in her honor.

This coming Monday is the 13th anniversary of our marriage in 2004. Next Thursday, Sept. 28, is an even bigger one, marking 20 full years since we got together in 1997. Staggering. Well more than half my life at this point. It is my marriage and my life with The Patient Mrs. that defines who I am as a person — whatever else I am and whatever else I do, I am hers first — and of all the courses I could have imagined for what my life would become in my childhood (which I still arguably was at 15 when we became a couple), I could never have dreamed of being so fortunate as to have her in that central role. Every day, I continue to be so, so, so lucky and so, so, so much in love. 20 years is nothing. Give me forever.

We’re celebrating this weekend by returning to Ludlow, Vermont, which has kind of become an “our place,” at least in my mind. You’d be forgiven for not recalling we rented a small cottage there last year after spending a month on the same property in 2010, and I think the intent is to make it as much of an annual anniversary-marking sojourn as we can. Sounds awesome. Three hours on the road this afternoon will be well worth it to see those mountains again with their already-changing leaves and to feel the cool clarity of the air at altitude. We’re there until Wednesday morning, and aside from the absolute-must of watching the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery on Sunday — please don’t suck please don’t suck please don’t suck — I believe the plan is to hang out mellow, maybe get some work done, and enjoy each other’s exclusive company before The Pecan arrives and transforms our life together as we know it.

Due date is in about three weeks. Oct. 15. Getting close now.

We had another ultrasound appointment yesterday. He looks like a person, is one, and seems to be healthy and hearty enough that if he was born today, he’d be small but otherwise fine. That’s good to know. I should probably note that when The Pecan arrives, I’ll probably put up a post about it, but if there are a few days there where I’m occupied outside this site, I hope you’ll forgive me. As it could happen anytime, the situation obviously requires flexibility. Allowances to be made, etc.

So of course I’m going to try to sneak in a six-day Quarterly Review starting this coming Monday. Ha. 60 albums written up between Monday and Monday. I’ve still got links and players to embed in the back ends of the posts — ugh — but otherwise we’re good to go. Here’s a full look at my notes for what’s coming:

Mon.: QR day 1, Doomstress announce/song premiere, Scream of the Butterfly video premiere.
Tue.: QR day 2, Radio Moscow review.
Wed.: QR day 3, Fungus Hill video.
Thu.: QR day 4, Windhand video.
Fri.: QR day 5, whatever else comes along.

Might not look like it, but that’s a packed week. The Quarterly Review is a huge amount of work on my end in a way that nothing else I do for this site is, but I’ve yet to put one together and not feel like it was worth the effort, so I expect to get there once again. There’s a lot of cool stuff included. It’ll be good. Stay tuned.

That’s gonna do it for me. The Patient Mrs. and I have another doctor’s appointment on this rainy-as-hell morning, because babies, doctors, that’s how it goes, and then it’s back home to pack and hit the road to Vermont. Whatever you’re up to, I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Thanks again for reading and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Can We Talk About Ozzy Osbourne for a Minute?

Posted in Bootleg Theater, Features on August 21st, 2017 by JJ Koczan

ozzy osbourne

Yeah, I know. In the realm of heavy, there have been few topics as thoroughly discussed as just what to do with the legacy of Ozzy Osbourne. The founding and on-again-off-again frontman of Black Sabbath, solo bandleader and unparalleled metallic figurehead has had a half-century-long career with more than several lifetimes’ worth of ups and downs, highs and lows, and hyperbole-worthy triumphs and failures. Among living metal singers, he stands alone in needing only his name to conjure strong feelings on either side: Ozzy.

If you’re reading this, chances are I don’t need to lay out for you the ongoing influence of Osbourne’s work with Black Sabbath, whose first six albums played an essential role in forming the gospel on which heavy metal dogma was shaped. Likewise, Osbourne’s “solo” career, his bringing to light and fostering the playing and songwriting of guitarists like Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde, has possibly been just as — if not more — influential. Artistically and commercially, the man is a giant in a way that no one else in heavy metal is.

My question is, how should we feel about Ozzy in 2017? Is it okay to love Ozzy again?

I remember going to see Ozzy in high school. I did the Ozzfest thing in the mid and late ’90s. Ozzy had his Prince of Darkness days, had put out the relatively strong Ozzmosis in 1995 and No More Tears in 1991, and yeah, neither of those records would have the impact of 1980’s Blizzard of Ozz, ’81’s Diary of a Madman or ’83’s Bark at the Moon — even 1986’s The Ultimate Sin and 1988’s No Rest for the Wicked had their moments (I don’t care what you say, “Crazy Babies” rules) — but for a guy who’d said he was retiring, there was still plenty of energy left in his work. He had more in the tank. And that showed live as well.

Was there ever a more charismatic metal frontman? Robert Plant — a peer — was always too pretty. Ian Gillan too poised. Lemmy was rawer and less directly engaged with the audience. Halford, Dickinson and Dio were always far better singers, but in his stage presence, Ozzy could have an entire arena on his side by doing little more than showing up and saying hi. He still can. He’s screwed up lyrics onstage for as long as he’s been playing songs. He’s become less and less able to carry a tune. It’s arguable he hasn’t had a decent record out under his own name this century, but as much as one can level cash-grab accusations his way at nearly every turn, isn’t there something appealing about the fact that Osbourne just can’t bring himself to quit? Can’t leave the stage behind? Can’t stop that direct link to his fans? And so long as people keep buying tickets, should he really be expected to?

When MTV began airing The Osbournes 15 years ago, it was impossible to know the damage it would do to Ozzy’s reputation, but real quick, he went from the Prince of Darkness, the guy who gave us “Suicide Solution” and “Over the Mountain,” to an utter buffoon. In some ways, he’s never recovered from that cringe-inducing scene of him shaking, lost in his own garden, calling for his then-wife and manager, Sharon. The show, which was hammered into the ground and dead-horse-beaten across increasingly painful seasons, was only one of many questionable business decisions throughout the years.

Do we even need to talk about replacing Bob Daisley and Lee Kerslake’s tracks on album reissues? The list goes on. Ozzfest by then was on the wane. Sabbath’s late-’90s reunion had produced one mediocre single, some righteous touring, and then fizzled once again, and neither the 2005 covers collection Under Cover nor 2007’s Black Rain full-length did much to dissuade anyone from feeling like a slide into uninspired mediocrity was complete. What the hell had happened?

Was it decades of drug and alcohol use catching up? Had Ozzy simply lost it? As Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler reunited with Ronnie James Dio in Heaven and Hell, Osbourne seemed left in the dust, and his 2010 album, Scream — his most recent studio effort — was forgettable at best.

Hopes were high when it was announced Osbourne would reunite with Black Sabbath and that the band would set to work with producer Rick Rubin on what became 2013’s 13 (review here). The results were debatable, and debated, issues of integrity not at all helped by a lengthy, ugly and public contract dispute with original drummer Bill Ward. But even as Iommi was ailed with a cancer fight, touring ensued. Once again, Sabbath was bringing their show (review here) to the people. Landmark songs, some new stuff in the mix, and though he was off-key as ever, Ozzy’s charisma was still there, still intact.

Let me put it this way: We’re now a decade and a half removed from The Osbournes, and whatever else Ozzy has done, he’s really never stopped touring. It’s not like he needs the money, so isn’t it just possible he’s doing it because he loves it? He turns 69 in December. On the basic level of physical exhaustion, it can’t be a pleasant experience for him to be onstage for an hour-plus at this point, even with nights off between shows on tour. His well-documented history of substance abuse notwithstanding, he’s held it together better than some, and while the shape of the brand has changed, he’s still overseeing and headlining an Ozzfest Meets Knotfest this Fall in San Bernadino, California. The leadoff single from Black Rain was “I Don’t Wanna Stop.” Isn’t it possible that’s the truth?

I don’t know Ozzy and in my time have gotten to ask him precisely one question in an interview, so I can’t speak to his motivations, but whatever his ultimate reasoning is, I think it’s worth stopping for a minute and realizing how special his career has been, how pivotal his contributions to heavy music have been, and how much of his life he’s dedicated to bringing joy to his audience. Yeah, he’s made a pretty penny doing it, and done as much to tarnish his persona as to hone it over the years, but whether it’s through the sheer longevity of his relevance, the classic nature and ongoing influence of his work with Sabbath and the early incarnations of the Ozzy Osbourne band, or the smile on his face when he steps out in front of a crowd, it still seems to me that there’s plenty to appreciate about Ozzy in 2017.

That’s worth considering as well as all the rest when we think about the man, his music and the impact both have had on our lives.

Ozzy Osbourne website

Ozzy Osbourne on Thee Facebooks

Black Sabbath, Paris 1970

Black Sabbath, California Jam 1974

Ozzy Osbourne, “Mr. Crowley” live in 1981

Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Babies” official video

Ozzy Osbourne, Live in Minnesota, Aug. 2017

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R.I.P. Geoff Nicholls, Keyboardist of Black Sabbath, 1948-2017

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 28th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

geoff nicholls black sabbath tony iommi

Sad news today from the camp of heavy metal forebears Black Sabbath, who report that longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls has died following a long fight with lung cancer. Nicholls, who occasionally also contributed rhythm guitar and bass to the band on stage, was a rarely-seen but often-heard presence in Sabbath, adding texture to the crucial albums of the band’s first era post-Ozzy Osbourne and taking part in the great expansion of their sound that 1980’s Heaven and Hell and 1981’s Mob Rules represented, as well as the continuing process of remaking the aesthetic the band helped create across outings like 1983’s Born Again, which brought in Ian Gillan to replace Ronnie James Dio, and into the Tony Martin years with 1987’s The Eternal Idol, 1989’s Headless Cross, 1990’s Tyr, their Dehumanizer 1992 Dio reunion LP, 1994’s Cross Purposes, and 1995’s Forbidden, which brought Martin back into the fold.

During this time of change for Sabbath, Nicholls was a steady presence alongside founding guitarist Tony Iommi amid an often tumultuous lineup. Some of his greatest work can be heard on these under-heralded outings, as well as on 1982’s Live Evil, and though he doesn’t receive the same kind of credit as Iommi, Osbourne, original bassist Geezer Butler or drummer Bill Ward, the atmospheric crux he was able to bring to Black Sabbath during his years with the band still resonates in their ongoing influence on metal in both the commercial and underground spheres.

Nicholls continued to play with Sabbath through their first reunion with Osbourne in the late ’90s, appearing on the single “Psycho Man” and on the 1998 Reunion live album, and into the middle of the last decade, also working with Iommi on the 2004 side-project, The 1996 DEP Sessions. His last appearance on a Sabbath record was 2007’s Live at Hammersmith Odeon, which captured recordings from the early ’80s, but in 2016, he would rejoin with his former bandmates in Quartz to release Fear No Evil, their first album since 1983 and his final studio appearance.

Said Tony Iommi of Nicholls’ passing:

I’m so saddened to hear the loss of one of my dearest and closest friends Geoff Nicholls. He’s been suffering for a while now with lung cancer and he lost his battle this morning. Geoff and I have always been very close and he has been a real true friend to me and supported me all the way for nearly 40 years. I will miss him dearly and he will live in my heart until we meet again.

Rest In Peace my dear friend.
Tony

On behalf of myself and this site, condolences to the friends and family of Nicholls as well as to the fans who have appreciated his work over the last five decades.

Black Sabbath are in the process of winding down their farewell shows prior to a reported retirement. Their most recent album, 13, was released in 2013.

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Born Again

Posted in Bootleg Theater on October 14th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Born Again (1983)

Among the several maligned periods of Black Sabbath‘s almost-50-year history, from the late-Ozzy era to the Tony Martin years to the various reunions, “Psycho Man” and all that, I don’t think any single album has found redemption over the years more than 1983’s Born Again. It’s simply a record that won out over time. Condemned in its day for its mix, its sloppiness of sound and off-balance, coked-up, thrown together feel, it’s now appreciated for many of the same reasons. Until the 2011 charity one-off project WhoCares?, whose single was reviewed here, it would be the only collaboration between founding Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi and frontman-of-frontmen Ian Gillan, of course known for his work in Deep Purple. The stories by now are legion, and don’t need my retelling. Gillan has discussed at length over the years how the whole thing was put together by management, how he barely took part in writing these songs — almost apologizing for an album that was poorly received — and that’s fair enough. Born Again is likewise something different from anything he’d done before as well, and for Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, drummer Bill Ward and keyboardist Geoff Nichols, it was a stark contrast to the grandiose reach of the band’s (first) era fronted by Ronnie James Dio, which produced two brilliant, landmark albums in 1980’s Heaven and Hell (discussed here) and 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), before coming to a close in time for Dio to issue his solo debut, the also-landmark Holy Diver, a few months before Born Again, in Spring 1983.

I’m not interested in defending Born Again against detractors — it still has many. Rather, in considering it as the pivot point for Black Sabbath in the ’80s, which is a time when it’s easy to think of them as wandering in the desert, working with GillanGlenn HughesRay Gillen, etc., en route to the decade Iommi would team with Tony Martin, the nine-track/41-minute offering might be the first Sabbath record that knew it was heavy metal and that being heavy metal was coming to mean something different from even a few years earlier. Born Again strips away the acoustic flourish of “Heaven and Hell,” the expansive progressivism of “The Sign of the Southern Cross,” in favor of raw tracks like “Zero the Hero,” the dissonant and jagged “Disturbing the Priest,” and barnburners like opener “Trashed” — a car song, which shines as a vehicle (pun totally intended) for Gillan post-Purple — and the almost unfortunately catchy “Digital Bitch,” to which, admittedly, history and context have not been as kind. The title-track meanders as a proto-ballad, and with the rocker “Hot Line” and the semi-sleaze of “Keep it Warm” closing out, Born Again is not without filler, but that’s precisely the point. It’s not a perfect record, and if one considers even the most basic measure of creative intent behind that stripping down, it not only sets up what Sabbath would do for the rest of the ’80s and well into the ’90s, but it makes for a standout from their catalog even in comparison to their earth-shattering, genre-defining early albums, which coalesced blues rock, weighted tones and darker themes into what eventually became the heavy metal from which Born Again could be seen as drawing influence.

As Sabbath move inexorably toward retirement, I’m keeping my fingers crossed Iommi and Gillan renew their studio collaboration. It’s a long-shot, granted, but even if they didn’t tour together — Gillan still hits the road with Deep Purple on the semi-regular — a studio album perhaps under the working moniker Born Again would certainly be welcome.

Love it or hate it, I hope you’ll take on Black Sabbath‘s Born Again with an open mind and enjoy the process of paying it another visit. Thanks for reading.

If closing out the week with Sabbath felt too easy or cliché, I’ll ask you to note that in the four-plus years I’ve done “Friday Full-Length,” it’s only been Sabbath in two prior instances, both linked above. That’s tied with KyussMonster MagnetDozerGoatsnake and Masters of Reality, among others. Not outlandish in that context to push for a third, what with them being Sabbath and all. There. I told myself I wasn’t going to justify it and I did anyway.

Short week at work with Monday off. Apparently when you have a real job they give you Columbus Day. First time that’s ever happened to me. Somewhat problematic from a colonial standpoint — all that rape and pillage — but a day off is a day off, and given where the rest of the week went work-wise from Tuesday on, I’ll especially take it. A mess of emails, meetings, emails about meetings, reading copy over and over and taking on more and more assignments. I’m also looking at starting another part-time gig on the side to hopefully give me some saving/playing money. And yes, I know how troubling it is to put “saving” and “playing” so close to each other in this context. Oh, Canon 5D Mark IV. You will be mine.

But anyway, it was stressful and I’m glad it’s just about over. Just about. Next week I’m doing myself a couple favors. I’ll be reviewing stuff from TruckfightersWorshipper, and Asteroid, as well as hosting album streams from Dorre/Bethmoora and Zaum. Not exactly taking it easy, but none of it is going to be a slog to write about by any means. Also look for news on Samsara Blues ExperimentFreedom Hawk and others, and videos for Sergio Ch. and members of Across Tundras. If I can, I’m also going to squeeze in an extra stream of a couple tracks from lost-but-way-ahead-of-their-time NY riffers Begotten that have come into my possession. I’ve been fortunate enough to be granted permission to host them, so don’t want to let that opportunity slip by. Look for that Wednesday or Thursday.

I think I mentioned something last week or the week before about wanting to shave off my beard. That didn’t happen, but I did get my hair cut last week and asked the dude who does that to take the facial hair in considerably as well. No regrets, as far as that goes. The Patient Mrs. noted that it completely changed the shape of my face. I’m fine with that.

So that’s your Beardwatch 2016 update. I’m sure you were glued to the edge of your seat waiting for news.

The Patient Mrs. has a friend in this weekend from abroad, so I expect there will be some running around probably in Boston on Saturday. My ankle’s resurgent soreness notwithstanding, sounds fine. I also at this point don’t care if my fucking foot falls off though, so maybe that’s not the best attitude. It’s cool. Not like it’s been two years or anything. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but between that and the barrage of fascist bullshit this election cycle, from which even Star Trek and the MLB playoffs have ceased to provide respite, it’s rough going.

Oh, and I started Luke Cage. First episode was a bunch of racial tropes — really? a Biggie portrait? — and not much compelling character development. Haven’t gone back to it yet. Jessica Jones and the second season of Daredevil were kind of disappointing as well, so I may or may not get there anytime soon. If you’ve seen it, I’d welcome any opinions on whether it’s worth the effort or if I should just say screw it and keep going with my Deep Space Nine/Voyager deep-dive.

Alright. Can’t imagine anyone’s still reading, but if you are (and I suppose if you stopped), I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Please make sure to check out the forum and the radio stream.

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Dunsmuir: New Band Announced with Members of Fu Manchu, Clutch and Black Sabbath

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 18th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

As of right now, there isn’t much more to go on when it comes to Dunsmuir than a logo and a lineup, but it’s a considerable lineup to start with. Frontman Neil Fallon of Clutch brings a loyal following with him wherever he goes, and in Dunsmuir he’s joined by The Company Band guitarist Dave Bone, Fu Manchu bassist Brad Davis and Heaven and Hell/Black Sabbath drummer Vinny Appice. The band takes its name from the sleepy fishing getaway town in Northern California that, in 1991, was the site of the largest chemical spill ever to happen in the state — a train fell off a cliff into a river carrying toxic, ecosystem-destroying this-and-that — and while there’s no word yet as regards what they’ll actually sound like, for the rhythm section pairing of Davis and Appice alone, the safest bet seems to be that it’ll rock.

For those reading between the lines of the above, the roots of Dunsmuir would seem to be in The Company Band. Dave Bone played guitar in that band and was principal songwriter, but Fallon and Davis were also members along with CKY‘s Jess Margera and Jim Rota of Fireball Ministry. That group’s last outing was the 2012 Pros and Cons EP (review here), which followed behind their 2009 self-titled debut full-length (review here) and 2008’s debut EP, Sign Here, Here and Here. If Dunsmuir is a continuation on some level of what The Company Band were doing, perhaps without the underlying corporate thematic that the last EP seemed to push away from anyhow, then I doubt they’d meet with many complaints, but it’s really all speculation at this point until some audio begins to surface.

As to that, there’s nothing yet at least that I’ve been able to find. When and if something comes along, I’ll let you know, but here’s that logo and lineup in the meantime, as posted by Davis, along with website/social links in case you’d also like to keep an eye:

dunsmuir logo

DUNSMUIR

Brad Davis (Fu Manchu)
Vinny Appice (Dio / Black Sabbath / Heaven & Hell)
Dave Bone (The Company Band)
Neil Fallon (Clutch)

https://www.facebook.com/DunsmuirBand/
https://www.instagram.com/dunsmuirband/
https://twitter.com/DunsmuirBand
http://dunsmuirband.com/

The Company Band, “El Dorado”

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Black Sabbath Extend Farewell Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on October 28th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

I think if Black Sabbath were going to extend their tour based on “overwhelming demand,” they probably wouldn’t ever be able to retire. Still, the forefathers of modern doom — and, less relevantly, metal as a whole — have added dates to their “The End” 2016 tour, which will head to Europe after completing an initial North American run and then circle back for summer dates in the US. It will be the band’s first run since 2013, when they came through heralding their first Ozzy Osbourne-fronted release in over 30 years, 13 (review here).

And yeah, I know you’ve seen this. Everyone’s seen it. Shit, it was trending on Thee Facebooks, so let alone those who’ve made riffs into a lifestyle, people who in no way give even the remotest shit about Black Sabbath have seen it. Consider it here for the ICYMI crowd and for posterity. Never know when you’ll want to refer back to it later. Or at least I will.

And yeah, no Bill Ward.

PR wire-esque info follows:

Black Sabbath (Photo by JJ Koczan)

BLACK SABBATH TRIUMPHANTLY RETURN TO NORTH AMERICA

DUE TO OVERWHELMING DEMAND, “THE END” TOUR EXTENDED INTO FALL 2016 WITH ADDITIONAL NORTH AMERICAN SHOWS

Due to overwhelming demand, the road to THE END just got longer.

On the heels of their much-anticipated performances in North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, BLACK SABBATH will end the epic journey they began nearly five decades ago with another run of North American dates in fall 2016. These shows will follow a mix of summer headlining and festival performances throughout Europe.

The second run of North American dates kicks off August 17 at Jones Beach Amphitheater in New York and includes stops at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles (where the band last performed a sold-out show on their wildly successful 13 world tour in 2014), Chicago, Philadelphia, Toronto, Detroit, and Dallas, among others, before wrapping September 21 at AK-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix, AZ.

The massive 2016 world tour by the greatest Metal Band of all time marks THE END for Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler as they close the final chapter in the final volume of the incredible BLACK SABBATH story with this tour. BLACK SABBATH’s THE END farewell tour promises to surpass all previous tours and will feature the band’s most mesmerizing production ever.

When this tour concludes, it will truly be THE END, THE END of one of most legendary bands in Rock ’n Roll history…BLACK SABBATH

BLACK SABBATH’s 2016 Tour Dates are as follows:

NORTH AMERICA
1/20 Omaha, NE CenturyLink Center
1/22 Chicago, IL United Center
1/25 Minneapolis, MN Target Center
1/27 Winnipeg MN MTS Centre
1/30 Edmonton, AB Rexall Centre
2/1 Calgary, AB Scotiabank Saddledome
2/3 Vancouver, BC Rogers Arena
2/6 Tacoma, WA Tacoma Dome
2/9 San Jose, CA SAP Pavilion
2/11 Los Angeles, CA The Forum
2/13 Las Vegas, NV Mandalay Bay
2/15 Denver, CO Pepsi Center
2/17 Kansas City, MO Sprint Center
2/19 Detroit, MI The Palace of Auburn Hills
2/21 Hamilton, ON First Ontario Centre
2/23 Montreal, QC Bell Centre
2/25 New York, NY Madison Square Garden
2/27 New York, NY Madison Square Garden

AUSTRALIA/NEW ZEALAND
4/15 Perth, AU Perth Arena
4/17 Adelaide, AU Entertainment Centre
4/19 Melbourne, AU Rod Laver Arena
4/23 Sydney, AU Allphones Arena
4/25 Brisbane, AU Entertainment Centre
4/28 Auckland, NZ Vector Arena
4/30 Dunedin, NZ Forsyth Barr Stadium

EUROPE
6/1 Budapest,Hungary Groupama Arena
6/8 Berlin, Germany Waldebuhne
**6/11 Donington, UK Download
6/13 Verona, IT Arena Di Verona
6/15 Zurich, Switzerland Hallenstadon
**6/17 Dessel,Belgium Grasspop
**6/23 Halden, Norway Tons of Rock
**6/25 Copenhagen, DE Copenhell
6/28 Vienna, Austria Stadthalle
6/30 Prague, Czech Rep. 02 Arena
7/2 Krakow, Poland Tauron Arena
7/5 Riga, Latvia Riga Arena
**7/7 Helsinki, Finland Monsters of Rock
**7/9 Stockholm, Sweden Monsters of Rock
7/12 Moscow, Russia Olympisky Arena
**Denotes festival appearance

NORTH AMERICA
8/17 Wantagh, NY Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
8/19 Philadelphia, PA Susquehanna Bank Center
8/21 Washington DC Jiffy Lube Live
8/23 Holmdel, NJ PNC Bank Arts Center
8/25 Boston, MA Xfinity Center
8/27 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun Arena
8/29 Toronto, ON Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
8/31 Detroit, MI DTE Energy Music Theater
9/2 Indianapolis, IN Klipsch Music Center
9/4 Chicago, IL Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
9/7 Dallas, TX Gexa Energy Pavilion
9/9 Albuquerque, NM Isleta Ampitheater
9/11 Salt Lake City, UT USANA Ampitheater
9/13 Portland, OR Sunlight Supply Arena
9/15 Oakland, CA Oracle Arena
9/17 Las Vegas, NV MGM Grand Garden Arena
9/19 Hollywood, CA Hollywood Bowl
9/21 Phoenix, AZ AK-Chin Pavilion

https://www.facebook.com/BlackSabbath
http://www.blacksabbath.com/

Black Sabbath, ‘The End’ Tour Announcement

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Mob Rules

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 16th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

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.

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