Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Technical Ecstasy

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 26th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Technical Ecstasy (1976)

 

Alright, let’s do this. Let’s talk about Technical Ecstasy. In a world where the saying goes, “you can only trust yourself and the first six Black Sabbath albums,” it’s the seventh. Widely regarded as the nadir of the doom forebears’ original lineup, including by the band itself, it was released in 1976 through Vertigo Records and there’s no question it was a departure from their prior work. That’s been blamed on a number of sources, whether it’s commercial or indeed more technical aspirations in the songwriting, but most centers around the fact that production was handled by guitarist Tony Iommi on the part of the full band. But really, even on paper it was kind of a recipe for disaster. They were a bunch of coked-out rockstars recording in Miami in 1976. That’s not an album. That’s a movie.

But history has been awfully kind to Iommi, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward. Let’s remember that it was their late-’90s reunion tour that solidified their singular place in the pantheon of heavy metal, a comeback that followed an era of confused recordings like 1995’s Forbidden (discussed here) as the band tried to fit a modern context a quarter-century after getting their start. The truth is Technical Ecstasy does have some elements that show the band wanting to move forward from the prior darkened sound that would eventually become their legacy. The penultimate “She’s Gone” is based around acoustic guitar and a string arrangement in a way that feels grown out of “Fluff” from 1973’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and presages some of the more grandiose sonic reaching of the Ronnie James Dio-fronted era that began in 1980.

At the same time, Technical Ecstasy wasn’t without an edge. I won’t attempt to defend the ultra-sleazed-out lyric of closer “Dirty Women,” but the song had a riffy crunch that fit with what the band had done a year earlier on Sabotage and though opener “Back Street Kids” reaffirms a working class origin that the band had readily given up in favor of fame and fortune, its drive was also a foreshadow of what the band would do on cuts like “Neon Knights” or “Turn up the Night” in their second iteration, or even on the title-track of the subsequent 1978 LP, Never Say Die! — a barnburner to lead-off. Experimentation with keyboard prominence in “You Won’t Change Me” came coupled with some fair tonal heft and a suitable vocal performance from Osbourne, whose voice was continuing to take on the affect it would further develop in his solo work also beginning in 1980, and a concluding solo that could please even a discriminating Iommi fan.

It was the album’s attempts at commerciality that came up lame. “It’s Alright” put Ward on vocals, and he handled it ably, black_sabbath_technical_ecstasy_retail_cd-frontmoving into a falsetto series of “oohs” to complement the McCartney-esque piano bounce of the initial verse before Iommi‘s out-of-nowhere sweeping solo. But for a band who made their name with raw impact, it was too stark a contrast for many. I won’t take away from the honky-tonk piano line of the later “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor” or the riff that accompanies, but the track sounded like the work of a band running on empty, and after “Gypsy” and the rolling groove and highlight bassline of “All Moving Parts (Stand Still),” it just seemed like Sabbath had run out of things to talk about. “She’s Gone” and “Dirty Women” would do nothing to dispel that notion in closing out the record.

That left “Gypsy” and “All Moving Parts (Stand Still)” as highlights one way or the other. They moved Sabbath‘s sound forward from Sabotage and introduced a more lush sense of melody (“Gypsy”) and were able to toy with structure in interesting ways. I’d put “You Won’t Change Me” in that category as well, despite its lyrical redundancy to the opener and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor.” It had only been five years since the band went “Into the Void” on Master of Reality (discussed here), but Black Sabbath were a different group than they were in 1971, in concept if not yet in personnel, and Technical Ecstasy represented the turmoil that was beginning to take hold that would ultimately result in the ouster of Osbourne and the arrival of Dio following Never Say Die! It was a step along a much longer, broader path.

Does that make it the worst original-lineup Black Sabbath record? Well, something’s bound to be at the bottom, and it certainly isn’t Vol. 4. I wrote a post nearly six years ago about a live version of “Dirty Women” that was so sloppy, raw and high-sounding that it encapsulated for me the crashing-out of Sabbath as a whole, and defenders of the late-Ozzy era rallied to tell me how wrong I was to malign that period of their work. So maybe bad Sabbath is still better than a lot of other things. I have the feeling if the commercial experiment had paid off and “Gypsy” or “It’s Alright” had been huge hits, the band wouldn’t be so quick to write them off, but that’s here or there. And doesn’t change the fact that their most influential work remains across the first six records, if not the first four.

Technical Ecstasy has more than a little contextual appeal. It’s part of the narrative of Black Sabbath, and an important part for what it would lead to and the changes that would come in the band in the years that followed, but on its own, the powerhouse songwriting and performances, the sheer urgency of their earlier work was largely gone. And fair enough as the popular consciousness had largely moved on from early ’70s rock and the NWOBHM had yet to take hold. Technical Ecstasy resides in that somewhat awkward between-place: mature but stoned, classy but sleaze, loud but soft. And while in hindsight one can look back and appreciate the confusion for what it is, how it represents that pivotal time for Black Sabbath as a whole, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be the record you reach for when you want to listen to them. But hey, every now and then, you could certainly do much worse.

And seriously, how great would the movie about recording it be?

As always, I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading.

My alarm was set for 4:30 this morning. I was giving myself a break since I got in late from the Crowbar/Lo-Pan show last night and didn’t get to sleep at 8PM as I otherwise might. Lose like four hours, gain a half-hour back. Whatever. I woke up at 3:50AM and that was it. Blew that plan like a vacuum tube.

Worth it though. Show was low key, but the bands sounded good and I was glad I went, not the least for having bought a Hawaiian shirt from Lo-Pan. Best $25 I spent all week.

Next week is packed, so let’s do notes:

MON: Horseburner track premiere; Weird Owl track premiere.
TUE: Ghost: Hello track premiere; Rancho Bizarro video premiere; Holy Grove mixtape.
WED: Hound the Wolves/Glasghote stream; Gurt video premiere.
THU: Warcrab track premiere.
FRI: Oblivion Reptilian review.

Busy busy busy.

This week has been much the same, I guess. Couple six-post days in there. I’m still pretty surprised about Des leaving High on Fire and interested to hear how they sound with someone else in that spot. Everyone on the West Coast seems to give the new guy a rousing endorsement, so either he’s a beast or just a generally awesome person or maybe both. Both would be nice in a good-for-him kind of way, but if he’s a prick and can drum, well, it’s not like I’ll have to hang out with him. Low stakes for me, is what I’m saying.

This weekend, yeah, I don’t know what’s up. I think I’ll try and take tomorrow and not to Obelisk stuff at all. We’ve got a lot going on with getting this house ready to receive the rest of our crap from Massachusetts — including like 35 boxes of CDs that allegedly are going to go somewhere other than a storage unit — so yeah. Having a toddler pull ladders down on himself does not make that process any easier, I’m sure you’ll be shocked to find out.

Dude was like CRASH and then lost his mind for like a minute and then was fine. Two black eyes and a bloody nose this week. Oy.

He’s gonna be one of those kids who breaks his arm falling off the roof. When he’s four.

No Gimme Radio show this week, but thanks for asking. I’ll get a playlist together for the next one though, so if you’re not tired of me being like, “Duh, songs,” there will be plenty more opportunity for that.

Until then, I wish you a great and safe weekend. Thanks again for reading. Have fun, be safe, live long, prosper, all that silly whatnot.

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Magnetic Eye Records Completes Backing for Vol. 4 Redux & The Best of Black Sabbath Tributes

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 28th, 2019 by JJ Koczan

Wasn’t this bound to happen? Either Vol. 4 or Master of Reality? And by the way, there’s really no wrong answer there. So, you know, yeah. April 2020 is the listed ship date on Vol. 4 Redux and The Best of Black Sabbath, both of which continue Magnetic Eye Records‘ wildly successful ‘Redux’ series that’s already touched on HendrixFloydHelmet and has Alice in Chains on deck as a next installment. Still, obviously Black Sabbath have a special place in the history of heavy — right there at the start of it, maybe page three? — and accordingly, the big guns are coming out for the homage, whether it’s Matt Pike doing “FX” or Bongzilla taking on “Snowblind” or Tony Reed doing “Laguna Sunrise.” There’s no way it’s going to miss.

My only hope is that High Reeper make “Changes” heavy.

Interested to see how The Best of Black Sabbath pans out as well, with Year of the CobraElephant Tree and Earthless and a host of others confirmed. I saw Elephant Tree do a killer version of “Paranoid” live this past Fall. Wouldn’t mind a studio take on that from them as well.

But really, there’s no way to lose here.

Word from Magnetic Eye follows:

vol 4 redux

If you told us even as recently as six weeks ago that we’d be working on a Redux version of Black Sabbath’s Volume 4 and, before the end of March, artists including The Obsessed, Whores, Zakk Wylde, and Matt goddamn Pike would have all committed to be part of the project, we would’ve probably answered, “Wow.”

And if you’d then said, “Oh yeah, you’ll also assemble a Best of Black Sabbath companion LP featuring Earthless, Elephant Tree, Year of the Cobra, and tons of other great artists including a whole crop of brand-new Magnetic Eye roster bands, who by the way you’ll find time to sign during all the madness of your Vol. 4 Kickstarter,” we’d have most likely said, “piss off.”

And yet, here we are, and all of the above has come to pass.

We are indeed reduxing Volume 4 and offering up a Best of Sabbath companion record, we do have some of the greatest heavy artists in the world committed to be part of this project, and we did somehow find time to sign three new bands during all of this, each of whom we’ll have a new record coming from later this year, and all of whom we’re inviting to be part of the project.

So, yeah. Wow.

THOU – WHEELS OF CONFUSION / THE STRAIGHTENER
THE OBSESSED – TOMORROW’S DREAM
HIGH REEPER – CHANGES
MATT PIKE – FX
SPIRIT ADRIFT – SUPERNAUT
BONGZILLA – SNOWBLIND
WHORES – CORNUCOPIA
TONY REED – LAGUNA SUNRISE
HAUNT – ST VITUS DANCE
ZAKK SABBATH – UNDER THE SUN / EVERY DAY COMES AND GOES

ALBUM ART AND DESIGN ALYSSA MOCERE

IN ADDITION, WE HAVE INCREASED THE SCOPE OF OUR PROJECT TO INCLUDE 13 ADDITIONAL BLACK SABBATH SONGS ON A BEST OF BLACK SABBATH REDUX RECORD.

Summoner
Elephant Tree
Scott Reeder
IRONWEED
Earthless
Chris Wyse
Rwake
Mooner
Year of the Cobra
Leather Lung
Brume
Caustic Casanova
Dead Witches

http://store.merhq.com
http://magneticeyerecords.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords

Black Sabbath, “Snowblind”

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Forbidden

Posted in Bootleg Theater on November 30th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Forbidden (1995)

Even the most strident of Black Sabbath apologists have a tough time with Forbidden. Tony Iommi himself, who by the time 1995 came around had been at the core of the band as its founding guitarist for over 25 years and was the sole remaining original member, ragged on it pretty hard in his 2011 autobiography, Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven and Hell with Black Sabbath. He went so far as to title the short chapter about it, “The One that Should’ve Been Forbidden,” and to blame the band’s record label at the time, IRS Records, for hooking them up with producer Ernie Cunnigan, aka Ernie C, guitarist of Body Count — who Iommi alleges wasn’t familiar with Black Sabbath at all — in an attempt to regain street cred. And while Iommi acknowledges that if it had worked, he’d probably feel differently about the record, he goes on to describe an unpleasant studio situation with drummer Cozy Powell before shifting into nonsequitor stories about pranks pulled on the subsequent tour. So maybe this is needless to say, but Forbidden isn’t necessarily Black Sabbath‘s finest hour.

To wit, 20 years earlier, the original lineup issued Sabotage as their sixth album in five years, which is a run the impact of which is still rippling outward today. Even the beginnings of the era in which the band was fronted by Tony Martin in 1987’s The Eternal Idol (discussed here) held promise for what the group might still accomplish — or at very least that they’d do right by the legacy they’d already built. Martin‘s tenure in Black Sabbath has the odd distinction of being interrupted when Iommi did a reunion with the band’s second vocalist, Ronnie James Dio, for 1992’s Dehumanizer (discussed here). Already in addition to The Eternal Idol, he’d appeared on 1989’s Headless Cross and 1990’s Tyr, so it was not a case of a one-and-done spot in the band as had been experienced by Glenn Hughes on the would’ve-been-an-Iommi-solo-record Seventh Star in 1986 or even Deep Purple singer Ian Gillan, let alone Ray Gillen and others who’d come and gone in the ’80s. Still, Sabbath‘s left turn was sudden with the Dio reunion — lest we forget that founding bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Vinny Appice also returned at that point and left again, the latter with Dio and the former after the band’s subsequent LP, 1994’s Cross PurposesMartin was back in two years for that album as well, but the next year, ’95, Forbidden would be his final outing with Black Sabbath.

So what happened, and is Forbidden really all that bad? Yes and no. I don’t think anyone is about to argue that its 11-track/47-minute run is a landmark like anything Sabbath in their original incarnation, or when they were fronted by Dio, or even that its held up with age as well as the Gillan-fronted 1983 outing, Born Again (discussed here) — to which history has been particularly kind — but neither is it to be entirely written black sabbath forbiddenoff as Iommi would seem to do in his book. Whatever his conflict in the studio, Powell (who would pass away three years later) gave a rousing performance on songs like “Loser Gets it All,” which closes, and the earlier “Sick and Tired.” Bassist Neil Murray stands in well for Butler and keyboardist Geoff Nichols (R.I.P. 2017) fleshes out Iommi‘s guitar with characteristic melodies that enhance the atmosphere of the record overall. But it was a weird time for metal. The genre had already survived the commercialism of glam and grunge by going underground, but a band like Black Sabbath — so long a major presence both on the touring circuit and in terms of influence — couldn’t really do that. And the idea of “classic metal” that would let Judas Priest and eventually Black Sabbath flourish well into the 2010s didn’t really exist yet. So they were in a position of either trying to keep up with the times or continue to ride a steady decline in wider relevance. Which I guess is how you get Ice-T doing a short spoken word appearance on Forbidden opener “The Illusion of Power.”

It’s hard to begrudge Iommi taking a stab at it, and however much he might disavow Forbidden now, the album does have enduring qualities. The single “Get a Grip” remains catchy with a strong performance from Martin over a trademark later-Iommi riff. Ballads “I Won’t Cry for You” and especially the six-minute “Kiss of Death” tend toward redundancy with other cuts from the Martin era, but still serve the purpose of adding diversity to the album, while “Rusty Angels” finds a kind of midpoint between that style and the grittier push of “Guilty as Hell” and “Sick and Tired,” which form a tandem in the middle of the record — recall it was the mid-’90s, so they would’ve been structuring for CD rather than vinyl — that holds resonant vitality, while the odd, jerky vocal patterning in “Shaking off the Chains” actually hearkens back to Black Sabbath‘s earliest days and the immediately prior “Can’t Get Close Enough” finds Martin doing his best in conjuring Dio‘s swagger and nearly getting there. There are ups and downs, as the title-track is mostly forgettable and “Kiss of Death” plays toward Sabbathian epics while landing well short thereof, but even “The Illusion of Power” stands as a demonstration that the band so often credited with codifying heavy metal was still willing at the time to try to make it do different things. There was precedent for metal/rap crossover, but it was still a risky proposition. I don’t know if it worked or not, but it’s especially bold that that track leads off the record, and for all the purported incongruity, Ernie C‘s production does well in contrasting some of the grandiosity in the band’s sound at that point and bringing them back down to earth. Onto the street. Where the cred happens.

Alright.

Those looking to further mine some positive aspects from Forbidden should also consider the fact that it was the album that led to Iommi‘s 1997 reunion with original vocalist Ozzy OsbourneButler, and original drummer Bill Ward and nearly two decades of touring on and off with Ward in and eventually finally out of the band owing to a contract dispute. Black Sabbath was finally laid to rest last year, but their 2013 studio album, 13 (review here), was widely hailed as a return to their past glories. That proposition, like everything, is debatable, but how could it not have been the flop of Forbidden that was at least in some part responsible for making that reunion happen?

I’ve been working over the course of the last year or so to reconcile myself and really explore what is more typically considered Sabbath‘s darker period in the Martin years. I don’t think I’d put on Forbidden before Headless Cross or Tyr, but neither should it be entirely discounted. It’s emblematic of the time in which it was made, and for 18 years, it stood as the last Black Sabbath studio full-length. That in itself makes it all the more worthy of consideration.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Next week, Quarterly Review. It’s about quarter to 5AM right now, and after I finish this post I’m going to make the banner image and set up the back end for the posts. It’s a double-size deal. 100 records in 10 days, because if you’ll recall, we missed the Fall one owing to that whole I-got-robbed thing.

I have some premieres slated besides that — actually, I just got hit up for a full album stream on Wednesday that I really, really want to do, but a full review aside from 10 shorter ones? oof — for videos and the like, but as it’s still coming together and the point is that it’s the Quarterly Review, you’ll pardon me if I skip the notes. I’ve been doing that more lately. Should I stop doing the notes altogether? Does anyone care? I’m asking, really. If you get a second and have any idea what I’m talking about, please leave a comment.

You may have also noticed the Year-End Poll is up! I’m stoked. Get stoked. Add your list. Tell two friends to add their list, and then have them tell two more friends, and so on. I’d love to see this one really do well. It’s been a hell of a year for music.

And while I’m plugging stuff, this Sunday is a new episode of ‘The Obelisk Show’ on Gimme Radio. I spend the whole episode talking with Mike Cummings from Backwoods Payback, who is awesome. He picks tracks and some of it is pretty out there, so I hope you enjoy. 7PM Eastern on Sunday night. Listen at http://gimmeradio.com.

Ah hell, the baby’s awake. It’s early. I hope he goes back down or this is going to be a rough day. Yesterday — ugh.

If you dig what’s going on with the site, please buy a shirt from Dropout Merch. The sales have slowed down a bit since the start, but as I hate doing merchandise in the first place, I really want to get rid of what’s there so I don’t have to think about it anymore. They’re at http://dropoutmerch.com/the-obelisk.

That’s it for me. I gotta go stare stressfully at the baby monitor and then diaper, feeding, day, etc. Have a great and safe weekend. Thanks for reading and please hit up the forum, radio stream, merchandise, and so on.

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer

Posted in Bootleg Theater on July 13th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Dehumanizer (1992)

It’s both funny-ha-ha and funny-strange to think of it now, but Black Sabbath were old men in 1992. Think of what else was going on at the time. Dehumanizer, the band’s first studio full-length with Ronnie James Dio as frontman since 1981’s Mob Rules (discussed here), came out on June 30. On Sept. 24 the year prior, Nirvana released their breakthrough second LP, Nevermind, and in Sept. ’92, Alice in Chains would help solidify what became the “grunge era” along with Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and a 100,000 others who suddenly decided flannel and ripped jeans was a really good idea. Even as its more extreme forms — death, black, even doom if one thinks of it in the Peaceville sense of the word — were beginning to hit their vital prime in the underground, in the commercial sphere, metal was staid and overblown. Would bringing back a singer who’d fronted the band a decade earlier really do any favors for the past-trend Black Sabbath? Hindsight argues yes, it can and did.

Looking back on Dehumanizer some 26 years later, it’s easy to see the effect it had on Black Sabbath in general. They were never going to recapture the groundbreaking moment that was their early years. Simply couldn’t happen. The ’70s were long over, metal had codified into a varied rock and roll subgenre, and the band’s own production value and stylistic drive had shifted — as heard even before they parted ways with original frontman Ozzy Osbourne, let alone got Dio in for the first time on 1980’s landmark, Heaven and Hell (discussed here). What Dehumanizer allowed Black Sabbath — spearheaded as it always was by guitarist Tony Iommi, with co-founder Geezer Butler on bass and returned drummer Vinny Appice — to look back while moving forward. It was the first time they’d done so, and a decent portion of their career to come would be spent in that modus. Long since mature in their approach, Dehumanizer appealed in songs like “Computer God,” “TV Crimes,” “Time Machine” — lest we forget the Wayne’s World soundtrack — and “I” to Black Sabbath‘s established audience. A little older, but still wanting a metallic crunch in their guitars and still ready to groove on an Iommi riff. Dio, who’d spent the 10 years prior fronting his solo band and thereby helping to chart the course of ’80s metal with a string of hits across an essential first three albums-plus, was already the voice of classic metal even as “classic metal” first became a thing. On Dehumanizer, Black Sabbath took these established principles and brought them together with an approach that was modern in its production and presentation, and still allowed for a sense of rawness in the delivery.

That can be heard in the careening verses of “TV Crimes” or in the thudding and rolling highlight “After All (The Dead),” as each black sabbath dehumanizerpunch of snare from Appice seems the punctuation of a stomp Black Sabbath had never before elicited. Melody of course was central, on “After All (The Dead)” and the single “Master of Insanity” as well as “Time Machine” and the later “Sins of the Father” and “I,” but where Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules both seemed to carry over some of Iommi‘s late-’70s progressive aspirations, a decade later, Black Sabbath sounded fully assured of who they were as a unit, knew what their sound was at the time and how to capture it. They’d of course been doing so for years at that point on the 1986 would’ve-been Iommi solo album, Seventh Star and the beginning of the Tony Martin-fronted era in 1987’s The Eternal Idol (discussed here), 1989’s Headless Cross and 1990’s Tyr — all of which followed the Sabbath-meets-DeepPurple experiment that was 1983’s Born Again (discussed here) — and though it’s almost too easy to read this stretch as a descent into mediocrity, it served as a defining moment for Iommi in terms of style. The guitarist who’d helped to create metal learned what metal was during this time and began to find his place in it. His style of riffing became less bluesy, took away some of the progressive edge, and learned that sometimes the raw force of a riff was enough to carry a piece.

Some of that can be heard on Dehumanizer as well, on the brook-no-argument side A with “Computer God” — the lyrics both prescient and quaint over a quarter-century later — and “After All (The Dead),” as well as in the reaches of a less-immediate side B, which is bolstered by “I,” but requires deeper listening to “Too Late” or closer “Buried Alive,” the last of which is anticlimactic on the first impression but unfolds over time to be deceptively memorable. Dehumanizer was never going to be classic Sabbath, and it wasn’t intended to be. It was a pivot that not only helped recapture the mutually-beneficial-if-personally-tumultuous relationship between Iommi and Dio, but gave the band’s mature approach a kick as only the latter could provide. Sure, it was just one record and then Iommi and Butler would be back with Tony Martin and drummer Bobby Rondinelli for 1994’s Cross Purposes — both Butler and Rondinelli would be gone for 1995’s Forbidden — but one has to wonder if the late-’90s reunion with Ozzy, Butler and original drummer Bill Ward would’ve happened in the way it did had Dehumanizer not blazed that trail of getting back together with a former vocalist. Arguably, between touring with Osbourne and reuniting again with Dio in the late ’00s, first as Black Sabbath for new material on the The Dio Years compilation and then as the offshoot unit Heaven and Hell, whose lone studio album, The Devil You Know (review here), came out in 2009.

The death of Ronnie James Dio in 2010 and Tony Iommi‘s battle with cancer — he won, with riffs — seemed to drive Black Sabbath back together minus Bill Ward for the 2013 album, 13 (review here), and subsequent years of (alleged) retirement touring that wrapped with a hometown show in the band’s long-ago hometown of Birmingham, England, last year. A fitting enough end if it really was the end, I suppose. That’s what they called the live album, anyway: The End. Nowhere to go after that except The Epilogue, which would invariably be something of a comedown.

Either way, Black Sabbath remain unparalleled legends in doom, in metal and in the creation of what has come to be known as “heavy” in general. Dehumanizer is one of several outings in their catalog that served as a pivot point as they moved from one era to the next, and though its sound is inevitably a standout from the two original Dio-era albums, it’s a more than worthy addition to that catalog and, of course, essential listening.

As always, I hope you enjoy.

Today’s Friday, right? Shit I hope so.

I’m in Massachusetts as of yesterday afternoon, hope to be leaving again as of this afternoon. Here just long enough to take out the recycling and try — probably fail — to obtain a new driver’s license. Yesterday we came up from Connecticut, today we’re going back, and then either Saturday or Sunday, depending largely on the weather and The Pecan — who’s even less predictable at this point — back down to New Jersey for I hope at least a full week. It would be nice to be someplace for a full week.

Not the least because there are no fewer than six shows I want to hit in various spots in the next two weeks. Next Friday, Saturday, Sunday, in order: Sasquatch at Saint Vitus, Backwoods Payback in New London, CT, and Bible of the Devil in Manhattan. Then, the week after: Sleep in Brooklyn, Acid King & Geezer in Brooklyn and Witch Mountain in Brooklyn. I’m thinking of going to all of them and calling it a “weekend warrior special,” but that too will no doubt either happen or not at the behest of the baby. We shall see. Gonna take it one day at a time like the alcoholics.

Seemed like a lot of in-transit this week, but a lot of it was basically just running around from place to place with the baby. It’s been nice out — summer and whatnot — so I’ve been trying to take him outside, let him try to eat grass, stop him immediately, then let him try again, etc. Going for walks and that kind of thing. That’s been facilitated by the fact that I’ve been waking up absurdly early. This morning was 2:40AM, yesterday was later, 3:30, but the two days before were both somewhere in the neighborhood of 1-1:30, so yeah, pretty silly.

I’ve been able mostly to get my shit handled though and then be available to The Patient Mrs. for baby-helpery early in the day, which has been good. Yesterday we all took a walk on the beach together and that was good, and the day before, he and I were out for an hour just basically killing time. Yeah, there’s some element of it that’s counting down to when he goes to bed, but there’s some element of it that’s counting down to when I go to bed too, so fair enough.

Also been singing to him like nonstop. Little known fact that about me that no one cares about but is true anyway is that I’m a huge Beatles fan and I’ve been on something of a kick lately. Three hours in the car stuck in I-95 traffic? No problem when you’ve got a thumb drive filled with the entire catalog plus choice bootlegs set to random. Meandering around the neighborhood for untold amounts of time so The Patient Mrs. can check in on her students for the online class she’s teaching? The mental jukebox was built for these things. “Strawberry Fields,” take 30. It’s fun to pretend I’m not completely tone deaf, which, sadly, I am.

Distractions abound this morning, but before I go, of course, next week’s notes. Being home, my PhotoShop installation disc is handy, so I just loaded that onto The Silver Fox and I’ll be using it to make a Quarterly Review banner. Then it’s onto the 50-record madness throughout the next week. I’ll likely have fewer posts overall — going to try to keep it to three a day if I’ll actually let myself do so — but we’re at the moment of a great girding of loins. Tomorrow I build back ends and start writing. From there, all hell breaks loose. I expect by next Friday I’ll really, really want to get out to a show, which is fine because I hear there are a few happening.

Thunderbird Divine also play Ode to Doom in Manhattan next Wednesday. Dare I? We’ll see.

In the meantime, here are the notes, subject to change blah blah blah:

Mon.: Quarterly Review day 1; Saint Karloff track premiere.
Tue.: QR2; Electric Citizen track premiere.
Wed.: QR3; Gorm track premiere.
Thu.: QR4; Saturnia video.
Fri.: QR5; Atavismo full album stream.

Woof. I’m exhausted already.

Okay, let me get out of here and see if I can sneak a minute or two of back-end work before the day starts. I hope you have a great and safe weekend. Thanks for reading and please check out the forum and radio stream.

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Friday Full-Length: Black Sabbath, Live in Asbury Park, NJ, Aug. 5, 1975

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 4th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

Black Sabbath, Convention Hall, Asbury Park, 1975

In the annals of Black Sabbath bootlegdom, there are two unofficial documents of the original-lineup era that stand above the rest as utterly essential for their sound quality and the band’s performance. One is Paris 1970 (discussed here), and the other is this recording from Aug. 5, 1975, from Asbury Park, New Jersey. The show was at Convention Hall, right on the Boardwalk of the beach town, and the band were in the US promoting the yet-to-be-released Sabotage, and as one can hear in the renditions of “Hole in the Sky,” “War Pigs,” “Spiral Architect” and on and on, the band was pure stoned fire. Captured at what I’d gladly argue was his peak as an actual singer, if not as a frontman, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne engages the crowd and nails each song, even if he flubs the lyrics here and there, as on “Symptom of the Universe” early in the 100-minute set. With solos from guitarist Tony Iommi and drummer Bill Ward — sadly nothing from the bass; it would be amazing to have a Geezer Butler solo captured in such fidelity — the band is both vibrant and poised, and whether they’re ripping into “Supernaut” or jamming out an early version of what would become “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor” on 1976’s Technical Ecstasy, Black Sabbath absolutely laid waste to Asbury Park (it would take the shore town decades to recover) and, seemingly, everyone in the vicinity. As Ozzy says at the beginning of “Hole in the Sky”: “Are you high?” Cheers. “Are you HIGH???” Louder cheers. “So am I.”

I won’t doubt the veracity of that claim, which is to say, he probably was high. Black Sabbath‘s adventures in weed, cocaine, booze, etc., are well documented, and as they were about to release their sixth album, they were about to enter the period in which that excess of excess would begin to take its toll, eventually leading to the split with Osbourne and a collaboration with then-Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Of course, they would put out Technical Ecstasy and 1978’s Never Say Die before that happened, and both of those albums certainly have their moments, but there’s a reason the t-shirt says you can only trust yourself and the first six Black Sabbath records, and it seems that no small part of that reason is because by the time they were six and then eight years removed from their genre-defining 1970 self-titled debut, they were fried on multiple levels. “Are you high?” Cheers. “So am I.”

That of course is just one example of choice banter from Ozzy throughout. He talks about the “new album” a lot, tells the crowd he loves them multiple times, and at the end of the set, says on behalf of himself and the band behind that the New Jersey crowd is, “a good bunch of people.” It’s the kind of thing that would rare make it onto an official live release, since it so directly ties it to the place and the specific date, but in hearing it some 43 years after the fact, it brings the listener that much more into the moment of what was happening that night, at that time, at that particular gig. And that’s the thing about the Convention Hall show. It was a stop on the tour. They’d have another show the night after and/or the night after that. This could’ve been Black Sabbath any other day of the week, and they’re utterly lethal. Even the slow-rolling beginning section of “Megalomania” sees them dominating.

There are various stories about this show. One that it was a radio broadcast. Another that it was recorded and intended for release as a live album that was subsequently shelved. I don’t know how true any of that is or isn’t — neither is outside the realm of possibility; it’s not like the rumor is it was actually recorded by time travelers who wanted to do the future a favor and record the best show the band ever played — but I know that this set is just as essential as any official live record Sabbath ever put out, if not more so, and that it demonstrates the power in Black Sabbath‘s delivery at the time. They were dead on.

I’ve been a bootleg nerd for a while and have amassed a decent Sabbath collection at this point, but if you have a favorite you’d like to campaign for — I hear good things about London ’78, and of course there’s the 1974 California Jam — please feel free to let fly in the comments. In the meantime, as always, I hope you enjoy. How could you not?

I don’t know how many typos there are in the section above, but I was falling asleep pretty hard for a little bit while putting it together, so I’m sure there are some. I’ll try to read it over in the next day or so and make copy fixes. Sometimes that kind of thing happens when you start writing at five in the morning, even with a decent amount of coffee in your system.

This weekend is Desertfest in London and Berlin. If you’re going, I hope you have a great time. I’ll actually be in the UK from May 13-23, which is just a week late to catch the festival. Timing is everything. I’m planning on seeing Elephant Tree though while I’m in town at The Black Heart. That will be fun. Fingers crossed for a new song or two in the set.

Feels like the bulk of this week was still Roadburn recovery, but actually most of it was baby time. The weather in New England has turned from shit-miserable to less-shit-miserable — Spring has sprung! — so I’ve been able to take The Pecan out for walks and that kind of thing. He’s sitting up and proto-crawling, but not standing yet at all. We’ve started him on solid foods, puffs and the like. Obviously I regret not starting my “Doomestic Living” blog when he was born. I’d basically have to give this up though to do it right and clearly that’s not something I’m prepared to do.

My therapist this week told me I should write about my experience with having an eating disorder. That’d be a fun one. I’d like to do that. Don’t really have the time, aside from the odd mention here of starving myself or, alternately, not, and being miserable about one or the other or both. Front to back I’m pretty wretched either way.

To wit: my wife and I were talking about this or that old busted appliance the other day, and I said something about, “weighs 300 pounds and doesn’t work,” waited a second and then added, “I can relate.”

(pause for laughter)

As I’m flying to London next Saturday, I’ve of course packed as much into the coming week as possible. I’m not sure yet what my days will be like in the UK, but of course I’ll do as much as I can when I can. In the meantime, here’s what’s coming up as of now, subject to change of course:

Mon.: Dee Calhoun review.
Tue.: Tunguska Mammoth review/stream.
Wed.: Abramis Brama review; Big Kizz video premiere.
Thu.: Drug Cult review/video premiere.
Fri.: Mos Generator album stream.

Alright, y’all. I’m gonna check out. I’ve got work to do over the weekend, so I’ll be around. Would be nice to catch up on email and Facebook messages, but at this point that feels like a longer-term project. Way, way behind, as usual.

Have a great and safe weekend. Enjoy the Sabbath, have fun, be safe, and eat some ice cream. I’ll see you back here Monday for another onslaught of riffy whatnot.

Please check out the forum and radio stream.

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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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