Review by Peter Keevil
Special Guest – Brad Wilk
Produced by Rick Rubin
“On 11 November 2011, Iommi, Butler, Osbourne, and Ward announced that they were reuniting to record a new album and begin to tour in 2012. Tony Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma on 9 January 2012, which obligated the band to cancel their entire European tour, except for three shows: in Birmingham, Download Festival, and Lollapalooza Festival. In February 2012, Bill Ward announced that he would not participate in the band’s reunion unless he was offered a “signable contract”.
On 21 May 2012, at the O2 Academy in Birmingham, Black Sabbath played their first concert since 2005, with Tommy Clufetos playing the drums. In June, they performed at Download Festival, followed by the last concert of the short tour at Lollapalooza Festival in Chicago. Later that month, the band started recording the album.”
Nobody was totally sure that this album would see the light of day. Tony’s health dictated a sporadic recording schedule to fit in around treatments as he battled (and continues to battle) his cancer. Perhaps it was this clear signal of mortality, coupled with Ronnie James Dio’s tragic yet still recent passing that just kept them focussed. It wasn’t without other hurdles either as Ozzy again battled with his own demons of addiction. How something this creative and powerful can arise from such circumstance is a miracle in itself buts it’s here and delivered to the world to witness and pay homage to.
The album opens with two colossal statements of intent – ‘End of The Beginning’ and ‘God is Dead?’ – both coming in at over 8 minutes. Any doubts that these men in their 60s and defying a lifetime of rock n roll excess could truly deliver another classic force majeure are laid asunder within the first 16 minutes.
Eccentric producer, Rick Rubin has channelled the best of Black Sabbath, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,and Vol 4 like some bewitched shaman that clearly lays down a gauntlet to all those pretenders influenced by the originators of Heavy Metal. That challenge emphatically states that claims to the throne were residing in the ‘pending’ tray but can be returned to sender now that the Daddy is home.
Ozzy cackles, wails and throws in an ‘all right now’ for good measure. Never a singer he is still able to hold a melody that haunts and hypnotises.
Butler’s fingers dance across his bass bringing such depth to the Sabbath sound. Often mirroring the main riff yet also establishing its own disjointed personality.
Perhaps its Ozzy that brings the best out of his sound but Iommi has rarely sounded better in recent decades. And as good and majestic as the Dio-era was, THIS IS Sabbath. The Brummie riff lord rides the discomfort and nausea of his treatment to bring his most considered and fluent work to bear. Some recording took place at Toni’s home in Warwickshire (Tone Hall – geddit?) and one can only imagine the difficulty involved in finding those moments to let that angst, emotion and downright determination to flow through his frets. Its perhaps most clearly identified through the album’s most poignant track –Live Forever – where Ozzy laments “I don’t wanna live forever, but I don’t wanna die.”
If you are looking for highlights, then those two opening tracks deliver the killer blows that you never truly recover from but ‘Loner’ stamps on your head as you cower, whimpering on the floor. While closer ‘Dear Father’ pays its own respect to the Sabbath heritage with that rain storm and tolling bell as an outro.
But don’t think for one moment that the extended edition sees the guys coasting. No siree… it can easily be argued ‘Methademic’, ‘Peace of Mind’ and ‘Pariah’ should have made the full album and its savvy marketing to eek out a couple of extra quid from the paying public to include them outside of the £9.99 ‘vanilla’ album.
In the run up to the ‘reunion’ that ended up not being a full reunion it was easy for cynics to suggest that The Osbourne’s were cashing in, trading off the fine legacy of the classic line-up. But this album smacks those critics around the face with a wet halibut straight off the Bull Ring Marketstalls! Yes, the Osbourne’s have been a TV comic soap opera and Iommi has toyed with the band ‘Black Sabbath’ more times than should be allowed under the Trade Decriptions Act, but when it comes to the music of these three Sons of Aston, have they ever let us down?
If this ends up being the swansong of our beloved heroes, then it is a mighty fine last hurrah that puts to bed any ‘what ifs…’ that followed Never Say Die all those moons ago and it clearly gives Vertigo and Castle Communications (if they still exist) a reason to include another set of tunes into the ‘Greatest Hits’ packages for a few years to come.
Bostin’ 9 out of 10
- End Of The Beginning
- God Is Dead?
- Age Of Reason
- Live Forever
- Damaged Soul
- Dear Father
- Peace Of Mind