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"Is it the end, my friend? Satan's come around the bend!"

Class D

Main Category: Heavy Metal
Also applicable: --------
Starting Period: The Artsy/Rootsy Years
Also active in: The Interim Years, The Punk/New Wave Years,

The Divided Eighties, From Grunge To The Present Day




Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Black Sabbath fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Black Sabbath fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.

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'Heavy Metal' as we know the expression, is a fairly diluted and vague notion. While there is generally no doubt that such a genre as metal actually exists in music, the number of opinions on its nature more or less equals the number of people in this world. Some think the Who is heavy metal; others think Iron Maiden isn't heavy metal. Unfortunately, over the years, as more and more talentless, rip-off-ey, dumbhead bands with a lot of fuzz, distortion, hair and tattooed skulls settled on pumping out countless and absolutely worthless albums of 'heavy' music, the word itself has become a somewhat unpleasant cliche. Thus, people who love Led Zeppelin prefer to speak of them as 'hard rock', while leaving 'heavy metal' to Def Leppard and company. In other words, 'heavy music that I like' = 'hard rock', 'heavy music that I do not like' = 'heavy metal'. No need to say that such an approach is plainly ridiculous - and I blame myself for having upheld it for many a long year. No. Like practically every genre in music, the genre of 'heavy metal' has its good and bad sides. The worst side of a heavy metal band, usually, is in its narrowness and absolute lack of diversity: these bands usually do well only what they're good at - which is mostly vintage riffage and demonic soloing. When they try their hand at writing a ballad (horror) or venture into a different style, like, I dunno, reggae, for instance, it's a disaster in ninety-nine percent of the cases. This is why I'm really not a fan of metallic bands - I like a good, solid, heavy rocker every now and then, but I refuse categorically to have the sound inflicting on my ears for thirty or forty minutes without any rest. On the other side, there are (or, better to say, there were) really great heavy metal bands - bands that had a talent for writing original, catchy melodies, playing complex, enthralling riffs, and even showing signs of diverse creativity now and then.

This here page is dedicated to Black Sabbath - one of the really few heavy metal bands that I'm willing to admit on the 'classic rock' page. No, contrary to what the fans say, Sabbath did not invent heavy metal: Led Zeppelin did it on their debut album and perfected it on Led Zeppelin II before Sabbath even had time to record their own starting point. And Black Sabbath weren't nearly as good at their genre as Deep Purple who followed them - because Deep Purple showed the world the great possibilities of heavy metal as freed from the shackles of mysticism, Satanism, the occult and everything that Led Zep and Sabbath filled their riff-crazy machinery with. On the contrary, Sabbath were playing on the brink of 'blasphemous' from the very beginning - starting from the name of the band and ending with hoardes of witches that were putting hexes on them every few months (funny enough, the band members were so afraid of it themselves that they started wearing crosses). If Led Zeppelin were the Godfathers of that miserable genre that calls itself 'art metal', then Black Sabbath were the primary inspiration for that even more miserable genre that calls itself 'death metal'. And the fact that bassist's Geezer Butler's lyrics were ultimately shallow, stupid, banal and even ridiculous, and, above all, were mostly directed against Satan (though it took some time to understand it), didn't help: the music was so dreary and dark, and the band personalities so frightening, that even when they made the lyrics sound Christian they were still treated as a new, horrendous brand of anti-Christs.

The lyrics aren't the only accusatory point against them, of course. Their lead vocalist was hardly a 'gifted' person: I have never cared much for Ozzy's 'helium' vocals, as everyone calls them, and out of the three prototypic heavy metal singers - Osbourne, Plant and Gillan - he comes out third, with an insecure, weak voice that, believe it or not, was much more suitable for balladeering than for cursing 'war pigs' or praising 'sweet leaf'. The rhythm section is powerful enough, but never outstanding - neither the drums nor the bass can hold a candle to Zeppelin or Purple. And, of course, they are horrendously limited in style - although I guess that goes without saying. Sitting through an entire Black Sabbath album in one go is generally a much harder task than sitting through an entire Purple or Led Zep album, especially if you're not addicted to heavy metal as a genre: the tone is rarely varied, and when it is, it often leads to embarrassments. Due to all this, my initial rating was an E (duh!), but after lengthy debates with myself I decided that I was way too biased, after all, these guys' influence and historical importance can't allow them to be put on the same level with the Traveling Wilburys! Plus, the 'evaluation' procedure (see below) doesn't objectively allow me to put them so low; therefore, an upgrade to D was the best solution (but no more, no more!) Note, however, that in their prime, the band was highly consistent, and their extremely careful and conservative attitude towards genre experimentation never resulted in artistic disasters such as Led Zep III or Houses Of The Holy. This means that most of these early records will get really high ratings, so I hope this will comfort Sabbath lovers.

And, finally, why not say something in their praise? I sincerely believe Tony Iommi to be one of the best, most talented rhythm guitar players of the early Seventies. He had the understanding of what makes a song great - a solid basis, represented by an original and memorable riff, and he churned out these riffs like mad - this is where he really beats both Page and Blackmore: while the latter were solid riffmen, they placed too much emphasis on industriously crafted solos and special guitar gimmicks. Page soloed like a bluesman and bowed his guitar; Blackmore soloed like a paranoid demon and churned out Hendrix-type noises. Iommi did neither - his solos are good, but far from spectacular. He just stood and cranked the riffs like no-one else, and must be given praise and respect for that. Plus, he invented a new guitar tone - and created some of the heaviest music ever recorded. And his skills at acoustic are underrated, as well; you see, I'm not going to say that every single deviation the band ever had from its style was crappy. Nope, just some of them: be sure to check out, say, 'Laguna Sunrise' to see Black Sabbath at their most 'unexpectedly pleasant'.

The heyday of the band, however, lasted for only about two or three years - okay, for about four or five years if you consider their mid-Seventies 'experimental' (heh) stuff like Sabotage as good as their first albums, and you probably should; for a while, they were actually a bit more interesting than just a good headbanging band. After this, however, they plainly began rolling down - and Tony was never willing to let the band disperse, so he just kept dumping out new and new albums ranging from passable mediocre metal to horrendous garbage while the band members quit one by one. The history of Sabbath after the departure of Ozzy kinda drags, in brief; however, they had had a sorta 'reunion' lately, and I have bothered to review the (solid) reunion concert below.

Okay, lineup now: Tony Iommi - guitar; Ozzy Osbourne - vocals; Bill Ward - percussion; Terry "Geezer" Butler - bass. Ozzy left the band after 1978, replaced by Ronnie James Dio; Ward was the next to follow and was swapped for Vinnie Appice in 1981, but returned in 1983, whereas Dio left and for one album was replaced by Ian Gillan (heh, heh, Deep Purple, eat your heart out!). By 1986, the band had collapsed entirely, but Tony decided to keep on rockin'; so he kept the name, added Glenn Hughes on vocals (ex-Purple again; wonder why Coverdale never played with Sabbath); Dave Spitz on bass; Eric Singer on drums and Geoff Nicholls on keyboards. This is the kind of moment where, usually, even the most diehard fans leave and don't return until the 'reunion'; apparently, the band was totally immersed in the 'dungeons & dragons' stuff by then. In 1987, Hughes left, replaced by Tony Martin. Singer and Spitz quit two years later, replaced by Cozy Powell on drums (the number of bands this guy's been to probably covers hundreds) and Laurence Cottle on bass. Cottle left, 1990, replaced by Neil Murray. In 1992, the first 'half-reunion' occurred, when Tony fired everyone again and rejoined forces with Butler, Appice and Dio. These, too, fell apart two years later, and after a couple dozen more lineup changes, the original band reconvened in 1998. With OZZY OSBOURNE! Hey! Old friendships never die!

I have made sure to acquire quite a significant bunch of Sabbath albums - even the ones that are quite crappy. The reasons are that first, their albums are quite easy to assimilate, be they great or crappy; and second, I doubt whether it's more difficult to get a complete discography of any other band than the one of Sabbath in Russia. Plus, I have most of their albums on these cute 'two-in-one' CD's! And I got 'em for two dollars EACH! How can one complain? One buck for one BS album? Where else would you get that luck?

Oh! And one more thing! If you occasionally happen to be a Sabbath diehard who's going to tell me that I'm a total nitwit who can't tell his own ass from a good song or something like that, please don't bother E-mailing me. Check the guidelines instead. I'm willing to accept and post critical objections, but only coming from normal people who have a sense of humor and an inborn (okay, a cultivated will do, too) politeness. If you're that kind of guy, well, then, go read Mark Prindle's reviews instead. Let me just say that I don't hate Sabbath, and I don't idolize Sabbath: I try to take them as they are, with their faults and their flaws. Don't tell me they have none.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

The beginnings of Evil Metal here. Whoah, what a great acquisition for rock historians!


Track listing: 1) Black Sabbath; 2) The Wizard; 3) Wasp/Behind The Wall Of Sleep/Bassically/N.I.B.; 4) Wicked World; 5) A Bit Of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning.

Gngngn. What can be said about an album that was released on Friday, February 13th, and through some evil hand of fate entered the British charts at No. 13? Well, simply that this album makes quite an entertaining listen - even if I did feel bored while listening to it the first time.

Whether you like or don't like this album is really not very relevant, not for rock history at least. This is the first truly 'Evil' rock album - the first on which a band of goofy, stoned-out kids finally cast all modesty and everything aside and recorded songs with such a heavy guitar tone and such uncensored Satanic lyrics as were unheard before and would probably be unheard after. Rumour has it that Tony Iommi was a big fan of horror flicks, or, at least, was greatly impressed by the impact they made on the audience, so he proposed to do a horror movie analog in rock music. Now, perhaps in retrospect this album does not look so 'evil' as some which came after it - whether it be Black Sabbath itself, or the ghoulish solo career of Ozzy Osbourne, or just any crazed-out death metal band that thinks it's pretty scary but instead is just pretty vulgar and ordinary. But I'm not using the word 'evil' as denigrating here. This album was certainly intended as a work of art, and it is a work of art, because, ultimately, it succeeds and it works. Back in 1970, it was a shock and an offense to 'good taste'; nowadays, it is a classic and an icon. Well, maybe not an 'icon' - at least, it shouldn't be an 'icon'. But a classic, definitely, and an important point in the developing of music itself.

The album itself ain't as heavy as some (most, in fact) that came after it: Tony hasn't still hit upon that 'earth-rumble' tone that he'd introduce two years later. But even so, it's the heaviest album of 1970, and a one that threatens to bury even Led Zeppelin deep underground. Some people complain that most of the songs are too slow - and maybe they are, but, in my opinion, it only adds to the 'Satanic majesty' of the record, that comes off as a huge, clumsy, lumbering brontosaur crashing through the woods. As with most Sabbath records, there's nothing in particular to laud about it, besides Tony Iommi's masterful guitar riffs - but the guitar riffs are indeed masterful. While most of Geezer's lyrics are awful, and I never cared much for Ozzy Osbourne's singing in the first place (not to mention that he didn't quite master his voice on the first album yet), these guitar melodies are often fascinating, and enough to pardon the band's general offensiveness.

Black Sabbath pretty much arrives in its entirety on the very first song off the album - namely, 'Black Sabbath', of course! Sounds of a thunderstorm and church bells ringing come in, eventually replaced by the first famous, memorable, iron-handed riff Tony had placed on record - and as Ozzy grumbles out the menacing lyrics about being pursued by Lucifer, adding his monstruous screams of 'OH NO!' after each verse, the melody gets ever more darker and scarier. Whatever I may hold against, er, 'evil music', this song's one true classic: if only the band didn't try to exaggerate their image, it would have stood up against the others with even more force and conviction.

Elsewhere, these memorable, clever riffs abound: 'The Wizard', 'N. I. B.', 'Wicked World' and the cover of Aunsley Dunbar's 'Warning' are all full of them, and even if sometimes I doubt their originality (thus, the riff of 'Wicked World' seems to be lifted from the Doors' 'Wild Child'), well, one must remember that it was already hard to invent a fresh guitar riff in 1970 that wouldn't remind you of any used previously. Hmm, just think how difficult it should be to invent a fresh guitar riff today, then! Okay, stop digressing and get on with the review. Yeah, yeah, and the riff of 'N.I.B.', does it remind you of something? Why, Cream's 'Sunshine Of Your Love', for sure - the first four notes are just the same! The next six are different, though, and the riff is really cool. Of course, Ozzy again sings something about Lucifer, and he sings it along with the melody, so it sounds kinda stupid, but how can you deny the riff's greatness? Plus, Tony plays some cool solos in the middle... a good one, I enjoy it. 'The Wizard' is more of the same: a menacing, crunching six-note riff that's nearly ruined by Butler's crappy Tolkien-inspired lyrics. This time they're not Satanic at all (about a wizard that's gonna come and save us - Gandalf, Gandalf, where art thou?), but it only makes things look more stupid and, you know, we're not in the kindergarten after all... or are we? Just make sure you don't speak English when you're listening to this album.

My biggest gripe with the record, however, comes not from the lyrics which I just try to ignore, and not from the derivativeness of Iommi's riffs, which is very relative and which I never really observe at all, but with the lengthy fourteen-minute suite on the second side. The short acoustic bit ('Sleeping Village') is actually pretty, and the main theme of 'Warning' is just as tight, crunchy and enjoyable as anything else on this album - in fact, it has maybe the most solid and genial melody of all - but in between the opening and ending verses, Tony steps in with his guitar and plays endless amounts of solos. Now he's not particularly bad at it, and there are some short bits that are quite enjoyable, but overall this is a thoroughly annoying experience. Brian Burks compared these noodlings with Cream, but they are of a somewhat different character in reality. Cream was famous for their lengthy, fluid improvisations that all stemmed from some one particular point and developed as one lengthy, but compact and consistent musical theme. Here, it just seems that Tony was sitting on his little stool in the studio (or maybe lay stoned on the floor?) and played one incoherent bit of a guitar solo after another, after which he just clipped them all together and passed this 'audition jam' as an actual song extract. And after all, Tony Iommi is no Eric Clapton, while Geezer Butler is no Jack Bruce. Why should I enjoy this lengthy bore when I haven't even yet started properly enjoying the live versions of 'Spoonful' or 'Sweet Wine' yet?

A good record, still. Stimulated an enormous bunch of wannabe Sabbaths with brawns instead of brains, of course, but who cares? Just slap Ozzy Osbourne for me when you see him, all right? The bastard bat-eater! And thanks to Butler for providing us with a funny short bass solo on 'Bass-ically'. Like I said, he's no Jack Bruce, but he's not the kind of studio automaton that bass players often turn out to be, either.



Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 12

Less boring, more refined, and it's even got radio classics! What a better specimen for a 'best-of' album?

Best song: IRON MAN

Track listing: 1) War Pigs; 2) Paranoid; 3) Planet Caravan; 4) Iron Man; 5) Electric Funeral; 6) Hand Of Doom; 7) Rat Salad; 8) Fairies Wear Boots.

'Rolling Stone' hates Black Sabbath (they have a damn good reason to do so, of course, but I have one more damn good reason not to read 'em); however, they make an exception for this album, and I must confess that out of all the Sab records I've heard so far, this one's the most impressive. They don't vary the tone too much, for sure (who could expect that, after all). But, first of all, they correct the 'bluesy mistake' of their debut: most of the songs are relatively short, without any thirteen-minute sonic explorations, and Tony concentrates far more on the riffs than on the soloing. Plus, it isn't completely true that there's no variety at all: in fact, there's a lot more variety than on Black Sabbath, for good or bad. There's a jazzy ballad, a drum solo, a fast number, some 'encoded vocals', cunning wah-wah boxes, tape speeding and stupid, but funny lyrics: the best they could get out of the deal when they wanted to stay heavy and entertaining at the same time.

Quite a few people despise the record because of 'Rat Salad'. True, the 'song' is just a pad for Bill Ward's drum solo, and its structure is ripped off bit by bit from Cream's 'Toad' and Led Zep's 'Moby Dick': a riff sets the scene, a short solo passage, the riff is repeated, then the drums kick in, and finally the song closes with the same riff. Moreover, this particular riff isn't particularly entertaining. But... but... for Chrissake, the drum solo is less than a minute long! For comparison: Baker and Bonham both bash their kits for about four or five minutes, while Ward bashes his for fifty seconds. How can this track really be an obstacle for enjoying the album is beyond me (same goes for 'FX' off Vol. 4), because I just don't pay that much attention to it.

Another bunch of people despise the record for being a bit too 'commercial' - after all, the title track and 'Iron Man' are probably Sabbath's best known songs, and both are overplayed on the radio. Well, they are overplayed on the radio because both of them are good. 'Paranoid' sets up a speed record for Sabbath (someone in their camp must have been a big fan of Deep Purple In Rock), with its bouncy rhythm and Ozzy singing some very long lines about his personal problems. And 'Iron Man', definitely the album's magnum opus, should probably be introduced as Tony Iommi's visit card to the world of brilliant riffage. Ozzy does a great job on this one, too, from the introductory metallic 'I am iron man!', encoded by some sort of gadget, to the main verses. It does sound a bit dumb sometimes - mainly because he sings the same lines that Tony produces with his guitar, but maybe that's better - after all, most Black Sabbath records take dumbness and elevate it to the state of genius, now don't they?

And there are simply no bad songs on the album: everything is taken in the proper amount and in the proper way. I have to admit that I even like the most dubious song on the record - their first ballad, 'Planet Caravan'. It starts out as a moody, spaced-out chant, with Ozzy's vocals again encoded by some weird device, as if he sings sitting inside an organ; but this is one device, I say, that suits his tone perfectly! And all these quiet acoustic notes, tambourines beating from one speaker to another, and then suddenly in comes the solo and we suddenly realize that the song is a jazz number - Tony Iommi actually playing a soft, masterful jazz solo! What an unexpected surprise! I likes it, anyway. Sounds a bit like the earliest incarnation of Jethro Tull with Mick Abrahams in it - not surprising, considering that Tony actually played in Jethro Tull after Abrahams' departure. For about two weeks, I think. You can see 'im on the Stones' Rock'n'Roll Circus, he's right there.

I go even further down, though, and proclaim that I quite like 'War Pigs', Sabbath's famous anti-war hymn. The lyrics there are so straightforward they're almost unbearable, but how about those riffs? A bit reminiscent of 'The Wizard', maybe not as hard-hitting (and the way Ozzy stretches out these notes when he's singing accappella gives me a headache), but really close. And on 'Electric Funeral' (indeed) Tony lets some of his riffage through a tricky fuzz box not unlike the one that Pete Townshend used for his solo on 'Goin' Mobile', getting a fabulous 'underwater' sound. The song itself, to me, sounds painfully like a rip-off of King Crimson's 'Pictures Of A City', but since there's no way Tony Iommi could have been listening to King Crimson (I suppose), this is probably a coincidence. Sounds quite like KC, though. That is, until halfway through it turns into 'Interstellar Overdrive', and then into a frenetic boogie. And Ozzy again sings in unison with the guitar melody. What a dumbass! (Sorry.)

Okay, so maybe 'Hand Of Doom' and 'Fairies Wear Boots' are both a little overlong. So what? That doesn't mean they aren't based on some cool melodies! And 'Fairies Wear Boots' have some really amusing lyrics, too. Does it have an anti-pot message or what? Or maybe a pro-pot message? I'm stumped. Maybe they could have thrown out some bits of the solos and recorded another song instead. But you gotta believe me, it simply doesn't get much better than this. Never. On Paranoid, the power is still fresh, and there are no embarrassments or silly missteps. It might seem a bit boring to those who prefer something 'real heavy', but for me, this is as perfect as they could ever get. And it's all because of 'Planet Caravan'! Well, no, actually, but it might just as well be like that...



Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Sabbath at their most 'metallic', but the first signs of boredom already appear here.

Best song: SWEET LEAF

Track listing: 1) Sweet Leaf; 2) After Forever; 3) Embryo; 4) Children Of The Grave; 5) Orchid; 6) Lord Of This World; 7) Solitude; 8) Into The Void.

Did ya hear the one about how Tony cut off his fingertips with some metal cutter? Jesus, what an awful tragedy for a guitar player. Actually, this is how he came up with all the 'heavy' stuff: he tuned down his guitar one and a half (some say two) steps, so his fingers wouldn't bleed that much, and suddenly came up with this: the heaviest, lowest, grumblingest guitar tone anybody had ever come up before (and probably since, too). Now Master Of Reality may not be the heaviest album ever made - I'm no big expert in the metal genre, and I really wouldn't know about any personal records set by metalmasters in the past twenty years. But it certainly is the heaviest album in the entire Sabbath catalog, and, what's more relevant, it's heavy in the 'normal' way: it sounds good. The scuzziness and an almost dinosauresque nature of the tone did not stop Tony from the necessity of coming up with more and more new riffs, and his playing is as solid as ever. Thus, the heavy, fat sound on the record only helps, and is in no way used to conceal the clumsiness of the playing, what would be so usual with your average heavy metal band. The only problem is that Tony was so proud of this tone that he forgot everything else: all of the rockers on this record are built according to the same pattern (Brian Burks called this a 'loose concept album based around that tone', and I wholeheartedly agree), so you don't get no tricky fuzz boxes anymore. Oh, well. One has to be submissive and take what is offered.

The record opens with three of these dinosauric rifffests in a row (only once interrupted by a short acoustic interlude called 'Embryo'), each one bettering the other in reverse order. The funniest, and the least generic, is the epic pot anthem 'Sweet Leaf' - yeah, the one that begins with a looped coughing sound. The lyrics on that one are obviously appraising pot, but the problem is - is it tongue-in-cheek or is it the real thing? Contemporary fans certainly took 'the real thing' as an answer, while nowadays defenders of Sabbath usually claim that it was tongue-in-cheek. Given the fact that all the Sabbathers were heavy pot smokers at the time, it's more probable that the band took their lyrics seriously; however, it still remains to be proven. Never mind the lyrics, though, just pay attention to the smouldering riff that rolls around, slowly and oafishly, like a stoned Godzilla, destroying everything on its way.

But... if you want to really pay attention to the lyrics, why not switch on to 'After Forever'? It has the biggest joke on it, see, because the lyrics to this dark, melodically quite Satanic song, are of a Christian character - Ozzy sings about true faith, in fact, as if he were born again! Now me, I have absolutely no doubt that these lyrics were totally tongue-in-cheek, attempted as a joke in the face of the church: you thought we were of Satan's breed, well then, how are you gonna take this? Then again, maybe it was a fearful move by Butler in order to protect the band from witches putting hexes on 'em. Everything's possible. Anyway, more ass-kicking, more solid riffage - the kind of riffage that sounds completely adequate, self-assured and truly powerful, with a real understanding of such values as melodicity and drive. Quite unlike... eh... Uriah Heep, for instance.

And then there's 'Children Of The Grave' - the song that I like the least of these first three, because it's much too generic (countless metal bands employed that monotonous rhythm afterwards). And it has the word 'grave' in the title. Yuck. Kinda stinks of Ozzy's solo career. Hey, but that's not to say the song ain't good: one has to learn to appreciate Ward's furious tambourine work, and Iommi's solos are the best on the record. Again, the lyrics are quite hip - all about love and flower power. How cute, really.

However, the second side is a slight letdown for me. As usual, the guys haven't forgotten to mellow the sound a little with a ballad: problem is, the ballad isn't that good. 'Solitude' begins like an exact clone of 'Planet Caravan', with the same quiet, stripped-down sound, but Ozzy's vocals are no longer 'shrouded', and I'm not too impressed. And what's the deal with that stupid flute coming through? 'Planet Caravan' was far better than this faint shadow of a medieval ballad. And Tony's acoustic solo spot on 'Orchid' isn't much better: either he still hadn't figured what to make out of an acoustic guitar, or he just was too stoned to record anything substantial, so he just selected a single chord sequence and played it throughout a couple hundred times. It's funny, though, to listen to this piece in headphones and notice how fine Butler's basswork blends into the song.

So what I mean is that they were so preoccupied with the 'heavy' side of the business that they simply forgot to improve the 'soft' side of it. That would be okay if it were the only problem (after all, the 'soft' side is limited to, like, five or six minutes of music). But no, I strongly suspect that 'Lord Of This World' is a weak tune, as it does not manage to do anything to me - the riffage is blander and less noticeable (which paves the road to some of their metal mistakes on Vol. 4), and the closing 'Into The Void', is again a bit overdone, though it does have some loudly crying out anti-Satan lyrics and some immaculate riffing as well. Maybe I just get a little tired near the end, but I suppose they simply put the best stuff near the beginning. All in all, this might be just the thing for you - the definite heavy Sabbath album to own, no question about that. For a bit more melodical strength, please see Paranoid; but for a brutal, unabashed demonstration of Metal Force by one of the world's greatest heavy metal bands at the height of their power, please see Master. An' dat's it.


VOL. 4

Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Sabbath getting a little 'progressive' here - is it a joke or what?

Best song: SUPERNAUT

Track listing: 1) Wheels Of Confusion; 2) Tomorrow's Dream; 3) Changes; 4) FX; 5) Supernaut; 6) Snowblind; 7) Cornucopia; 8) Laguna Sunrise; 9) St Vitus Dance; 10) Under The Sun.

I guess there comes a time for every more or less 'serious' band, when it has finally stabilized its position, when it begins to make a definite struggle and see if it can cozily slip into a bigger pair of shoes then they'd originally planned for themselves. In other, more understandable, words, every successful band sooner or later starts experimenting - and if it works, that's one truly great band; if it doesn't, well, this doesn't necessarily mean that they 'suck horseshit with menstrual blood meshed in' (a terrific expression that I nipped from a flame message to Mark Prindle), but it sure means they're no great shakes, either.

Vol. 4 is the first Sabbath album where the band makes a noticeable effort to, well, not exactly change their sound, but at least expand it. It's still heavy as lead and even heavier, but there are at least three tracks here that stand out from the usual dinosaur-thump sound. There's a bizarre sci-fi instrumental ('FX') that consists of some disjointed and rather pointless synth and guitar ping-pings; people often complain about it, but I can't really see why it causes such negative reactions - it's only about a minute long, for Chrissake! If it weren't given a separate name, it would simply be overlooked as an intro to 'Supernaut'. Then there's a short and pretty acoustic instrumental ('Laguna Sunrise'), where Tony plays some simple, but quite stylish classical guitar phrases over a mellotron background. (Black Sabbath? Using a Mellotron? Gee, it's been a long, long time...) Not exactly 'gorgeous', but very, very nice. And the strangest of all, the pop piano ballad 'Changes', also with a sweeping Mellotron arrangement. It's kinda primitive - I mean, the piano melody isn't of a kind you'd meet on a Genesis or a Yes record, rather on an early Spencer Davis Group demo, and whoever plays the Mellotron, he's not a prof, but at least you should admire the bravery of the young dudes, to go out into new territory that they never set foot on earlier. And it sure gives you a break from the desperate heaviness - which is a psychologic advantage for me, who's never been a metalhead nor tried or wanted to be one.

One warning, though: the lyrics to 'Changes' suck! Hmm, well, kinda narrow statement. Okay, let's try it again: the lyrics to Vol. 4 suck! Wow, now that's better. As I haven't heard all of Black Sabbath albums, I can't really widen the statement even further, but it works for now. See, this time the lyrics aren't even Christian, not to mention Satanic. They're just... trite. Ozzy sings about his personal and everybody else's troubles, like broken love, drugs, deception and hypocrisy of the 'Jesus freaks', but for most of the time he sounds like a dumb guy painfully trying to seem intelligent in the presence of his shrink... well, actually I think he was that kind of guy. Come to think of it, maybe the lyrics to 'The Wizard' aren't that bad at all - maybe Butler should better stick to ripping off Tolkien.

Enough with the lyrics, though. Who needs 'em? Besides the songs I already described, there are seven typically Sabbath-ical iron rockers on here, and most of them rattle and ruttle on as well as ever. 'Supernaut' is arguably the best-known on here, and it's indeed the most enjoyable. That introductory riff is so funny! It seems like a cross between a nursery rhyme melody and a skiffle tune plus distortion, and the main melody is almost danceable... errr... sorry. I apologize for that. Not 'danceable', but still groovy. But then, there's the lengthy 'Wheels Of Confusion' - in my opinion, the song never lives up to its glorious 'power-emotion' intro, but it's interesting to watch it developing into several different melodies on the way with Master Iommi inventing a new riff every once in a while like only Master Iommi can. And in fact, nearly every song has at least two or three different riffs: obviously, they were aiming at something more than just braindead pounding. 'Snowblind', for instance, has two different middle eights, both unremarkable but at least both different. The biggest problem, however, is that Iommi overdid the riff thing a little: some of the tunes, like 'Cornucopia' or 'St Vitus Dance', have nothing even close to a memorable melody. Perhaps the riffsack was simply depleted? Might as well be. So, actually, when you sort out all the dubious dross, you'll be left with about half of this album to enjoy for eternity: 'Supernaut', 'Wheels Of Confusion', 'Snowblind', and, let's see, what else? Oh yeah. The album closer, 'Under The Sun'. That one's an epic too - designed to end the album on a note as high as the one on which it began ('Wheels Of Confusion'). So there's a credible megalithic intro, a simple, but brilliant riff for the main melody, and then they even start to boogie in the middle of the song, which they can't really do that well (Deep Purple's my bet for boogie-metal), but they don't do it bad, either. And it has the best solo on the album, too. And some of the most trite lyrics besides 'Changes'. In other words, genuine refined Black Sabbath.

Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't really want to sneer at the band for getting 'sensitive' and trying to expand their musical vision. After all, this was a huge step for them, and a transition that most generic heavy metal bands don't even try to do throughout their careers, or just fail totally. No, Iommi was never talented enough for anything but his patented riffs, and no-one in the band could pen some decent lyrics to save their lives. But they tried, and must be given credit for that. It could have been worse. And, after all, hey, how about these riffs? Don't worry, you'll get plenty of these on Vol. 4.



Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

They really start losing it - adding extra dimensions to the Sabbath sound doesn't always help.


Track listing: 1) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath; 2) A National Acrobat; 3) Fluff; 4) Sabbra Cadabra; 5) Killing Yourself To Live; 6) Who Are You; 7) Looking For Today; 8) Spiral Architect.

With this album Tony Iommi and company had clumsily entered their 'mid-phase'. It's sort of a Sabbath' Houses Of The Holy, or maybe even Physical Graffiti. And I may be wrong, but don't you think the guitar sound had suddenly become MUCH more generic, predictable, diluted, and, as a result, not terribly attractive? All of a sudden, Tony had developed a strange passion for the 'fat' guitar sound that's so characteristic of average heavy metal bands, and, even if he still relies more on riffs than on power chords (that disaster wouldn't occur until Technical Ecstasy), these riffs just are nowhere near as instantly memorable and magically enthralling as the ones on the previous four albums. The banal hypothesis is that Tony had simply run out of riffs; the more complicated hypothesis is that Tony wanted to 'progress' and develop the 'serious artistic inhibitions' that he first exposed on Vol. 4. Unfortunately, there ain't that much 'progress' on SBS as compared with its immediate predecessor. Perhaps the only significant innovation is Tony's increasing use of synthesizers, and on one track you can even hear strings (sheez; I'm not sure, however, as to whether they're synthesized or genuine). Some of these are played by special guest star Rick Wakeman (apparently, he wanted to show his bandmates that there was more to life than putting out concept albums), but believe me, you won't be wooed. And, as far as I know, he doesn't play the dreadful synths on the plodding, grumbling 'Who Are You?', a tribute to Lucifer (or to God Almighty? Who can tell with that crazy Geezer?) that sucks from the very beginning and to the very end. It seems that they're going for an ELP kind of sound on that one - it was Emerson who liked messing around with those 'poisonous' synthesizer tones - but the tune is way too simplistic to justify the ambitions of the arrangement.

Note that, although there are several Satanic references in the lyrics, and although both the album cover and the album title are their most gory and filthy to date, the overall tone of the album is far lighter and gentler than anything you had before. Come to think of it, I even sense some pop here - hidden in among all the distortion. 'Looking For Today', for instance. Can't you see it's a pop song disguised as a heavy metal anthem? The vocal melody is pure pop! And 'Spiral Architect'? That's the one with the string arrangements! It's one of the better numbers, by the way, as it starts out with some nice acoustic strumming very much a la early Genesis (sounds not unlike 'The Musical Box', in fact), then there's this bouncy rhythm that comes in, with the acoustic guitar still buried in the mix, and Ozzy again sings a joyful, happy vocal melody. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out that they were trying to re-model themselves as some kind of 'heavy Beatles' for the mid-Seventies. Of course, they didn't have the guts for it, but nice try, Ozzy. 'You know that I should'. Okay now. I also really, really like 'Fluff' - maybe the best instrumental that they managed to churn out. This isn't saying a lot, as most of their instrumentals were throwaways ('Laguna Sunrise' excluded), but here Iommi's pretty, but, as usual, monotonous acoustic guitar is supported by Wakeman's tinkling piano, and the effect is miraculous.

Out of the real heavy numbers (which are four here), I would have to instantly dismiss the throwawayish 'Killing Yourself To Live', but I'd probably pat them on the back for the three others. They're no great shakes, see, especially when put back to back with 'Sweet Leaf' or 'N.I.B.' or anything like that, but that doesn't mean they won't kick your arse if you let them have a go. 'Sabbra Cadabra', for instance, is fast (a boogie? Now we're talking!), with some tasty guitar overdubs, but my favourite part comes near the very very end - when Ozzy chants 'said I don't want you no more' and then breaks into a hysterical laugh fit. Dunno why, really, but that laughing - wow, it really sends chills down my spine. I mean, take an eerie guitar riff, support it with some sneering, ominous bluesy piano (Wakeman goes rolling again?) and add the robotic 'ha ha ha ha', and there's a great, terrific coda for a song. Actually, that laugh is synth-processed, and sometimes it almost seems to me that it's an organ imitating a human voice. Can you give me a hint?

The biggest kicks, however, will be gotten out of the opening numbers - 'A National Acrobat' is perhaps the only time on this record where Tony really lets rip, blazing out riff after riff after riff on this really complex, involving tune, and, of course, there's the powerful title track that alternates electric/acoustic & heavy/soft on a masterful, expert level... it's good. It doesn't strike me as much as their other album openers - simply because the guitar sound is a bit 'regressive', but it's fun and even somewhat emotional; that acoustic refrain is almost Beatlesque in its lightweightness and subtle charm, while the heavier sections sometimes plunge us back into the "earth rumble tone" happiness of Master Of Reality. Anyway, tons better than the worst stuff on here. But in general, the album is still a relative disappointment: it's not that it sounds different or bad, it just sounds as if the Sabbathers have reached their peak and just can't go any further. And this is no simple flaw that a Rick Wakeman could repair.



Year Of Release: 1975
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Sabbath's 'prog-metal' album; whatever be, it's probably the genre's masterpiece.


Track listing: 1) Hole In The Sky; 2) Don't Start (Too Late); 3) Symptom Of The Universe; 4) Megalomania; 5) Thrill Of It All; 6) Supertzar; 7) Am I Going Insane (Radio); 8) The Writ.

Quite a controversial record, this one. While it was never as commercially successful as the earlier stuff, and while most of the critics hated it as much as the earlier stuff, nowadays this is some kind of a cult album for Sabbath reviewers. It is indeed one of their best, and certainly their last attempt at greatness; however, I can't quite afford it a 10 because at certain points the record still tends to drag. Read on now.

Sabotage (quite a deceptive title, actually - it would work better for an album like Never Say Die) is Sabbath's attempt to 'intellectualize' their sound, to make it more progressive, tricky and complicated. But do not expect another Vol. 4 or Bloody Sabbath: the band's sound is much closer to the 'roots' than on these two previous records. Yeah, that's right - they actually make an attempt at 'progressive rock' by using only their basic instruments - guitars, bass, drums, that's about everything you're gonna hear; a keyboard here, a keyboard there, but you don't notice them much too often. No weepy, sensitive piano ballads on Sabotage - it's a heavy metal album with no limitations. And yet, Tony simply jumps out of his pants to make the sound more different. The songs here are mostly long and multi-part, sometimes alternating heavy electric and soft acoustic parts, going from one riff to another and then back to the first one again just like some bitchin' Yes used to do. Not to mention that there are rarely any breaks between them - gee, is this really some kind of concept album? In response to that, Butler's lyrics get more and more acceptable - often introspective, often unexpected, often really creepy and not show-off-ey, and Ozzy gets in some of his best vocal deliveries. In all - an album which might even be enjoyable for snubby 'intellectuals' (er... that would be me, I guess), since this is the closest they ever got to getting rid of their standard faults, like stupidness, monotonousness, etc., etc. The Black Sabbath of Sabotage fame is actually a band that would deserve a 2 on the overall rating scale. Shame they had to lose it completely by next year.

The album's two 'centerpieces' are the lengthy, multi-part epics 'Megalomania' and 'The Writ', both of which are side-closers. I frankly can't admit being a big fan of the latter, as its melodies do not have any immediate (or, actually, 'post-immediate', too) charm. The first part is too slow, and the second part is too melodramatic - Ozzy sings like a wannabe opera singer, and it's close to laughable. 'Megalomania', though, is an entirely different matter: a song that deserves its well-chosen title indeed. Its fast second part has a groovy 'pop' melody with a terrific hook that urges you to sing along irresistibly, and the first part - while it's also much too slow - has perhaps Sabbath's best gimmick of all time. Remember it? The multi-tracked vocals that fade in and fade in and keep 'overlaying' each other until Ozzy finally starts to sing the verses. Sounds real majestic and mysterious, even if it's impossible to reproduce onstage (I wonder if they ever did these 'epics' live, by the way).

Another definite album highlight is a song quoted in centuries, the definite metal anthem 'Symptom Of The Universe'. 'Megalomania' might be a little more thought over, but this one is certainly the most influential: it has been already pointed out many times that without the song's Gargantuan 'trash' riff there would be no Slayer or Metallica or, in fact, anyone. Actually, not a bad idea... but at least I'll go ahead and admit that everybody needs a song like 'Symptom Of The Universe' in their life. Another thing is when a band bases its entire career around millions of variations on the same subject, unfortunately, not a rare case among heavy metal groups. But I digress; let us not talk about influences, but simply admit that the magnificent riff of this song might just as well be the last 'classic' Sabbath riff ever written (I mean, ranking along with stuff like 'N.I.B.', 'Sweet Leaf', 'Iron Man', etc.). And hey! Let us also not forget that halfway through the song quite unexpectedly changes gears and is transformed into a pretty little acoustic shuffle with several guitars mixed in for good effect. Certainly not the kind of idea you'd expect from an Eighties' metal band, no doubt about that.

My personal tastes also conform to the creepy instrumental 'Supertzar', with its eerie chanting - sounds like a church anthem, in fact. I wonder how many accusations of Satanism did it ever bring them, as it's obviously reminiscent of a parody on the requiem genre. And on one song Ozzy even goes for a Brian Wilson/Syd Barrett emulation - on the harmony-laiden, psycho pop ditty 'Am I Going Insane', with its catchy, creepy chorus and some awful laughing at the end. However, the other two metal numbers are kinda generic - 'Hole In The Sky' predicts their soon-to-come downfall into the world of mediocrity, and 'Thrill Of It All', for me, is mostly memorable because of the funny feedback noise coming from every note Tony hits on his guitar - I kinda like that 'clucking' sound. It's also multipart, but after all, 'multipart' doesn't guarantee 'good'. Unless you're a diehard prog fan who judges music by its complexity and nothing else. Gee, I fuckin' hate such people. I don't usually hate people, see; it's just that I'm writing this review in a state of total sickness and snot running down my nose, so pardon my style if it gets a bit offensive. In any case, diehard prog fans should receive some medical treatment, and I stand by it.

Nevertheless, these last few digressions have little to do with the fact that Sabotage is the last 'classic' Sabbath album. Technical Ecstasy is kinda underrated, too, though. Buy the crap out of this group. Beat the crap out of this group, too! Gee, they did have a lot of crap in their career... perhaps more than I'll ever be able to review. And they're evil :)! Have you seen their reflections in the mirror on the front cover? That's evil!



Year Of Release: 1976
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Kinda generic-sounding, but the band still displays a good level of energy.


Track listing: 1) Back Street Kids; 2) You Won't Change Me; 3) It's Alright; 4) Gypsy; 5) All Moving Parts (Stand Still); 6) Rock'n'Roll Doctor; 7) She's Gone; 8) Dirty Women.

Look, I know I'm on my own here, in the absolute minority, too, and, frankly speaking, I wasn't even expecting it - but I find the album to be somewhat, if maybe not terribly, but anyway - underrated. Sure, the band sounds nowhere close to the Sabbath of old, and it doesn't even sound anywhere close to the Sabbath of the recent past, the one with an 'experimental' edge (heh heh heh), but that doesn't mean they sound awful. If you wish, this is Sabbath's Physical Graffiti: a band moving into another era of its career, as, you know, old experienced dinosaurs: much too experienced to commit a horrendous blunder, but much too old to be on the leading edge in any case. It's true that Tony's riff-writing has deteriorated with the years: the once mighty Riffmeister, who churned out these memorable, impressive musical slabs, is suddenly content with substituting real writing with an undistinguishable mess of power chords that wouldn't be out of place on an Aerosmith reunion record. On the other hand, I'm quite delighted to see how well his mastership of lead guitar has improved: the soloing on songs like 'You Won't Change Me' or 'Dirty Women' is really something - loud, ecstatic, speedy passages that you really won't be able to meet on any previous record. If only he'd been able to solo like that on their debut album - I'd give it a solid 10 without hesitating.

Anyway, if this album weren't an LP, but, say, a maxi-single consisting of just the first three songs, I'd probably give it a 10 too. The opening rocker, 'Back Street Kids', while certainly not on par with any of their previous blistering album openers, still chunks along mightily, and Ozzy's catchy refrain ('nobody I know will ever take my rock'n'roll away from me') is quite a good hook. Plus, what's the meaning of the phrase? Maybe somebody whom Ozzy doesn't know will take away his rock'n'roll from him? Has he ever considered that possibility?

Then there's 'You Won't Change Me', a song which still sticks around my brain as, you know, the first Sabbath song where I was really impressed by Ozzy's singing: the confessional, self-condemning and self-appraising lyrics might be trite, but they're definitely less trite than 'I'm going through changes' (notice how the two songs contradict each other, by the way), and the way Oz sings them is kinda moving (I can't believe I'm saying this!) Plus, he's backed by that fantastic soloing courtesy of old pal Tony, and the impression is simply cathartic! Yeah, I know, it's all generic, and once again, comparisons with Aerosmith wouldn't sound completely out of place, but there's no way the Aerosmith dudes could crank out such a breathtaking solo; Tony's riffage might have been slowly deteriorating, but he was certainly compensating for this by gaining more and more skill and authenticity as a masterful lead player.

And hey! The album marks the start of Bill Ward's solo career! His solo spot here, where he actually sings, is wonderful! I mean, yeah, it's a Beatles rip-off, but it's a good Beatles rip-off, and a band that can handle a Beatles rip-off can't be all that bad. There are great moments there, especially when the impressive harmonies step in, and I simply can't understand all those dudes who say it's 'so unbelievingly bad that it just has to be good'. It's probably a song that could be the least expected number on a Sabbath record, for sure; play it to your uneducated friends and when they start condemning you for selling out crush them by revealing the ultimate truth. Turns out that Bill was a good songwriter in the end, he just kept that in secret. Okay, on second thought, it's probably more of a Bee Gees rip-off than a Beatles rip-off, but that's hardly essential if the melody rules.

Now I'll sincerely admit that none of the other five songs thrill me that much. But, if only I haven't turned into a stupid oaf overnight, my conscience tells me that there are but two numbers that don't contribute anything at all: the lame rock anthem 'Rock'n'Roll Doctor', that has no melody and no hooks and compensates for it with a truly ugly vocal delivery and a laughable cock rock attitude, and the pathetic, over-sentimental ballad 'She's Gone' - it's a wee bit more complex than 'Changes', but the efffect is even worse.

As for the other three songs, they all represent a mixture of good and bad. 'Gypsy' is a strange guitar-rocker meets piano-disco tune, where Ozzy at times sounds like Sting and the cheesy piano at times makes the song sound like ABBA; that's one definite song that'll get you muddled up at one times and annoy the hell out of you at others. The multi-part approach is still kinda respectable. 'All Moving Parts (Stand Still)' starts out as a cool 'mechanic' rocker, before going off into a boring, unmemorable mid-section. And 'Dirty Women', with its lyrics about Ozzy in search of a prostitute, starts out as an absolute nadir of the record, but over time evolves into a fast, tension-filled jam with lots of superb wah-wah solos by Tony - a perfect way to end an album that's as mysterious as it is off-putting (sometimes).

Overall, I still support the shaky opinion that it's, you know, sorta okay album. Not too diverse, of course, but how can we complain about that? Hey, lighten up! Any record with the likes of 'You Won't Change Me' and 'It's All Right' needs to have some popular support. Let this seven be my personal humble tribute to Black Sabbath. Especially since the next album is really a prime suckjob.



Year Of Release: 1978
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 5

This is where they really forgot the meaning of the word 'melody'. Hell, maybe they were trying to go punk?

Best song: JUNIOR'S EYES

Track listing: 1) Never Say Die; 2) Johnny Blade; 3) Junior's Eyes; 4) Hard Road; 5) Shock Wave; 6) Air Dance; 7) Over To You; 8) Break Out; 9) Swinging The Chain.

Oh yeah, now this is the kind of low-grade garbage that even diehard Sabbath fans should stay away from, unless they arrived at Sabbath from Korn. Apparently, the main problem here is that they just didn't care: Ozzy quit the band a year before the recording of this album, then returned on the condition that he wouldn't be recording the material that the band wrote without him. Eventually most of these songs had been written over a week or so, so maybe that's why the album sounds so scuzzy. If I'm not mistaken, the main 'melody' of the title track that opens the album consists of exactly one power chord repeated for an endless amount of time, and no Gargantuan drumming by Bill Ward is gonna compensate for this shitty mess. This, in fact, is the place where Tony started to go for a mastodontic, multi-tracked, generic metal sound that helped conceal the lack of substance by means of a 'wall-of-sound' production. But it doesn't help. Even Tony's soloing hits a low - the frantic guitar wailings of 'You Won't Change Me' have disappeared, replaced by more piles of guitar-based shit. From the very start - the title track - when it hits you with that stupid onset of power chords instead of a classic Sabbath riff, you really understand that the band had gone a long way since 'Sweet Leaf'. Long way... down.

Actually, when I first gazed at the track listing, I had a bad feeling from the very start. 'Johnny Blade', 'Hard Road', 'Shock Wave', 'Air Dance', 'Break Out'... most of the titles follow the same model, and most of the lyrics sound not just stupid - they sound as if they really wrote them in about five seconds each. While usually Sabbath lyrics are completely understandable (even if they're banal), here I just don't get it, or, maybe, I just don't wanna get it, because the songs are just a bunch of tripe and no lyrics are gonna save them.

Not to mention that Bill Ward makes the clever move of completely ruining his 'Beatlesque' reputation by taking lead vocals on one of the worst, sloppiest, most annoying 'rockers' on this record ('Swinging The Chain'), the one that's preceded by an even more pointless jazz-metal instrumental ('Break Out'). Okay, I give, combining New Orleans brass with metallic power chords is an innovative idea - but who really cares? 'Swinging The Chain' isn't even metal, it's just routine mid-tempo hard-rock, horrendously produced and badly played.

Okay, a couple of songs still stand up to time - as substandard nostalgic ditties. But only a couple! My favourite on the record is 'Junior's Eyes', and it ain't because I like the song in general (the vocal melody is grotesque, pathetic and soundtrackish); it just happens to have a very curious riff, played through a wah-wah, it seems, and it's one of the rare cases where Butler and Iommi aren't repeating the same melody note for note, since the song hangs on Butler's bassline, while Iommi just adlibs that riff ad infinitum, and somehow it works perfectly. Another okayish tune is 'Johnny Blade', yeah, the one where Ozzy sings about himself ('tortured and twisted, he walks the streets alone'). Okay, so it's about a gangster. So what? Wasn't Ozzy jailed in his teenage days for stealing a TV set or something? Whatever be, the riff in that one is at least existent, though it sure ain't no 'Sweet Leaf', I'll warrant that! It's overlong, though. Oh yeah, that's another big problem for the whole record: the songs are all horrendously long. I mean, not horrendously - but most of them go over five minutes, and you know as well as I that a bad song that drags for five minutes is worse than a dentist's chair.

And in the name of God, what's with those songs, people? 'Hard Road'? 'Shock Wave'? Why did Tony Iommi think that loads of distortion would compensate for the lack of truly good riffs? Take out the 'distortion' element and you'll be left with a few miserable 'rock' ditties that wouldn't even be fit for Bad Company to sing them. And through the forest (or the marsh, I should say) of distortion comes Ozzy's voice - better to say, a shadow of Ozzy's voice, since he simply doesn't appear to be that much interested in carrying through any message in any case. And finally, the band crowns it all with a fantastic nadir, the 'dance' number that, sure enough, is called 'Air Dance'. It's the only more or less 'soft' number on the record (oh, yeah - one more flaw: the tone and style aren't varied anywhere in the process of listening), with acoustic guitars and pianos, and a lame quasi-romantic mood that makes the song quite appropriate for your average middle class lovers, you know, the ones that take out a tape recorder with them when they go out on a picnic or something. Radio sludge, in short.

A truly shameful, truly shameful end of their collaboration with Ozzy it is: was there any real need to return to the band for such a dead end? Probably no, but you know these rockers and their egotistic problems. After this record, however, he definitely left for good and embarked on his own cartoonish, goofy solo career that I will only be reviewing after I get through the entire Slayer catalog - which is, as in, never. The Reunion album is quite worth checking out, though, but please find out all about it at the bottom of the page.



Year Of Release: 1980
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Black Sabbath finally falls into its final niche: a flat-foot banal heavy metal band. Miserable, too. Just a couple redeeming factors - like a dude's voice.


Track listing: 1) Neon Knights; 2) Children Of The Sea; 3) Lady Evil; 4) Heaven And Hell; 5) Wishing Well; 6) Die Young; 7) Walk Away; 8) Lonely Is The Word.

Oh no, here it comes again... so Ozzy finally quit and was replaced by ex-Rainbow frontman Ronnie James Dio - a replace much more crucial than anybody could expect. This, in fact, is the point where you're free to jump off the wagon if you're not in the market for generic heavy metal, but loved Sabbath just because of their uniqueness. There have certainly been worse metal albums made than Heaven And Hell; there have even been much worse metal albums. But from now on, Sabbath has totally lost any hope of rising to the forefront of the genre again: they were just another generic metal band in an endless stream of also-rans. In fact, I might as well leave them and go review Cinderella from now on. Nevertheless, I do believe that there is some good material to be scraped out of all the post-1978 Sabbath albums - at least, enough to fill 45 minutes of tape. Maybe even 90? Who knows? I haven't counted it out. Anyway, let us move on and see what we can do.

Actually, I suspect that Dio is heavily to blame for changing the Sabbath style. The last two Ozzy albums might have been iffy, and Never Say Die might have been a melodic disaster, but at the least they were not banal - lyrically or atmosphere-wise. Ronnie, freshly coming from Rainbow, had infested Sabbath with goth: and no, I don't mean the kind of gloomy, ominous goth that veered on the brinks of the band's debut album, not to mention the 'classic' German goth that emerged out of the Krautrock scene, with thoughtful lyrics, diverse spooky instrumentation and loads of fresh musical ideas. This one's generic goth - you know, singing about evil magic ladies, neon knights, fading suns and black seas, etc., etc. Which brings me to the point - Black Sabbath have degraded into spectacle: a spectacle of the highest quality indeed, but just a spectacle, like Alice Cooper and company. Horrible, isn't it? Whatever grudges I might hold against the Ozzy years, they were never glammy or so blatantly stupid as the Dio years and what came later. Generally speaking, I simply detest pedestrian goth, doom, black metal and all the unnecessary and cretinic vulgarities that go with them; unfortunately, much of this stuff infested Sabbath's work and made it rot to the core. (To set the deal straight, though, one must confess that Ozzy's solo career outdid Sabbath's later work splendidly, cartoon-wise).

Not that I particularly hate Ronnie James Dio, mind you. He's got a good voice - I don't get it when people praise it vehemently, as it's just a standard heavy metal singer voice, but it's probably slightly better than your average voice, and likewise, I don't get people vehemently condemning Ronnie: for the attitude, sure, but one needn't confuse attitude with technical skill and sheer vocal power. Moreover, I'll probably do myself a disfavour by admitting that I like the way he treats the old 'classics' (see my review of Live Evil below). But of course, it goes without saying that the pompousness and pathetic tone that he uses to sing the dull, completely predictable doom lyrics on this album often end up making me sick.

And, of course, the main point is: dammit, where are the melodies? So the guys return back to straight rocking, dumping all the synths, horns, keyboards and stuff far into the dumpster (only a few songs have synth backings to set the mood). Fine. That's okay with me - everybody needs a return to basics from time to time. But are there any good riffs on this record? Answer: there ain't a single one. The songs are sometimes undistinguishable from each other - and when there is riffage, it is usually reduced to simplistic, monotonous lines. Plus, Iommi often relies on his soloing skills to conceal the lack of riff (so Butler gets to carry the melody by himself, and he's not that strong, poor thing), and, while the solos are not bad, they're also increasingly generic: simply the kind of material you'd expect from any kind of heavy metal band with at least a little self-respect.

Anyway, the three pre-required listens didn't do much in terms of memorability. At least there are some fast songs that you can chump and chomp and stump and stomp along to. I mean, 'Neon Knights' (ooh what an awful title) opens the album on a high note, with relentless, head-spinning chugging and trunkloads of fresh energy - if only there were enough diversity after it, it could have looked great. And, of course, there's the title track, which is one of the few true post-Ozzy classics: a complex, meandering tune with perhaps the most interesting vocal melody on the record. Perhaps, if only the song were written five years before, it would have made an absolute classic - throw in some Wakeman piano and change the professional, but generic Ronnie for a non-professional, but emotional Ozzy, and voila! As it is, well, it's heaven and hell. A funny thing - isn't that main melody actually a disco one? The bassline sure sounds like disco. Hah. The same rhythm was employed that same year by ABBA for 'Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight)'!!!!!

Finally, there's 'Lonely Is The Word', a song that indeed distinguishes itself in my metal-infested memory by possessing a real solid riff and some okayish, not goth-plagued lyrics, plus there are some good solos and a moody synth-backing that make the song's coda quite similar to... 'Stairway To Heaven'. Yeah, I'm not joking, people - go 'n' compare for yourself, if you're not believing me like that.

And yeah, there are other numbers here... what can be said about them? Sometimes I get a masochistic kind of pleasure from listening to the catchy chunk-chunk of 'Lady Evil', but normally, it just pisses me off. So do 'Children Of The Sea' and the horrendous 'Die Young', one of the worst songs in the band's catalog. As far as I remember, its second half mostly consists of Dio wailing 'dieyoungdieyoungdieyoung' at a breakneck speed. Suit yourself, Ronnie. Also, I was hoping that 'Children Of The Sea' would turn out to be a ballad, but, of course, they HAD to dump that lovely acoustic sound after thirty seconds or so and make the song into another dull, mastodontic plodder. Of course they HAD to do it. Aw, what the heck. A dumb album, but at least Dio still sings better than David Coverdale. Everything's relative, you know.



Year Of Release: 1981
Record rating = 6
Overall rating = 8

Ronnie sure don't vary the tone much. At least, his voice only tends to get better with time.

Best song: THE MOB RULES

Track listing: 1) Turn Up The Night; 2) Voodoo; 3) The Sign Of The Southern Cross; 4) E5150; 5) The Mob Rules; 6) Country Girl; 7) Slipping Away; 8) Falling Off The Edge; 9) Over And Over.

This is basically undistinguishable from the previous album - same types o' riffs, same Satanic overtones, same song patterns (arse-kickin' fast rockers vs. slow ominous evil anthems vs. lengthy gothic epics). However, it manages to sound kinda fresh to my ears, so I'm not willing to subtract any points for lack of originality. Also, as opposed to H&H, there is at least one song here that I'm willing to admit as a timeless classic for Sabbath, if only for the fact that it's so dang catchy, fast and groovy. Plus, what's that with the title? 'If you listen to fools - The Mob Rules!' Hmm. Political overtones in Black Sabbath songs? Where the hell did they get that idea from? Regardless, Ronnie turns in the performance of a lifetime, and the band, even if it is now deprived of Bill Ward (Vinnie Appice replaced him for this one), follows suite.

Nothing really comes close, though, to the level of excitement generated by the title track. Well, it starts out strong and hopeful, with the wah-wah rocker 'Turn Up The Night'. Well, not exactly 'wah-wah', as Tony uses the wah-wah only sparely, but he sure uses it well: his technique is still improving, and he delivers some frantic, breakneck solos that wouldn't even seem out of place in the repertoire of such guitar heroes as Page or Blackmore. Now that I've mentioned it, by the way, it seems kinda curious that, while Tony's riffage had unquestionably deteriorated over the years, his soloing abilities were only going upwards. I could be smart and say that this corresponds perfectly to Tony quitting writing great songs and starting mostly writing horrid crap sugared by soulless generic metal solos, but I'll probably leave the smartness to somebody else here and say that Tony's solos on this record are certainly better than your average heavy metal solo. Which is not to conceal the fact that he's still writing horrid crap, you know. No way to dis-convince me of that. No way!

On second listen, however, one distinguishes that 'Turn Up The Night' is definitely not unlike 'Neon Knights' (note: not unlike = sounds like a clone of, in the Sabbath lingo), so it's not that much of a real merit. Ass-kicking is one thing, and writing a solid, original tune is another. Down with derivative tunes, I say! Gimme something new - something spick and span, so to say.

Nadah. A clone is a clone is a clone. The place of 'Heaven And Hell' is this time taken by the doom epic 'Sign Of The Southern Cross' - remember that one? Starts out cool, like a nice acoustic ballad where Dio proves us his voice can actually sound gentle and tender if he's in the mood (which he is quite rarely), then develops into a dull, rumbling mastodont with a tuneless mess of riffage and so much self-importance that it kinda bores me to sleep. And when I awake, it's usually to the gruff synth gimmicks on the dreadful instrumental 'E5150', the one where Ronnie indeed stooped to vocally encode some messages like 'Satan loves me' or something like that, I don't remember what exactly. Apparently, the guys wanted the whole thing to sound spooky, but instead it just sounds ridiculous.

Elsewhere, they still fall back on more formula, and when it works, it's listenable; but when it doesn't, it's intolerable. Former cases include 'Voodoo', an evil foot-stomper that's so sharp and painful it would be folly to ignore it completely: the song is perhaps essential to understand the main schtick of the Dio-period Sabbath. It's not particularly interesting musically, but after the title track, it's the most hard-hitting number on the record, again, mostly due to Dio's outstanding croaks and howls. And then there's 'Slipping Away', the rocker that cannot really be bad since it is all based around Keith Richards' opening riff to 'Can't You Hear Me Knockin'. Kinda ironic, right, that Black Sabbath took a single element out of a Stones' number and based an entire song around it? That's what the difference between them is... but wait now, didn't Keith Richards return the favour by naming one of his songs 'Slipping Away' eight years later?

Cases that are intolerable include the last two songs, two more slow borefests where Dio tries sounding kinda pathetic and overbound with grief and suffering, but both are trite to being... well, intolerable. And then there's 'Country Girl' - a strange attempt at setting a folkish rhythmic pattern to a heavy metal beat, so it just sounds like a parody. Actually, the whole record seems to slowly slide from strong and impressive to weak and generic - as if the band were slowly running out of steam the further they progressed with the recording. It can, in fact, be only recommended for diehard Dio fans, but as much as I hate the guy's attitude, blaming his singing would be blasphemous. It ain't exactly unique, but it's so damn strong! Please be sure to check my review of Live Evil below, too, as you might find it interesting :)



Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 10

Perhaps Dio's highlight with the band - if you can get over the man singing Ozzy classics.

Best song: N.I.B.

Track listing: 1) E5150; 2) Neon Knights; 3) N.I.B.; 4) Children Of The Sea; 5) Voodoo; 6) Black Sabbath; 7) War Pigs; 8) Iron Man; 9) The Mob Rules; 10) Heaven And Hell; 11) The Sign Of The Southern Cross; 12) Paranoid; 13) Children Of The Grave; 14) Fluff.

A funny live album - although the cover art is dreadful, but I guess that doesn't even deserve mentioning. I'd bet my head it was Ronnie's idea - and in fact, he rules supreme on this album. Not just 'rules', as such a statement would imply that everything he does on here is glorious, but 'rules supreme', which is to carefully convey my idea of Dio's dominating position. While Iommi is in top form as well, and, thankfully enough, the band still has Geezer Butler to kick around and throw in some impressive bass lines, it's undeniably Dio's high point. Practically every song off Sabbath's last two albums is superior to the studio recording, simply because Dio plays the part superbly. At some points in the game, he seems to overdo it, but that doesn't happen much too often. Again, it's show time - and Ronnie is only too happy to show himself as Lucifer's impersonation.

Perhaps that is why, when the band tackles old Ozzy standards, they mostly play stuff from the first two albums - right, the records recorded before the lyrics became much too Christian or much too personal. 'N.I.B.', 'War Pigs', Children Of The Grave', 'Black Sabbath', 'Iron Man' - what better choices could Dio have made if his main desire was to make the show sound and look as 'black' as possible? They sure wouldn't do 'After Forever'! Of course, I don't know whether they did it or not; but at least, they didn't bother to include the 'not as dark' classics on the ensuing album. And now my main point: I really don't see anything wrong with Dio singing Ozzy songs. At least, the prospect of Dio singing Osbourne is much more appealing to me than the prospect of Coverdale singing Gillan (the rat! Oops, sorry...) Sure, Dio does all his singing in a different way: more hoarse and even 'sick', with an overemphasized, overbloated eeriness in his voice, sometimes reaching up to the very border of grotesque. But, on the other hand, maybe that's exactly the thing that is needed - a little grotesque? Okay, I'll admit that he completely muffles up 'Paranoid', for which he unexplainedly assumes a stuttering, 'hiccuping' tone. But his renditions of 'N.I.B.' and 'Black Sabbath' easily stand up to the originals. I'd even dare to say that 'N.I.B.' here surpasses the original - Tony breathes new life into his old classic riff by adding more power, volume and distortion, and Dio sings it like a man possessed, indeed. Ooh. Scary.

And then they do a slowed up, deliberately spooky-spooky version of 'Black Sabbath' where Dio simply revels in malevolence - articulating each word with a deep smack and an almost ghoulish intonation, before going off into the infamous 'No! No! No!' sections. Spooky. Creepy. Stupid. And ever so damn funny - just try to imagine this big fat hairy guy yell 'What is this that stands before me?' into the audience. And hey, I doubt if Ozzy could ever articulate the introductory line 'I AM IRON MAN!' as Ronnie does it. He don't need no friggin' vocal encoding, that's for sure.

As for Tony, well, Tony is Tony - lovers of Tony will certainly want this album, as it gives insight into his multi-fangled guitar playing techniques. At points, I do have several gripes with the man - he sticks with his 'fat' guitar sound everywhere, and while this really works for 'N.I.B.', it almost ruins 'War Pigs', when the once distinctive, impressive riff is almost reduced to a distorted mess, and only repeated listens will help one assimilate this. But mostly, his sound works all right, and the solos he throws in are terrific - in places. Personally, I could do without the endless version of 'Heaven And Hell' that goes on for twenty minutes, interpolating 'The Sign Of The Southern Cross' in its way, since it mostly consists of Iommi's guitar pyrotechnics. But when he contents himself with short, up-to-the-point solos, it's perfectly all right; the ones on 'Neon Knights' and 'Black Sabbath' are particularly good. Yeah. Geezer is Geezer, and lovers of Geezer will also want this album... he's a real bass player, after all, not a cartoonish figure like that dude on Seventh Star. And Vinnie Appice is okay - his drum solo on 'War Pigs' shows that he did have talent, too: perhaps not as good as Bill Ward, but who cares? Bill Ward wasn't any great shakes, either.

And once again - a fine, fine song selection. Picking off mostly good tracks off Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules (a hard task - there ain't too many of 'em) and treating the classics with enough respect. Like I said, I could do without at least fifteen minutes of the 'Heaven And Hell/Southern Cross' jam, and 'Children Of The Sea' was never good enough for me. Apart from that, the song selection is quite fan-oriented. Methinks so. Oh! And I haven't yet boasted to you that the Russian edition of the CD is special - it cuts away approximately three minutes of stupid audience applause and fits the entire program on a single CD. That way, I had meself a pretty economic buy! Who needs the stupid audience applause anyway? Of course, they could probably have cut out some Dio banter, too, but what of it? Who needs Dio banter? He would probably be telling people of his last meeting with Lucifer! 'Say Hello To The Horned One', that kind of shite. Sorry.



Year Of Release: 1983
Record rating = 4
Overall rating = 6

Bad, but funny. Funny, but bad. Ian Gillan comes on and leads the band into self-parody.

Best song: ZERO THE HERO

Track listing: 1) Trashed; 2) Stonehenge; 3) Disturbing The Priest; 4) The Dark; 5) Zero The Hero; 6) Digital Bitch; 7) Born Again; 8) Hot Line; 9) Keep It Warm.

Ronnie left. Perhaps for the better. He claimed something like that Tony knew nothing of the Devil and left. Damn son of a bitch! He sure knew much about the Devil. His ambitions were, and still are, unsurpassed. His voice is missed. His image is not. Rest in peace, brother. Say hello to the Horned One. Amen.

Unfortunately, his replacement turned out to be Ian Gillan: his albums with his own band didn't sell, his voice was fading and his weight increasing, and, either of desperation or out of curiosity, he decided to join Sabbath. A more ridiculous idea is hard to imagine, although it would probably take me a little more fantasy to imagine Ronnie James Dio taking the place of John Lennon and going out on tour with the Beatles. Only a little more, though: Gillan's vocal style, lyrics, image and personality were totally incompatible with the traditional Sabbath image. Gillan was raunchy, of course, but he was also cheerful, grounded, and totally free from any 'goth' or 'evil' tendencies. Born Again, with its ironic title, not to mention Sabbath's stupidest album cover so far, was bound to be a failure - but it turned out that it would also be a self-parody.

The very first number on this record, 'Trashed', really causes some eyebrows to be raised and some questions to be asked. Like: 'what - is - this - SHIT?' A Black Sabbath song where the most often repeated line goes something like '...but there was no tequila?' Wait, wrong, it should be something like 'tequi-i-i-i-i-wi-wi-la', as Ian whines and dines as best he can to convince everybody he still can cut it. He sure can't: by 1983 his voice has lost all of its once magnificent upper range. It's still quite powerful, but Ronnie would outsing him in a second, and much too often he just screams and shouts as if his only aim were to prove: 'Just listen to me! No, really, I'm Ian Gillan, I'm still the best for miles around!' He's lying, of course.

And that's just part of the story. The other part is that the musical backbone of the band is slowly making its way towards the dump site. Bill Ward is back in the band, for a short period, but you really wouldn't know it - the drums have suddenly become electronic, for the most part, and totally devoid of any personality whatever; Geezer gets monotonous; and Tony? Well, there simply ain't a single more or less interesting riff on the entire album: it's just plain old metal with uninteresting power chords replacing real musical phrases. At least, some of it still sounds fresh, and it is certainly not entirely smothered down in MTV-styled metal production of Seventh Star.

The songs themselves are still designed to market Sabbath as a goth/doom band - at least, some of them - but with Gillan sitting at the wheel, the very concept is laughable a priori, and my initial reaction to 'Disturbing The Priest', the record's centerpiece, was loathing, before it finally turned into sneering. I mean, everybody who's heard Gillan screaming and laughing and sputtering out 'Death Death' all around the song will just have to agree with me that it's funny. It ain't even tongue-in-cheek - no, Gillan is sincerely trying to pull a Satanist, with violent anti-Church lyrics and the whole 'attitude', and he just doesn't know how to do it! Since he'd never done it before. Actually, Ian himself admitted afterwards that he never felt at home with Sabbath's style. The question is: why join the band in the first place? When there could be no worse blow to the reputation of Sabbath than the 'Disturbing The Priest' suite: the surrounding short instrumentals may be the 'worthy' successors to 'E5150', but the centerpiece? Grotesque pompous totally stupid overblown piece of laughable garbage! I stand by my word.

It gets a trifle better later on, of course, though none of the songs even approach 'decent'. The title track, a soulful ballad with obscure meaning, is again ruined by the 1983 Ian trying to pull a 1970 Ian; and the rockers 'Digital Bitch' (a metallic update of the Stones' 'Play With Fire', lyricswise) and 'Hot Line' are just typical mid-period fodder for Sabbath. For some strange reason, though, I just can't get rid of hearing the annoying chorus of 'Zero The Hero' (the one that goes 'whatcha gonna be whatcha gonna be brother - Zero The Hero - whatcha gonna do whatcha gonna do brother...') inside my head, so this makes me suppose the song is the best on the album. And there's a great guitar solo in 'Keep It Warm', too. These two songs are probably worth something, so you might wanna keep them. Perhaps in a hundred years you will be able to sell them to a collector for twenty thousand English pounds each. Of course, I cannot predict the inflation rates over the next century, so, come to think of it, twenty thousand English pounds might not be that much, really. So forget it.

Actually, wasn't 1983 the year of self-parody? Maybe it was! Paul McCartney had a self-parodying record that year. The Rolling Stones had one. The Who had one the year before. So, if one thinks closely, maybe Sabbath were just following the general tendency to make complete fools of themselves. On the general scale, looks fine to me: if you're able to make a good fool of yourself, you're not hopeless. Whether your record will not look dated a month after release is another matter, though.



Year Of Release: 1986
Record rating = 2
Overall rating = 4

Eh, but this is simply not Black Sabbath. This is a conventional, deadly dull and awfully mediocre metal album. The stuff I tend to despise.

Best song: IN FOR THE KILL

Track listing: 1) In For The Kill; 2) No Stranger To Love; 3) Turn To Stone; 4) Sphinx (The Guardian); 5) Seventh Star; 6) Danger Zone; 7) Heart Like A Wheel; 8) Angry Heart; 9) In Memory...

The first Black Sabbath album in three years - and the worst Black Sabbath album so far. It certainly has something to do with the fact that it was recorded and released in 1986, a year that turns out to be a deathly nadir for all old rock genres. But, more probably, it has something to do with the fact that it really has nothing to do with Black Sabbath. In fact, after the 'original' band had collapsed in 1984, with Gillan, Ward and Butler having vanished into obscurity (Gillan actually went to reform Deep Purple), Tony had decided to pursue a solo career, but the record company, according to the principle 'why would anyone want to purchase a Tony Iommi album?', persuaded him to put the Sabbath moniker on it - a fatal mistake, since there could be no worse blow to the band's reputation than this stinker. Whereas there was a time when Sabbath proudly stood up ten heads above your average heavy metal band, here they stand lost in a crowd of also-rans, and, seriously, I only review this album out of completist purposes.

Okay, so some of the riffs on this record still put Tony ahead of most competition: his frantic playing on 'In For The Kill' and 'Turn To Stone' deserves to be noticed. But on slow songs (and most of these songs are slow) he's content to sticking to banal, thrice and four times over-used musical phrases, hiding the lack of ideas behind pools of distortion and power chords. Even worse are the general production values. The drumming is, for the most part, electronically enhanced, and contributes nothing to the sound; the bass can hardly be noticed at all (yeah, Dave Spitz hardly earned his 'The Beast' nickname due to this record); and the keyboards, played by Geoff Nicholls, are just your average hi-tech Eighties' synths, not to mention that the keyboard playing is, for the most part, rudimentary - I don't know what Tony saw in this guy.

And the vocals? The vocals are provided by Glenn Hughes - the dude who once battled with Coverdale over the lead vocalist position in Deep Purple. Here, he's only too happy to be relieved of the bass duties he once shared and be able to just cut it vocally - except that he's no match for either Ozzy, Ronnie or Ian. It's not that he's bad, but he's much more of a soul/funk vocalist: his singing was okay on mid-Seventies' Purple records, but trying to sound soulful on a heavy metal album results in a loaf of cheesiness. Oh, well. At least - at least - it is probably Hughes that saves this album from being yet another wretched 'goth/doom' stylization: most of the lyrics deal with pessimism, inner darkness and despair rather than witches, dungeons & dragons. The lyrics, therefore, are enough to barely earn the album one rating point - they rarely make me sick.

A couple more points I have been able to 'squeeze out' of myself because, well, a couple more songs are... okay. Black Sabbath (whatever their constitution might be) rarely let you down with the opening number - so 'In For The Kill' is okay, with a thunderous riff (or, rather, just thunderous riffage - it's actually generic Iommi thrash-like speedy rhythm work rather than a truly memorable and original riff, mind you) and enough screeching and arse-kicking to let you know they could still kick it when they wanted it, even if the kick were to be delivered with a wooden leg. And, like I said, 'Turn To Stone' is rather powerful, too: relatively powerful, of course (I wouldn't even want to begin to try comparing it with the earlier stuff), but not the worst heavy metal song on the planet.

But the rest? Awful, awful garbage - and you know I don't fool around with such words for nothing! The ballads are painfully generic and crappy, with 'No Stranger To Love' their worst embarrassment to date: a leaden, slow synth-rocker with about one chord to be replayed throughout and Hughes' murky vocals making them sound quite fit for a Grammy. Iommi's Santanaesque soloing doesn't exactly help matters either, because he chooses to perform the generic elevator music aspects of Santana than the truly inspired ones. The title track is grossly overblown and much too pathetic for such an atavistic melody. And the second side... eh, well, can't remember a single tune out of it. My only vague memories are that 'Danger Zone' dragged for so long and stank so much I only listened once to the very end, and the only brief drop of relaxation was the album closer 'In Memory...' that had some pretty acoustic guitar. Lasted for about fifteen seconds, but it's on albums like this one that one finally starts to understand the importance of every single second. Time is short, my friends - why waste it on such garbage?

And please don't look on the inlay photo of the band - it made me puke and I hardly could force myself to listen to it. Five ugly long-haired, pot-headed mid Eighties metal dudes that stand there ready to take on the world and flashing their bare chests with crosses. Tony actually looks the most acceptable of them all, with a cool jacket instead of the usual black leather... the others I don't even wanna hear about, because my bath is already overflowing with my breakfast. What a good thing that Eighties metal passed away together with the Eighties...



Year Of Release: 1987
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 9

Look, I may be dumb, but I sure know a good riff when I hear one... and there are some good ones here.


Track listing: 1) The Shining; 2) Ancient Warrior; 3) Hard Life To Love; 4) Glory Ride; 5) Born To Lose; 6) Nightmare; 7) Scarlet Pimpernel; 8) Lost Forever; 9) Eternal Idol.

For a long long time I was afraid to pick this one up, and even after I picked it up it spent a long long time on the shelves gathering dust... but imagine my surprise: when I actually put it on it turned out to be a GOOD ALBUM! And I MEAN it! It's, like, GOOD EIGHTIES' METAL! And I'm not speaking Metallica or any other innovative band like that - I mean stale, rusty, conservative Black Sabbath! With only Tony Iommi an original member.

Granted, this is only "good" within the "sordidly mediocre" category. But within this category, it just might be one of the best metal albums around! Let me explain. Apparently, Seventh Star was mainly a toss-off for Tony; with Eternal Idol, he actually began planning on resuscitating the band, maybe even revitalizing it in a certain sense. The only retained player was Geoff Nichols on keyboards, who has thankfully been seriously pushed into the background. For the drums, Tony made the surprising choice of former ELO drummer Bev Bevan, and for the vocals, he took an unknown Ronnie James Dio-wannabe Tony Martin, whose voice is ugly, pretentious, and pompous, but - I have to admit it - powerful enough to fit the new style Iommi was introducing. Of course, Ronnie James he ain't, but who is?

The very style of Sabbath I was talking about is now a typical 'oldies metal act' sound. This means that it sounds really really heavy, but retains absolutely no edge - in their better days, BS used to send shivers down the backs of the more easily impressed types around, now they're just a bunch of heavy wankers among a sea of similarly-minded oldies acts. The lyrics are mostly of a metaphysical/moral character, all dealing with the perils of life and love and filled with your average images of the Apocalypse and redemption and salvation and damnation etc. etc., and the entire product simply creates the feeling that if once upon a time Tony Iommi actually wrote music for the sake of music, now his only aim is to make limited-intelligence people of his generation sit down and seriously think of fate, doom, his sins and, uh, like, the destiny of the universe or something. In other words, triple boredom.

But there's one factor that elevates the album. THE RIFFS. This is a GREAT album in terms of riffs. Can't help it, but just about EVERY song on here is memorable in some way or other. No, really, I'm serious: in terms of pure riffage, this is easily Iommi's greatest moment since, uh, I guess since Sabotage. Just compare Eternal Idol with the few albums that came before it - doesn't the difference speak for itself? The stupid power chord approach is nearly gone, in its place we see an almost rejuvenated band occasionally speeding up the tempo and Iommi pushing up his trademark brand of crushing riffage. Okay, so maybe not every song sports an immaculate riff, and some of the melodies aren't as imaginative as Iommi's Master Of Reality peak, but you gotta understand: the man had been on a pretty low scale for ten years at least, this is almost like a, uh, like a total fuckin' rebirth for the Riffmaster.

Perhaps the only track I really can't stand on here is the title one - after all these ass-kickin' metal riffs Tony seemed to have decided to take a break and he left everything in the hands of Mr Martin, so 'Eternal Idol' is the one track mostly dedicated to anti-religious propaganda and declamation of the general sins of humanity and although it does sport a slow mastodontic riff, it's pretty dumb and uninventive, just a pair of power chords strung together. But apart from that disappointment, surprises abound! 'The Shining', 'Hard Life To Love', 'Born To Lose', 'Nightmare', 'Lost Forever'... all are riff-based and catchy. So catchy, in fact, that I almost can't help chanting along to Mr Martin bellowing 'Rise up! To the shining!', annoying as it seems - that riff just gets you going. 'Hard Life To Love' is even better, as it's fast and funky, a classy rave-up that wouldn't have been out of place on a Mark IV Deep Purple record (with Tommy Bolin), but of course, Tony is a far more precise and experienced riffer than Bolin, so the track comes off as thoroughly collected and concise. And BUTT-KICKIN', which is the main advantage. Similar sounds can be found on 'Born To Lose', with Tony's infamous cluck-cluck-clucking firmly back in place. Again, though, Martin's 'AAA-A AA-AAH it won't be too long!' get on my nerves. Perhaps Iommi's biggest post-Dio failure is that he constantly saddled himself with mediocre vocalists.

Finally, stop before the title track and just concentrate on 'Lost Forever'. Yup, Iommi once helped invent thrash metal, now he's borrowing thrash basics back from Metallica themselves, but he's the genre's forefather after all and he masters these basics firmly. The track grooves along nicely and brings the album to a relatively powerful conclusion. Seriously now, I do - in my heart even - like this album, and easily proclaim this Sabbath's best post-Ozzy studio album and the one (and unfortunately, probably only one) to own for anybody who's only vaguely interested in Sabbath's post-glory days period. What the hell prompted Tony to acquire extra brightness for this album and then lose that brightness immediately afterwards is still a mystery to me, though.



Year Of Release: 1989
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 5

More defamation for good ol' Sabbath. This is atrocious shit, for the most part.

Best song: UH! [That's me wracking my brain].

Track listing: 1) The Gates Of Hell; 2) Headless Cross; 3) Devil And Daughter; 4) When Death Calls; 5) Kill In The Spirit World; 6) Call Of The World; 7) Black Moon; 8) Nightwing.

I have both of Sabbath 1987-89 albums paired on one CD, and now I can proudly say it's the best place on Earth to easily and quickly illustrate the difference between 'good generic metal' and 'bad generic metal'. Simply put, Headless Cross is Eternal Idol Vol. 2, but without the good riffs. All the other ingredients are present: Iommi got his monstruous hellish guitar tone flowing, Tony Martin is still trying to better Ronnie James as he screeches out lyrics about death, destruction, doom, destiny and demons, the bass player has changed once again but that's all right because nobody needs to know the names of late period Black Sabbath bass players anyway, and the drummer is now Cozy Powell who's further solidifying the Rainbow/Sabbath link. You know what? Hate to say it, but Cozy is pretty overrated. People keep praising his 'powerhouse' drumming all the time, but it's pretty generic if you ask me. Just bash 'em drums with all force and employ that echoey effect and you're Cozy Powell. Don't believe me? Listen to Bev Bevan on The Eternal Idol. Now listen to Cozy on here. Now tell me the difference.

Not that it actually matters, because like I already said, this album sucks badly. I'd say it's still a bit better than Seventh Star, if only for somewhat purer production and the fact that Nichols' keyboards aren't so poisonously prominent (even if they are more prominent than on Idol), plus, there's somewhat more energy and none of those disgusting power ballads that made the 1986 experience so much of a drag. But that doesn't really say much. For some reason, Tony just totally neglected the fact that he managed to revive his riff-mastery on the last album... almost as if it had never happened.

Result? Tune after tune that drags on on a lean base of boring power chords and thoroughly undistinct plodding 'rhythm tracks' that don't really constitute solid musical phrasing. The introductory riff to 'Headless Cross' is by far the most promising moment of the record, but it doesn't amount to much, and after just a few seconds is replaced by a primitive bassline and a long long long series of oracle-like lyrics as Tony Martin tries to step in the shoes of the Prophet Hezekiel. It never gets better after that. I can say that occasionally snatches of interesting vocal hooks jump out at the listener, for instance the chorus of 'When Death Calls' and the climactic 'Nightwing RIDES AGAIN!!!' scream in 'Nightwing'. But that's hardly worth a golden dime when there's so much total dreck on the album, like 'Devil And Daughter', for instance, or 'Kill In The Spirit World' (did they randomly select these song titles from a standard set of doomy cliches, I wonder?).

One suspicion I hold is that Headless Cross was a bit too much Martin-dominated, with Iommi almost self-relegated to the second role. For instance, one cool thing about Eternal Idol was that most of the good tunes started out in the classic Sabbath way: brief intro, then Iommi switches on the tune with a massive riff assault and only after the main riff of the song has been established, Martin enters with his lines. This clearly establishes the dominance of the musical texture over the vocals/lyrics and also gives you full possibility to enjoy the riff before it's been 'quenched' by the screeching putz... er, sorry, the screeching rock idol Tony Martin. Here, Iommi almost has no time! Stuff like 'Call Of The World' or the already-mentioned 'Kill In The Spirit World' just begin with a few plodding power chords and then Martin begins hollering and it really does not matter if Iommi plays something worthwhile or not, because the vocals are the central culminating element. At least when Dio used to put himself at the forefront, I could understand that, here, it just looks like Headless Cross is a weak parody on Heaven And Hell, which itself wasn't all that serious if you get my drift...

But never mind that, all questions aside, Iommi really plays very few worthwhile notes on here. If you ask me, I'd even say this album does not ROCK. It, er, it's dance-metal. Yeah, that's what it is. 'Black Moon', for instance, carries that funky vibe Iommi developed two years before to a ridiculous conclusion. Just hear those cheesy synths in the background... ugh. It's hideous. Grossly inadequate and all that. To top it all, the album seems to bear pretentious allusions to Sabbath's early Eighties past (compare 'Headless Cross' with 'Sign Of The Southern Cross'!), starting with 'The Gates Of Hell', a stupid one-minute instrumental passage that's supposed to depress you and create pictures of the jagged icy passage into the abyss, but instead it's just a bore preceding an even greater bore.

One thing I really don't understand is how the hell the All-Music Guide called this something like the best of the late Sabbath records. THIS? I can understand praising Eternal Idol, but whoever has the nerve to call Headless Cross a good album, in my eyes, has but two options: (a) die a slow and miserable death or (b) express his love and devotion to just about every record ever made on the planet because Headless Cross should certainly occupy one of the lowest rungs in the system. I can't believe I wrote so much about this miserable piece of plastic! Next thing I know I'll be reviewing guano, I tell you.



Year Of Release: 1990
Record rating = 3
Overall rating = 5

Not bad for a concept, but the songs are just as braindead as always.

Best song: UH! UGH! [That's me wracking my brain some more].

Track listing: 1) Anno Mundi; 2) The Law Maker; 3) Jerusalem; 4) The Sabbath Stones; 5) The Battle Of Tyr; 6) Odin's Court; 7) Valhalla; 8) Feels Good To Me; 9) Heaven In Black.

More shit be this? Aye, aye, more shit this be. The only significant difference from Headless Cross is that this album is supposed to be a concept one. I mean, if you see the word TYR printed in rhunic letters on the front cover, and words like 'Odin' and 'Valhalla' among the track listing, the notion "concept" certainly springs to mind, now doesn't it. BUT now that I think of it, wasn't Headless Cross a concept album too? I guess it was, the difference being that its concept didn't involve any personal names. It was just about death, doom, and destruction... hey now there, wait a minute, if an album is called TYR and sports titles like 'Odin's Court' and 'Valhalla', it's supposed to be... about death, doom and destruction. How brilliant of me to conclude that! Unless, of course, you prefer to interpret TYR as an abbreviation standing for Tampering With Yesterday's Rubbish, which is pretty much what these guys are busy with on here.

Same problems, boys, same old problems. Tony Martin leaves no impression as a singer, Cozy Powell bashes along in a generic mood, and Iommi's riffs are more rote than ever. Not a single song on here is memorable, and besides, the inevitable curse of self-parody strikes as Iommi begins subconsciously recycling his old melodies. He even falls as low as to base 'The Law Maker' on 'Turn To Stone'... as if he couldn't find anything better to rip off himself.

The album's centerpiece is the eight-minute 'Battle Of Tyr' suite, multipart and multiboring. Oh, actually, I forgot to mention that there's a lot of acoustic guitar on this album, much more than on its two predecessors, but that doesn't help matters none, because frankly speaking, Iommi never really mastered the acoustic guitar, and he's still playing those tired old arpeggios he was playing twenty years earlier on Master Of Reality. Yeah, well, whatever, I guess they're gloomy and medieval sounding and that's what he wanted, but don't say he wanted to impress me with this 'atmospheric' music. I'm not wooed over by the Latin chanting in 'Anno Mundi' either; it is certainly far beyond the dignity of Sabbath to engage in rotten Gothic cliches when once upon a time they were actually innovative in that area. Ah, just compare, I dunno, 'Supertzar' with 'Anno Mundi' and see the difference. It doesn't help matters either that the main body of the song itself is given entirely into the hands of Tony Martin, while Mr Iommi chucks out some bland semi-thrash riff in the background and seems totally content with his life.

There are but two fast numbers on the record which are really different to tell apart... by now you know the formula of the new look Sabbath fast number as well - for instance, each one of them just has to begin with an 'ominous' drumroll, after which comes the chunka-chunka-chunka riff. Oh wait, 'Heaven In Black' is actually slower than 'The Law Maker', but I guess that's about the main difference. Might I complain about the production too? On 'The Law Maker', I have a suspicion there's actually an interesting riff present, but Cozy Powell doesn't let me hear it! He bashes with such force that I don't actually hear when one note ends and the next one starts! Just compare it with the Eternal Idol approach - where Tony started the song with a very clear 'enunciation' of a riff and had you get used to it before the drums kicked in with full force. It's exactly the opposite here. Cozy, will you just keep quiet for a moment? Somebody hit that guy over the head with his microphone, please! PLEASE!

There are also two abysmal ballads on here - 'Jerusalem' and 'Feels Good To Me' - which only the most diehard Iommi fan will appreciate, but perhaps the absolute nadir, and easily one of the worst Sabbath songs ever, is the monumental snore pretentiously and nostalgically (?) called 'The Sabbath Stones'. Not that it's really objectively worse than anything else on here, but it goes on for seven friggin' minutes. I have to suppose this is not just an album about death and destruction, but that it's all about listener TORTURE as well... This is the kind of song that the bloodthirsty Vikings would have their prisoners have to endure while rotting away in their chains in the deep dungeons, I guess, had they had stereo equipment and electric guitars in those days. Seven minutes of pompous, pondering drumbeats, empty meaningless riffs and Mr Tony Martin splurting out his nonsense. For a minute or so the electric mess gives way to more of Mr Iommi's acoustic plucking, but if you read the above remarks carefully, that's not much of a salvation trick.

In all, this is just as bad as Headless Cross and maybe even worse... geez, guys, it's not THAT hard to come up with some truly spooky songs if you wanna have a Norse mythology concept album, not this wretched self-parodying crap. I have considered giving it a 2, but it's still marginally more endurable than Seventh Star because, uh, well, at least it doesn't have Glenn Hughes on it and it ain't chock-full of power ballads like 'No Stranger To Love', and at least 'The Law Maker' does rock pretty hard and, oh, well, I guess there are bits and pieces in the Tyr suite that contain nice musical ideas for metal historians. But generally, Tyr just solidifies Sabbath's reputation as one of the Top Three acts to descend from hottest performer in the business status to miserable generic self-parody status (the other two, of course, being Rod Stewart and Jethro Tull. What, did you think I was going to say the Stones or Bob Dylan? Lucky you! You don't know what bad is before you've heard Headless Cross, Body Wishes, or Under Wraps!)



Year Of Release: 1992
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7

Gee, at least this is a concept album. Apart from that, it ain't even scary - just ri-di-cu-lous.

Best song: I

Track listing: 1) Computer God; 2) After All (The Dead); 3) T.V. Crimes; 4) Letter From Earth; 5) Master Of Insanity; 6) Time Machine; 7) Sins Of The Father; 8) Too Late; 9) I; 10) Buried Alive.

More shit be this? Aye, aye, more sh... HOLY JESUS! DIO IS BACK!!!!

Who could have guessed that? Not only that, he's also back together with Geezer Butler and Vinnie Appice - thus recreating the happy lineup of Mob Rules. A 'reunion', sorta, ya know. I actually picked this one up originally - much earlier than I did with the Tony Martin records - only because it has Dio on it, so I thought it might be a step up from the last several parodic Sabbath-imitating Tony Iommi solo albums. And it probably is - but hey, any record with at least a couple generic overplayed melodies would look great as compared to Seventh Star. On the other hand, this is certainly no Mob Rules, and it certainly ain't no Heaven And Hell. It's just... kinda lame.

Dio got older, and his voice got gruffer; not that it has lost any power, at least, he does his best to prove that he can still rattle the walls with the sheer power of his vocal cords like he did ten years ago. However, he overdoes the trick: the songs get so horrendously boring in their monotonousness that I simply get sick and tired of the man's roaring somewhere around track three or four. True, smash-your-head-against-the-fence style is what Dio coupled with Iommi do best, and I never really cared for their few lame attempts at sentimentality; but an entire hour of headbanging, and uninspired headbanging at that, is more than I can take. These ten songs seem to go on, like, forever - five or six minutes is the average length. And the disappointing factor is that, in most cases, you can't really distinguish one from another.

The album is supposed to be a concept one - about the evils of the modern world, such as computers, TV preachers and stuff; just take a look at that hideous, yet funny album cover. Death stepping out of the computer? Heh heh. 'Computer God' tells the story, with Dio blurting out his anathema to virtual reality over a bunch of generic riffs; but the lyrics are completely predictable and kinda lame, and the melody... anyway, what do I have to say about the melodies on here? 'Master Of Insanity', as Mark Prindle rightly guessed, borrows its pounding riff from Led Zep's 'Wanton Song', so it's one of the better numbers here. 'Too Late' is also pretty good, the only song which has some acoustic guitar in the beginning, before it evolves into the usual brontosaur.

My favourite here, though, is the song that's probably the least remarkable, the cute little evil rocker with the shortest title in the world - 'I'. The lyrics are deadly pretentious, but the melody has a bit of the 'stately' feel of old, so it doesn't end up sounding parodic. All the other stuff is simply much too drawn out, you understand? Classic Sabbath had this kind of 'neutral' attitude about them: they just bashed out their riffs and chanted the lyrics rather nonchalantly and concentrated on making music, not on reinstating their image. On Dehumanizer, the music hits me with such violence that I simply cannot concentrate on the actual tunes. It's like, 'yeah, yeah, Tony and Ronnie, you're the greatest, but calm down and don't make it so self-indulgent!' The Rolling Stones had this 'image symptom' in the Eighties, but Steel Wheels put an end to that. Sabbath seem to have hit upon it with all their might in 1992. Come on now, if you're not a total heavy metal freak (in which case this album is a must for you, bro'er), do you think it's possible to sit through Dio's poisonous blurtings on 'After All (The Dead)'? He sounds like he's actually vomiting through the mike! Apparently, they were trying to compete in power and convincibility with some death metal band, but that's not my cheerful perspective of Black Sabbath's future.

Too bad. Perhaps the worst thing is that the album has some real melodies hidden there underneath the production and the 'evil spirit': with a bit of self-restraint and intelligence, this could have been, if not a masterpiece, at least a decent Sabbath album. Also, the production is pretty solid: for once, Tony's riffs actually step out loud and clear, I mean, you know this is an album that has been designed specially for Master Iommi's guitar and nothing else. It's another thing that few of these riffs match the distinctiveness and memorability of Eternal Idol, much less any of Sabbath's true classics, but at least it ain't disgusting, especially when paired with Dio's relatively catchy vocal melodies.

Yeah, in fact, I would heartily recommend 'I' and perhaps 'Too Late' for any Sabbath anthology, were a thing like that to come; the other songs just gotta be cleared up. The album as a whole blows: maybe they did achieve the goal of not sounding like old farts, but they failed to make the record artistically valuable. Just your plain borin' chunk of metal - normal, half-decent I guess, not unlistenable if taken in small doses, but god dammit - why are the songs that long? Jesus, I can't even seem to decide upon a final judgement for that one. Okay, let me tell you this: I won't ever need to listen to it unless a sophisticated thief gets into my house and steals all my records except Dehumanizer (hey, what kind of a thief would want to steal an album called Dehumanizer?), but if you're a diehard fan of Iommi's technique, or of Dio's voice, you probably need this. Probably.



Year Of Release: 1994
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7

Tony Iommi remembers what 'taste' is, but it's almost too late...


Track listing: 1) I Witness; 2) Cross Of Thorns; 3) Psychophobia; 4) Virtual Death; 5) Immaculate Deception; 6) Dying For Love; 7) Back To Eden; 8) The Hand That Rocks The Cradle; 9) Cardinal Sin; 10) Evil Eye.

Naturally, Dio just didn't last that long, and Sabbath stepped into the next phase of chaos and turmoil - at one point, Ozzy almost got to rejoin the band but backed out due to last minute frictions or something (just pardon me, I'm not exactly hot on learning all my trivia on Nineties' Sabbath history). Anyway, this 1994 album - hoopla! - features Mr Tony Martin again, proving that he was more than just a fluke and has to be counted, whether you like it or not, an essential part of Sabbath history. It also features Geezer on bass and the murky beastly guy Geoff Nicholls on keyboards, plus some obscure drummer who's not Cozy Powell but might just as well be Cozy Powell as long as he's got his drum mikes set in the same manner.

Anyway, this is a pretty rough affair, but it's miles removed from the total unforgivable atrocity of Headless Cross and Tyr anyway - count it as a weak five opposed to Dehumanizer's strong five. Whatever you say, Dio's stunt with the 1992 brand of Sabbath worked well for the band, as it seemed to remind Mr Iommi of certain Sabbath essentials that he so sordidly let down at the end of the Eighties. First, he started paying more attention to his riffs again, because how long can a guy thrive on death & doom atmosphere alone without actual sequences of well-strung notes to back 'im up? And second, he remembered that Sabbath had for the most part managed to get along by employing a vocal style that wasn't at all generic - hey, after all, Ozzy Osbourne is the least imaginable candidate you'd vouch for if you had to make a typical metal album, and Dio just beats all competition by being, like, the most vocally talented throat-burner for miles around.

Thus, even if Dio is out of the band once more, the lesson has been learned. The riffs on Cross Purposes are uniformly stronger than on the preceding Martin albums. AND Martin's vocal style becomes somewhat more restricted as well. Well, actually, scrap that: the biggest difference is that Iommi opts for a thoroughly evil aggressive approach once again, mostly dropping the power ballad dreck and those slow echoey doom-laden boredom-inducing tracks that you can only get interested in if you're wishing to make a thoroughly inoffensive soundtrack to a documentary on Satanism history. Cross Purposes has energy a-plenty, with thrashy lashing riffs, enough speedy tunes that aren't all 'Turn To Stone/Law Maker' rip-offs, and Martin adjusts his vocals to that style, sounding less operatic and annoying than on Headless Cross, even if he's still no Dio.

On certain tracks, so it seems to me, Iommi is even starting to nostalgize about his pasts. Listen to 'Virtual Death', for instance, with its proverbially evil guitar tone, and tell me if that main riff wasn't inspired - and partially copied from - 'Electric Funeral'! Sure there's no wah-wah on it, but the tempo and basic chord structure are pretty similar, and, well, the message is pretty much the same, isn't it? Too bad the song sucks outside of that riff, but then again, most Black Sabbath songs suck outside the main riff, so that shouldn't be a problem. Personally, I think the best candidate for a near-classic here is 'Immaculate Deception', because when that riff first struck my ears, my first reaction was - 'AT LAST! A truly atmospheric, complex, and memorable riff worthy of something from the early Seventies!' So I was pretty disappointed when the Nicholls guy chimed in with his annoying modernistic synths a few seconds later, and I never really liked the idea of changing the tempo to a thrashy rave-up in the chorus, but that's just me, a nobody.

Of course, if EVERY song on here had a solid riff potential, I would have praised this as much as The Eternal Idol (which isn't all that much, of course, but hey, I feel pretty lame and degenerative when I praise any album of that kind anyway, so don't ask too much of me, you lameass braindead metal fan!!!) The power ballad curse is mostly avoided, but there are still a couple suckjobs like 'Cross Of Thorns' and 'Dying For Love' (perhaps the most generic title ever employed for a power ballad?) which sour the grapes even further, and it doesn't help that the riffs start to weaken and wither towards the end of the album - only 'Back To Eden' and 'Evil Eye' on the, uh, second side, I guess (was this ever released on vinyl? Ah, probably was), strike me as relatively interesting, while stuff like 'Cardinal Sin' is way too resembling of the worst of late-period Rainbow or early Nineties Deep Purple to be enjoyable. It's real funny to note, though, that if you pay attention to the mid section of 'Evil Eye', you'll find a short Geezer solo spot that is very reminiscent of the 'Bassically' solo on Sabbath's debut... nostalgia strikes again?

Still, this isn't a total loss, and perhaps those Sabbath fans that were happy with the perspective of Dio rejoining and hang down their noses when he left actually gnawed at this bone with a bit of consolation. In fact, I actually read a couple rave opinions on this stuff that were almost ready to equal it with the might of none other than Paranoid itself! That's total bollocks, of course, but it just goes to show how some of 'em people were really desperate for a true Sabbath revival. Well, they had three more years to wait anyway.



Year Of Release: 1995
Record rating = 5
Overall rating = 7

This is POP! Happy shiny hookless little pop metal ditties about the funny li'l person cheerfully swinging his scythe!


Track listing: 1) The Illusion Of Power; 2) Get A Grip; 3) Can't Get Close Enough; 4) Shaking Off The Chains; 5) I Won't Cry For You; 6) Guilty As Hell; 7) Sick And Tired; 8) Rusty Angels; 9) Forbidden; 10) Kiss Of Death.

Mark Prindle built his entire career (well, almost) on making the review for Forbidden exactly the same as the review of its predecessor, Cross Purposes. In retrospect, that wasn't such a trustworthy move as you could expect from him - because the two albums are, in fact, quite different! Yeah! They're both boring as liquid llama faeces, of course, and are as likely to eventually show up in your life as said object, but they do actually - get this - NOT sound the same. Of course, that doesn't have anything to do with the band line-up - Butler left, the drummer guy left, Cozy Powell returned to make this one of the last albums he played on before his death three years later, but unless you're really well-versed you really wouldn't know. Okay, so there's no bass solo bit here, that might be telling. The two Tonies are still running the ball for the most part, but in a DIFFERENT way! Yeah yeah!

Okay, don't let me keep you waiting too long. The main difference is, the guys seem to somehow drop this 'doom' element from their repertoire. Maybe a couple of tracks still have the 'goth' intonations there, but in general I spot very few medieval references. Martin again acquires a somewhat different vocal tone - much more raunchy and aggressive than before, really straining his voice to get that low shiver-sending grrrrrrrowl like Dio... he doesn't succeed much, but at the least it doesn't come across as totally laughable as the idiotic operatic wail of Headless Cross. And Iommi's melodies often veer into the pop sphere, and I'm not joking: at least several of the numbers on here could easily qualify as pop-metal, for instance, the title track which is certainly heavy, but dammit, it ain't neither spooky nor scary nor atmospheric, just a somewhat danceable chorus riff and a singalong vocal melody, I mean, you can try to imagine this song in a dance-pop arrangement... can't you hear dance-pop notes in Martin singing that chorus? I sure can.

That doesn't mean I welcome the change. Pop metal or grindcore, nothing matters if the melodies ain't good, and these melodies just don't cut it. Goshdarnit, let's have pity on Mr Iommi. For twenty-five years he'd been going over it already, and when you spend twenty-five years of your career essentially doing nothing but coming up with riff after riff after riff, you simply have to be a Tyr or at least an Odin to keep 'em fresh and inventive for twenty-five years. Tony Iommi was just a sheet metal worker with a guitar. So is it really his fault if he steals the riff in the best song, 'Illusion Of Power', from 'Electric Funeral' (the verse part of that song)? Well, of course it is! Who the heck asked him to release a new album just a year after Cross Purposes? No wonder nothing really makes the grade.

At least I can't say he didn't even try. There ARE riffs in all these tunes. They're sometimes a bit funky, as in 'Get A Grip', sometimes thrashy, as in 'Shaking Off The Chains', sometimes poppy, as in the already mentioned title track, sometimes bluesy, as in 'Sick And Tired', and sometimes just typical AOR tripe like in 'Rusty Angels'. Mind you, though, that this doesn't mean the album is really diverse, because Tony's tone is always the same, and the rhythm section just pounds along in a thoroughly predictable way. I have to say, though, that I kinda like 'Rusty Angels', maybe just because I had to find at least one or two good songs on this album out of respect for the limitless tenacity of Mr Iommi. The chorus to that song is kinda catchy.

Also, the production is excellent, much like the one on Cross Purposes - the guitars are fat and juicy, captured in all their guitarish essence without any slick trim effects. Thus, metalheads will probably love this. Not sure about the power ballads, though, as the two pieces of dreck that fall in that category ('Can't Get Close Enough' and 'I Won't Cry For You') would only suit the average Scorpions fan. Superb moment of cheese comes on at 3:25 into the latter when Mr Iommi rips into a generic 'tear-wrenching' solo. Ugh. You probably all hate these lame comic movies with overdubbed outbursts of backstage laughter that are either made for dunces who need to be told at which point it is necessary to laugh or serve as tricky provocations to trigger your nervous system so you can't help laughing even at the dumbest joke possible? So why do guitar solos like these remind me of the same thing? It's as if you're being told 'hey you dumbass listener, moment of catharsys comes on, lemme give you a sign so you don't miss it!'. At least on earlier ballads like 'You Won't Change Me' Ozzy and Tony used to join forces in order to make things look more sincere... here, it's simply disgusting formula.

So, while in general the album doesn't make me fart repeatedly (like Seventh Star, or Headless Cross, or Tyr), it's still nothing to be proud about. The only good thing about it is that fourth time around, Iommi finally seemed to grasp that he had been constantly bumping his head against the wall for the last ten or twelve years, and Forbidden was the last of these torturous records made before Tony finally made the brave decision to try and purify the once glorious Sabbath name of all the guano that it had accumulated during that period.



Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

The best move the band could really make. Of course, it doesn't exactly bring up their long-lost reputation... but how refreshing!

Best song: well, they do all the best stuff here!

Track listing: 1) War Pigs; 2) Behind The Walls Of Sleep; 3) N.I.B.; 4) Fairies Wear Boots; 5) Electric Funeral; 6) Sweet Leaf; 7) Spiral Architect; 8) Into The Void; 9) Snowblind; 10) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath; 11) Orchid/Lord Of This World; 12) Dirty Women; 13) Black Sabbath; 14) Iron Man; 15) Children Of The Grave; 16) Paranoid; 17) Psycho Man; 18) Selling My Soul.

Hah! Now here's a band that keeps getting smarter and smarter! Would you believe that? After twelve years of constant dragging and bleeding and violation of good taste, with a couple hundred lineups that couldn't even hope getting stabilized in this situation, Tony suddenly abandons the shit and gets the original lineup together. And I do mean 'original' - Ozzy Osbourne is back, along with the two others. Old friendship overcomes all obstacles, indeed. What a bummer. What a wonderful surprise. (What big bucks, eh? Okay, okay... Small bucks. Still gotta earn a living somehow.)

Anyway, Reunion is an excellent double live album, with just two new studio tracks tacked on at the end. They aren't that entertaining ('Selling My Soul' is downright dull), especially when put next to all the classics: however, 'Psycho Man' is an interesting number since it's very much different from everything the band did after Ozzy left. Compared with, say, the material on Dehumanizer, it's more modest and less drawn out, with a softer, gloomier and more intricate atmosphere. Plus, the straightforward lyrics about a serial killer kinda revert us to the good old days when master Butler used to immediately put down all the childish trash that came into his head on paper and make it a timeless classic. In this respect, this new material shows that the band might yet have a trick or two to demonstrate to the world: a faint possibility, but I simply do not have the right nor the will to exclude it. Now that that's done, let us talk about the live stuff.

The main problem with the album is that it's too long - I haven't managed to get through it in one sitting yet. No surprise, though: the band draws heavily on songs from their earlier days, performing Paranoid and Master Of Reality almost in their entirety, with the natural omission of the 'softer' stuff like 'Planet Caravan' (they don't do 'After Forever', either, and 'Hand Of Doom'; everything else is here). The debut album gets heavily covered, too; the others are misrepresented, with two songs from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and just one post-1973 track ('Dirty Women'), which unfortunately discriminates Sabotage - I'm not sure why they didn't think first-rate material like 'Symptom Of The Universe' should have been overlooked in favour of some actually inferior tunes from Vol. 4, for instance. Apparently, the show, recorded in December 1997 at Birmingham, was supposed to appeal to the conventional Sabbath fan, the one that respects the band because of the early headbanging stuff. Well, anyway, my problem with that ain't major - I always thought that period to generally have been their best, after all.

In that respect, it ends up sounding like a hit collection: several of the songs are not well-known, like 'Behind The Walls Of Sleep' or 'Fairies Wear Boots', but they are exceptions. On the other hand, the band gives out faithful renditions: the numbers are all performed by-the-book, the only difference being Ozzy's annoying ad libs (I understand that the man's adding 'fucking' in between every two other words is part of his image, but it starts getting on my nerves after the first few songs, after all) and an overall gruffer, more distorted and 'fat' guitar tone than on the original releases. I guess that these are natural elements of the show, though, so one shouldn't complain. Tony is obviously playing guitar more in the way he played it on Cross Purposes and Forbidden than in the early way, but that way wasn't at all bad by itself - it's just that it lacked solid material to go along with it.

And hey, after all, kudos to Tony for really playing 'Sweet Leaf' as it is supposed to be played - with the heaviest guitar tone on Earth. And they still kick ass - who would want to argue with that after hearing these versions? Ward's drumming is neat and clean as ever, Geezer plays the quirky little 'Bass-ically' solo before switching off to 'N.I.B.', as he's supposed to do, and Tony is Tony. And Ozzy? Eh... I confess that I still prefer the way Dio sings 'N.I.B.'. So sue me. And the line 'I AM IRON MAN', remember how Ronnie used to sing it? Gurgling and tinny, just like the original Ozzy with a voice encoder. Here, it just sounds thin and rushed. But no, don't get me wrong! I couldn't imagine Dio singing 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' or 'Sweet Leaf': he was really only fit to sing the 'menacing' material. For that matter, the live version of 'Paranoid' that closes the album kicks the version on Live Evil out of the window.

A good one. Lemme tell you that if you're new to Sabbath and looking for a good place to start, this might just be the thing you're looking for. Screw the 'greatest hits' packages and dig in to the raw sound and the live energy. The only problem with that would be that you wouldn't want to get Paranoid or Master Of Reality any time soon. But that's all right, man. You'll be converted in any case. Just take a listen to Ozzy's 'diabolic' laugh in the song 'Black Sabbath' after the line 'Satan's sitting there, he's smiling'. 'Ha ha ha ha ha-a-a-a-a-a...' It really gets the audience wild, and it's fun as hell. As hell? God save me! And good old Tony shows enough care for the old material to even play that short sweet instrumental intro to 'Lord Of This World' we all know as 'Orchid'. They're good lads. They treasure their past. Let us treasure our past, too. Go buy this album. It probably won't be in print for too long - much too conventional and a bit too 'event commemorative' to linger in the shops for too long. Unless, of course, the fans will hate it and send the entire printing to the used bins. But I frankly doubt this is going to happen.



Year Of Release: 2002
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 11

Now, if only they could have gotten us this with good sound quality, but apparently, Satan doesn't approve of hi-fi.

Best song: something from the Sabotage tracks, I guess.

Track listing: CD I: 1) Tomorrow's Dream; 2) Sweet Leaf; 3) Killing Yourself To Live; 4) Cornucopia; 5) Snowblind; 6) Children Of The Grave; 7) War Pigs; 8) Wicked World; 9) Paranoid;

CD II: 1) Hand Of Doom; 2) Hole In The Sky; 3) Symptom Of The Universe; 4) Megalomania; 5) Iron Man; 6) Black Sabbath; 7) N.I.B.; 8) Behind The Wall Of Sleep; 9) Fairies Wear Boots.

The long awaited "classic" Ozzy-era live album. The only thing that had been officially available for some time was a record called Live At Last, released around 1980 or so, suffering from excruciatingly poor sound quality (so they say) and long since out of print - so long, in fact, that it's hardly featured in any basic discographies by the band. Well, this situation is now remedied: if they don't want to reunite for another studio album, at least they're giving us something to confirm that the Ozzy era of Black Sabbath was by far the best era of Black Sabbath, so don't you make no mistake about it.

So, this is a 2 CD package. The first CD is a live show from 1973, recorded in Manchester; apparently this is the show which was originally released as Live At Last, but presumably it has been remastered, expanded, and filled to the brim with Ozzy using the "F" word. No, no, not really. Apparently, the funny thing is, Ozzy hardly ever uses the "F" word on this record! Yeah, I know it's hard to believe, but that's sort of true. His song intros are thus significantly more diverse than on Reunion, and occasionally include lively audience "interplay" like 'ARE YOU HIGH?' [YEAAAAAAH!] 'ARE YOU HIGH?' [BOOOOOO!] 'SO AM I!'. And likewise. In fact, he uses the "F" word more frequently during the instrumental passages on the songs themselves. Boy, old age really brings out the dirtiest things in people. :)

But I digress. So the first disc is Live At Last and then the second disc is assorted live odds and ends from various Seventies' gigs, including a real treat for the fans in the form of a triple selection from Sabotage, an album usually drastically underrepresented in Sabbath shows. In particular, the live version of 'Megalomania' is considered a real rarity among fans - for some reason, Sabbath just dropped it eventually and never picked it up again. Maybe because of the length, I dunno. I think it works marvelously well in a live arrangement, and Ozzy's draconic 'SUCK MEEEE!', if you turn the volume up well enough, will be appreciated by everybody in the neighbourhood.

Basic complaint: sound quality. Presumably Sabbath never really cared about being recorded (I have no idea why they never went ahead with a live album in the Seventies - maybe they thought they'd be too unimaginative next to their peers like Led Zep?), so a large part of this stuff is, well, like high bootleg quality; 'N.I.B.', in particular, is so goddang muffled it's hard to truly recognize the song's potential in this version. On the other hand, hey man, this is Sabbath, who cares. All of their live albums sound like shit because no recording equipment can stand all that racket. Well, maybe Reunion sounds a little better, but then again, it was recorded almost in the XXIst century.

Big surprises among the tracklist: apart from the Sabotage numbers, nothing really. Sabbath predictably play their big hits as well as slightly more obscure contemporary material - naturally, the 1973 show is packed with numbers from Bloody Sabbath and Vol. 4, including a rather sterile, I think, rendition of the rather sterile, I think, 'Killing Yourself To Live', and a totally kickass, I think, rendition of the rather kickass, I think, 'Snowblind'. If there's anything to be surprised at, it's a full-scale rendition of 'Wicked World', complete with its enormous jam section, and it turns out to be an improvement over the studio original because it now incorporates parts of Sabbath's since-then-written catalog, like the mammoth introductory riff to 'Into The Void', for instance, or a large chunk out of 'Supernaut'. Then Bill Ward does his silly, but short, drum solo, and they close the show with 'Paranoid', a little rushed, so it seems to me, but maybe Ozzy was already missing his needle or something.

There are also nice little tidbits now and then that you never knew before unless you were a diehard - for instance, in the early days Iommi used to begin 'Black Sabbath' with a couple minute long "jazzy" intro instead of the rain and thunder effects. And Ozzy never sang the "I AM IRON MAN!" thing because he couldn't really pull it off. Little bits like that. There's also a nice general rawness to the sound, in direct opposition to the Eighties' gloss of Live Evil (remember those drums on Live Evil? didn't they sound so mechanic to you?) and to the Nineties' mega-professionalism of Reunion. And Tony sounds a little sloppier than he'd do afterwards, but his ability to compensate for any intricacies in the studio (like overdubbing, for instance) with pure leaden energy is already impressive.

And cool photos in the booklet, too. One where Ozzy got his hair all curly or something and looks like Robert Plant's younger brother (hey, a visually challenged person could easily mistake the entire band for Led Zeppelin on that photo). Another one at the California Jam with Tony Iommi without a moustache! Now that one's a real collectable, I tell you. He looks like one of 'em ace jazz guitarists like John McLaughlin out there. No wonder he grew it back so quickly.

Anyway, buy this today if you're a Sabbath fan, tomorrow if you're an innocent bystander. Has it replaced Reunion as their live best? Possibly so, unless you take all the "fucking fuck"s out of Reunion and throw 'Symptom Of The Universe' on that one. Yet still, even a record as good as this one would still, for me, indicate that out of the Led Zep/Purple/Sabbath triad, these guys are the lesser ones when it comes to live playing. Not bad ones - just lesser ones. The songs are mostly all good, but they don't really make them better onstage. They just deliver a competent sound and please the fans. Well, that's all right by me too.


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