As of February 5, 2017, Black Sabbath are now ancient history. Black Sabbath are very obviously an iconic and legendary act, being the true originators of the genre of heavy metal. Now back in the late 1960’s and the turn of the 1970’s, there were a lot of bands one could debate as the inventors of heavy metal. Sure, you had your sudden dark turns from bands like The Beatles with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, The Who with “Boris the Spider”, even Pink Floyd had “The Nile Song” and there were your extended improvisations from the likes of Jimi Hendrix or Blue Cheer, and of course there was this other band called Led Zeppelin. But if there was ever a single point you could identify as the true origin of heavy metal, I really don’t find any answer clearer than the release of the debut album of Birmingham, England’s Black Sabbath.
And so it would end where it all began: Tonight in Birmingham, Black Sabbath played what they claim is their final concert ever. Now, I for one take that claim with a heaping bowl of salt, since Black Sabbath have done this thing time and time again. The first time was at the end of their 1978 tour with Van Halen in support of Never Say Die, when Ozzy Osbourne left the band. But as we all know, two years later there they were again with one late, great Ronnie James Dio as their new lead singer. You can catch Ronnie James Dio on tour in 2017 as a hologram. In the title, I claimed that Black Sabbath was a 1970 – 2017 thing, but there were many, many years of nonexistence and tenuous labeling within that time frame, such as the years where Black Sabbath existed as a Tony Iommi solo venture, or when they had such memorable frontmen as Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, Deep Purple’s Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin who was not an alternate identity of the other Tony Martin, or the dead-from-AIDS Ray Gillen, who is not an alternate identity of Ian Gillan but actually just a dead AIDS victim. No one gives a fuck about Black Sabbath with any of those footnotes.
Sabbath’s original run with Ozzy Osbourne lasted from 1969 until 1978 and contained one of metal’s and music itself’s most untouchable six-album spans from the debut to Sabotage, and also included Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die. The case could be credibly argued for any one of those first six Black Sabbath albums for being their best, and also being among the best records ever released, even in a time period as prolific for genre defining albums as the early 1970’s. While many would cite Paranoid as Sabbath’s ultimate moment, I will always say following albums Master of Reality and Vol. 4 were the zenith of Black Sabbath.
Man, that never gets old even nearly 50 years later. And even afterward, Sabbath would continue to write the rulebook of heavy metal with even further monuments of metallic totality such as songs like “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and “Killing Yourself to Live”. But for my totally worthless point of view, Black Sabbath’s single greatest track came from the 1975 Sabotage album. On this song, many would claim Black Sabbath released the first installment of a later, game changing subgenre of metal called Thrash Metal, as well as Speed Metal, both of which seem fairly synonymous and would later be expanded upon by bands such as Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth among countless, less successful others. The crown achievement of Black Sabbath’s initial, untouchable run would be the all time classic “Symptom of the Universe”:
With lightning fast riffs, speeding drum fills and a sudden and abrupt turn to trippy acoustic drug delusion at the end, Symptom of the Universe defines early Black Sabbath as a world altering force. Now what would come after is very much open for debate: Technical Ecstasy is not a very good album at all, and Never Say Die, while being slightly better with a song like “A Hard Road”, was not really anything noteworthy, and the original Sabbath split with Ozzy while gaining newfound strength by recruiting Ronnie James Dio. On Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules, the band found re-invigoration for the first time, and those two albums were a totally different and still profoundly amazing pair of powerful, all time classic heavy metal.
But afterwards? Honestly, who gives a fuck about Black Sabbath after Dio bailed for the next 10 years. For all intents and purposes, Black Sabbath became Tony Iommi’s solo project with various Deep Purple rejects and an AIDS victim for that time, and in the early 1990’s, Dio would return for a fairly nondescript album in Dehumanizer. Another noteworthy event of this time period was a concert performed with Rob Halford, fresh off of departing Judas Priest after their monumental Painkiller album. Rob Halford was never considered as an actual lead vocalist for Black Sabbath, and his vocal stylings are very far from those of Ozzy or even Dio. However, this ended up happening due to a last minute ditch by Ozzy, as these concerts were supposed to be their long awaited reunion with the Ozzman.
And we all know the rest of this story: Ozzy languished in the mid 90’s after his first “retirement” tour, Tony languished with more hired gun vocalists, and in 1997 Black Sabbath announced their first real reunion tour with Ozzy and the original lineup for that year’s Ozzfest. They released a live album featuring the Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill Ward lineup which included a new song called “Psycho Man” which would continue and establish the tradition of rather mediocre songs called “_____ Man” featuring Ozzy on vocals.
This re-established Black Sabbath coexisted peacefully with a by then horrifyingly washed up Ozzy Osbourne solo career for quite some time, and now we’re finally going to get to why I wrote this article.
On August 19, 2004, a thirteen year old Vin went to his first concert ever. That concert was Ozzfest 2004, headlined by Black Sabbath. The real Black Sabbath. Now that alone would be one hell of an introduction to the live music world, even if at that point Ozzy was already the frail old shell he is in the live setting since the turn of the millenium. Even at that young of an age, I could appreciate the historic value of the spectacle I was there to witness, and that’s not even discounting what I had seen prior that day (A reunited Judas Priest with Rob Halford, my first Slayer concert, my first Lamb of God concert, my first Every Time I Die concert, uh… Slipknot, hey I was 13 and into that back then). Black Sabbath fucking killed it. Unfortunately, I can’t really find any live footage of the 2004 Blossom Ozzfest show on Youtube, so there’s no visual to go along with this, but let me just tell you that I was very, very happy to have seen fucking Black Sabbath as my first concert ever. I still am, and that’s why I’ve had nothing but support for any of their activity since. Sure, Black Sabbath afterwards would go through some more shit: dealing with Sharon “Ugly Bitch” Osbourne, ditching Ozzy for another go with Dio as Heaven and Hell with a final album and tour before his untimely demise in 2010, a reunion without Bill Ward (whose health most likely meant he’d never be able to play anyway, and they replaced him with Rage Against the Machine drummer Brad Wilk who certainly doesn’t suck), Tony Iommi’s cancer diagnosis, and a final album, 13, that sounded like a bunch of old geezers playing Black Sabbath songs in 2013 with brickwalled, loudness wars approved production. But hey, even that album didn’t suck, it was better than anything Ozzy had done since before the first time Black Sabbath reunited with Ronnie James Dio in 1992, and it debuted at #1 in any country you’ve ever heard of. As one final token of appreciation, they ended up releasing one final EP of 4 new songs (including “Isolated Man”, the final installment of Black Sabbath’s “______ Man” chronology) and 4 live recordings of 13 songs and the Vol 4. classic “Under the Sun Every Day Comes and Goes”. And that brings us to February 4, 2017. Black Sabbath’s final stand. They’re claiming this to be the endgame, and one would hope they stick to this and close out this legacy on a shining note as the ones who started this whole heavy metal thing. Listen to Black Sabbath, because if you didn’t get to see them live, now you never will.