I originally didn’t support the current Black Sabbath reunion. I felt ripped off that the mighty Rick Rubin would be producing a new “classic line-up” Sabbath album without a fourth of the magic that was the band — drummer Bill Ward. It was the cohesion with Ward’s drumming that made bassist Geezer Butler sound so great on those early albums. They went hand in hand. It was a (black) magic you can’t put a price on, and I’m still saddened that it didn’t happen.
When I heard Sabbath was playing the Hollywood Bowl, and that tickets were just $40 (plus service charges of course), I decided I needed to see Ozzy just once in my life, so I broke down and got tickets (I had seen the Sabbath guys with Ronnie James Dio twice, but come to think of it, Bill Ward was not the drummer either of the times I’d seen them).
Once I got the tickets, I had to buy the album. Part of me feels like I gave in to a money-grab, but I’ve been such a fan for so many years, to give up this final opportunity to see them with Ozzy is something I knew I would regret.
The new album is really good, but it isn’t what it could have been. Because of the drums, it has a generic quality that one would expect from an Ozzy solo album, but not from the classic Black Sabbath line-up. This is a perfect example of why art and commerce don’t mix. Because of a business deal gone wrong, we all miss out, despite the fact that the album is their first number one (as Ozzy said last night when he thanked all in the audience who bought a copy).
I think about Sabbath a lot these days because of their anti-establishment lyrics (penned by Geezer). They were more realistic than the “give peace a chance,” hippy protest music that preceded them, and deeper than the dumbed-down “satanic” metal bands that followed. The songs explored the true darkness of things, and the band made artistic statements that were relevant to real life, rather than merely writing songs based on horror movies or re-hashing Steven King short stories. Thinking about them now, they were always more in line with what art should be — reflecting on existential truths and asking the deeper questions, reminding us of those things we tend to shut out — than any other band I can think of — and thankfully, the new album is no exception.
Below are some highlights from the show, with lyrics to illustrate my points above.
They opened with “War Pigs.” The wall of sound, complete with air-raid siren, sent chills down my spine as I realized how great this was going to be. Tony Iommi’s guitar playing was stunning. It’s hard to believe he can make those sounds come alive from all those classic albums. Only the fact that Ozzy had the crowd sing every other line made the song less than what it could have been. Iconic war imagery was shown on the jumbotron behind the band to enhance the experience.
I am sure you are familiar with the “War Pigs” lyrics, but just as an experiment, read them and imagine Martin Luther King Jr.’s cadence. They’re not all that different from his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech:
“I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else. For it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after a short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.” – MLK
Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death’s construction
In the fields the bodies burning
As the war machine keeps turning
Death and hatred to mankind
Poisoning their brainwashed minds
Oh lord, yeah!
Politicians hide themselves away
They only started the war
Why should they go out to fight?
They leave that role to the poor, yeah
Here’s a Geezer quote from BBC’s ‘Classic Albums’ series on the Paranoid album about the song: “That’s who the real Satanists are: All these people who are running the banks and the world, and trying to get the working class to fight their wars for them.”
“Into the Void”
Next up was “Into the Void” from Masters of Reality, a science fiction fantasy about getting off the planet that is being destroyed by “Satan and his slaves” with their “brainwashed minds and pollution.”
Rocket engines burning fuel so fast
Up into the night sky they blast
Through the universe the engines whine
Could it be the end of man and time?
Back on earth the flame of life burns low
Everywhere is misery and woe
Pollution kills the air, the land and sea
Man prepares to meet his destiny, yeah
Rocket engines burning fuel so fast
Up into the black sky so vast
Burning metal through the atmosphere
Earth remains in worry, hate and fear
With the hateful battles raging on
Rockets flying to the glowing sun
Through the empires of eternal void
Freedom from the final suicide
Freedom fighters sent out to the sun
Escape from brainwashed minds and pollution.
Leave the earth to all its sin and hate
Find another world where freedom waits.
Past the stars in fields of ancient void
Through the shields of darkness where they find
Love upon a land a world unknown
Where the sons of freedom make their home
Leave the earth to Satan and his slaves
Leave them to their future in their grave
Make a home where love is there to stay
Peace and happiness in every day
“Age of Reason”
After “Under the Sun” and “Snowblind,” both from Volume 4, they played “Age of Reason” from 13. A good test as to whether or not a new album from a band is any good is how the material stands up against the rest of the live set. The songs they played from 13 last night passed the test for me. As you can see by the lyrics below, Butler’s world view hasn’t changed, and is more pertinent now than ever:
Do you hear the thunder
Raging in the sky?
A shattered world that’s gonna die?
In the Age of Reason,
How do we survive?
The protocols of evil
Ravaging so many lives?
Talking Peace on Earth
We should judge each other
For ourselves not what we’re worth
A fractured human race
A jaded revolution
Disappears without a trace
Always felt that there’d be trouble
Mass distraction hides the truth
Prozac days and sleepless hours
Seeds of change that don’t bear fruit
These time are heavy
And you’re all alone
The battle’s over
But the war goes on
Love of money too
It’s what the world was built for
But not for me and you
“End of the Beginning”
Then there were three from the first, self-titled album: “Black Sabbath,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “NIB,” followed by another one from 13, a call for revolution, entitled “End of the Beginning.”
Is this the end of the beginning?
Or the beginning of the end?
Losing control or are you winning?
Is your life real or just pretend?
Reanimation of the sequence
Rewind the future to the past
To find the source of the solution
The system has to be recast
Release your mind
Fast forward to the secrets of your code
Your life’s on overload
Delete or save
The units that make you an entity
That’s your identity
If you don’t know
Which way to go
You may be lost and confused
A second chance your turn to lose
Regeneration of your cyber sonic soul
Transforming time and space beyond control
Rise up resist and be the master of your fate
Don’t look back live for today – tomorrow is too late
You don’t want to be a robot ghost
Occupied inside a human host
Analyzed and cloned relentlessly
Synthesized until they set you free
“God Is Dead?”
Next up, from the Paranoid album was one I really hoped they’d play, called “Fairies Wear Boots” which was amazing. The recorded version of this song really showcases Bill Ward’s drumming, and although Tommy Clufetos nailed the parts, it had that same 13 “studio musician” quality that there’s no way around when filling the shoes of such a unique and “perfectly-imperfect” drummer as Ward.
This was followed by a few riffs from Paranoid’s instrumental,” Rat Salad,” then the “Supernaut” guitar intro (I so wished they’d have played this song) leading into a Clufetos drum solo that went on for way too long. I commented to my friend Greg who was at the show with me that the guys probably needed a “tea break” (or maybe it was a “pee break”). The solo ended with the classic kick drum intro to “Iron Man,” which followed.
Up next was “God Is Dead?” from 13, which is great both musically and for its lyrical timeliness.
Rivers of evil
Run through dying land
Swimming in sorrow, they kill, steal, and borrow. There is no tomorrow
For the sinners will be damned
Ashes to ashes
You cannot exhume a soul
Who do you trust when corruption and lust, creed of all the unjust
Leaves you empty and unwhole?
When will this nightmare be over? Tell me!
When can I empty my head?
Will someone tell me the answer?
Is God really dead?
Is God really dead?
“Children of the Grave”
“Dirty Women,” from the Technical Ecstasy album was then followed by the last song of the set, probably my favorite Sabbath song of all time, from Masters of Reality, called “Children of the Grave.” I think the song’s lyrics, which are about protesting, apply more today than ever. Here’s a recent quote from Geezer on protesting:
“It’s almost like people are afraid to protest anymore. I’ve noticed that especially in America. If you go out to protest anything, you’re surrounded by police who aren’t afraid to use teargas or rubber bullets or even real bullets.”
Revolution in their minds – the children start to march
Against the world in which they have to live
and all the hate that’s in their hearts
They’re tired of being pushed around
and told just what to do
They’ll fight the world until they’ve won
and love comes flowing through
Children of tomorrow live in the tears that fall today
Will the sun rise up tomorrow bringing peace in any way?
Must the world live in the shadow of atomic fear?
Can they win the fight for peace or will they disappear?
So you children of the world
Listen to what I say
If you want a better place to live in
Spread the words today
Show the world that love is still alive
You must be brave
Or you children of today are
Children of the Grave, Yeah!
From the opening muted chords of the song I was in rock and roll heaven. Talk about ecstasy, I could listen to them play that song all night. It’s another example of Iommi’s ability to channel the magic from his recorded guitar parts. This alone made the price of the ticket worth it.
“Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” / “Paranoid”
Ozzy prepared us for a one-song encore by starting the chant “one more song!” but when they launched into the “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” riff, I was sure we’d get at least two (because they had to play “Paranoid”). How apropos is this bridge section from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,” keeping in mind all that we are not told by our corrupt governments and their collusive media?
Nobody will ever let you know
When you ask the reasons why
They just tell you that you’re on your own
Fill your head all full of lies
But alas, Tony just riffed on it for a bit and the band launched into “Paranoid” to end the night, followed by a few minutes of fireworks.
One hour, 45 minutes isn’t bad for a triple of old “geezers.” I’m happy I went to the gig, it’s something I will never forget. They hadn’t played the Hollywood Bowl since 1972. I missed Bill, God I missed Bill, but I am thankful for the opportunity to see Ozzy with Tony and Geezer. It’s something I never, ever thought I’d get a chance to experience. If there is one band I wish I could go back and see in their prime, it would be classic Black Sabbath (I guess I did miss some proper reunion shows a while back that included Ward, but for whatever reason I didn’t go to any of them).
I wish more bands would deal with the deeper subject matter that Sabbath tackles lyrically. And I also wish more of us would pay attention to that aspect of the band. There’s way too much meaningless distraction in rock and roll — an art form tailor-made for taking on the establishment. It’s not like they completely avoided the topics of sex and drugs throughout their career, but when it comes to valiantly commenting on the state-of-the-world and putting the blame squarely where it belongs, on the powerful elite pulling our strings from the shadows, Black Sabbath truly are the “Masters of Reality.”
Into the Void
Under the Sun
Age of Reason
Behind the Wall of Sleep
End of the Beginning
Fairies Wear Boots
Rat Salad (partial) > Supernaut riff > Drum Solo
God Is Dead
Children of the Grave
Sabbath Bloody Sabbath riff / Paranoid
John Dissed is a rock and roll singer-songwriter from Los Angeles, CA, whose recent Red Flag album contains an anti-war tribute to Black Sabbath called “Children of the Sand.” To get a free song from the album, enter your name and email beneath the big red arrow above and to the right.
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