sábado, 2 de setembro de 2017
BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Reunion (2 CD, Epic, 1998)
The concept of reuniting classic line-ups for the purposes of a tour and/or studio recordings have probably been around since the dawn of time, but it sure wasn't that worn out back in 1997, you see. Yeah, you can hark back to Deep Purple in the 80s, but there's not much else to mention on that front before the original Black Sabbath rejoined forces in 1997: Iron Maiden still had Blaze Bayley as a singer, Judas Priest were still to release "Jugulator" with Tim 'Ripper' Owens up front, Guns n' Roses weren't even formally disbanded at the time and oh well I guess you'd catch my drift. When the classic Iommi-Ward-Butler-Osbourne formation first announced their return, it was a tremendous thing for the heavy metal universe, and the expectations for any official products of such get-together were understandably huge. Recorded mostly in early December, on two consecutive dates at Birmingham's NEC Arena, "Reunion" is also of great interest by showcasing two brand-new compositions, the very first the iconic team recorded together in nearly two decades, and it's undoubtedly more than enough to set all fans falling over themselves to buy a copy. And though I'm about to raise some criticism on many aspects of this record (yeah, I know, I never learn), it's still an extremely significant piece in the history of heavy music, and it deserves a careful observation by anyone with even a passing interest on the genre.
The sound quality is obviously excellent throughout the 2 CD set (though I would surely have enjoyed to hear the basslines with a fatter, more sludgy mix), as such a high-profile event would never be the subject of an uncaring, shoddy production, so let's not delve on it too deep and proceed straight to the show itself, shall we? And what I'm about to state may seem a tad absurd to some readers, so I'd rather get to it straight away: there's a bit too much of Ozzy Osbourne here, which is to say that there's a little less Black Sabbath than it should. Calm down, don't go away just yet, please let me try to explain what I mean.
Let's start by taking a closer look to "War Pigs", the very first song here featured. It's perhaps the most important song in the history of heavy metal, and it stars promising enough: the air raid sirens, the groovy bass, the guitars setting the ominous mood quite nicely. Then the Madman starts singing it, and he does it like it's one of the anthemic tunes of his solo career, not one of the most morbid monsters from the whole Sabbath catalogue. He want to see people's hands in the air, he asks the audience to sing with him, to scream louder... c'mon, it's not supposed to be a good time, it's a song about people dying in battle and warmongers being doomed to hell, goddamn it! There's a sort of solemnity you'd expect while listening to "War Pigs", a bit like being in a ritual really, and it's mostly ruined by the God-bless-you-we-love-you-all approach Ozzy brings to the table - and let's face it, lines like "ashes where the bodies burning" and "poisoning their brainwashed minds" are hardly the most adequate ones to ask a crowd to sing along. And don't get me started on that final lead, simply the best theme ever written for a heavy metal guitar and here regrettably marred by Ozzy's ill-fated idea to provoke a "oh-oh-oh" accompaniment by the crowd. I love you, Oz, but don't ever do that again, I beg you.
Though never as uncomfortable as "War Pigs", similar shortcomings are prominent on a number of occasions. I mean, just imagine Ozzy sayin' "I can't fucking hear you! Louder! This is a song called Electric Funeral" and perhaps you'll grasp just how disparate from the musical contents some of Ozzy's interventions are. Fortunately, most of his singing is really cool, and hearing his voice on tunes like "Behind the Wall of Sleep" and "Into the Void" is like coming home really, as maybe he's the only person on Earth really able to do them justice. "Black Sabbath" is also a highlight, just as frightening as it's supposed to be, but trained ears will easily perceive the high amounts of studio magic applied to keep Ozzy's voice in tune on this one, a trickery most evident towards the end of the show (just listen carefully to "Iron Man" and "Paranoid" and you'll see what I mean).
Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are loud and evil as expected, and Bill Ward does mostly a nice job as well, not as brilliant and untamed as in his prime perhaps, but pounding his drumkit with undeniable competence and also keeping the slow-and-steady pace so necessary to give most Sabbath songs their unique, gloomy vibe. I'm also glad to say that the repertoire goes beyond the usual (and let's face it, truly unavoidable) collection of classics, with tunes like "Spiral Architect", "Dirty Women" and "Lord of this World" being unexpected (and very welcome) inclusions to the set. To my personal dismay, it was the very first time "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" appears in abridged form, and it hurts my soul really, as it's easily one of my personal favorites from the entire Sabbath's repertoire, but I guess I'll just have to deal with it.
As for the new songs, I must say that none of them caused me any lasting impression at the time of the album's release, and now that many years have passed, I still fail to find anything truly remarkable going on. There was a rumour going around at the time that these songs were leftovers from the "Ozzmosis" sessions, reworked by Tony Iommi to sound a bit more like typical Sabbath. I'm not sure if such speculation holds any water, you know, but "Psycho Man" sounds a lot like an Ozzy Osbourne tune to be honest, even with an harmonized chorus that, albeit cool enough, isn't really what I would expect from Sabbath, if I'm to be honest here. Not bad really, but far from remarkable nonetheless. "Selling My Soul" is way more direct, even a bit clumsy in places, and seems to have been knocked together at very short notice, but I must say I like the riffs better on this one, at least. Unfortunately, it also shows the first signs of Bill Ward's physical decline, as his parts on it were deemed too out-of-time for usage and replaced by a drum machine, which only adds to the generic, not-very-impressive results.
All things considered, and despite its shortcomings, "Reunion" is a curious enough souvenir for Sabbath fanatics, and it sure created a wild anticipation for further releases from the lads, most of all a brand-new studio album. Sadly, that would not be the case for a long time: attempts to record new songs in 2001 didn't come to fruition as planned, the resulting compositions never properly finished and finally shelved for the time being. For almost a full decade, Black Sabbath reduced themselves to be a yearly feature on Ozzfest and not much else, a state of affairs that was truly disappointing if you consider the great expectations surrounding the whole shebang at first. I never wanted to see Iommi and Butler reduced to side-men for the Osbourne family's endeavors, you know, and Bill Ward's deteriorating health would keep the man away from many of these outings, making things all the more frustrating. I mean, these guys are more than entitled to do whatever the hell suits them, and I'm the first to admit it - but it would take a long time (almost a decade, to be more precise) until Black Sabbath's name would be associated with something really exciting once again, when good old Ronnie James Dio stepped into the picture to have a final bite at the cherry.
Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D). Also performed: Geoff Nicholls (K).
01. War Pigs 8:28
02. Behind the Wall of Sleep 4:07
03. N.I.B. 6:45
04. Fairies Wear Boots 6:19
05. Electric Funeral 5:02
06. Sweet Leaf 5:07
07. Spiral Architect 5:40
08. Into the Void 6:32
09. Snowblind 6:08
01. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath 4:36
02. Orchid / Lord of this World 7:07
03. Dirty Women 6:29
04. Black Sabbath 7:29
05. Iron Man 8:21
06. Children of the Grave 6:30
07. Paranoid 4:28
08. Psycho Man 5:18
09. Selling My Soul 3:10
(new songs written by Osbourne/Iommi)
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