domingo, 8 de maio de 2016

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Live at Last (LP, NEMS, 1980)


Strange as it may seem, it's not an overstatement to say that "Live at Last" was the beginning of the end for the partnership between Black Sabbath and Ronnie James Dio, though he doesn't actually sing on the album! In fact, the very first official live album from Sabbath was released without the approval of the band themselves, as their former manager Patrick Meehan owned the rights to the recording and licensed it for release on NEMS label, along with reissues of all studio albums prior to "Heaven and Hell". The legality of such editions is dubious at best, but the live album actually sold remarkably well at the time - much to the disfavour of the musicians involved, as they never gave permission to such releases and probably never saw a penny of it on their bank accounts. The whole situation prompted Black Sabbath to release a 'proper' live record, christened as "Live Evil" - and it was during the mixing process of such album that a few ego clashes emerged and Ronnie James Dio decided to jump ship as a result. If Patrick Meehan wanted to cause harm to Black Sabbath, I guess he ultimately succeeded, though not exactly as he perhaps imagined.

The recordings comprising "Live at Last" were taken from the tour supporting "Vol. 4", the tapes being shelved at first after deemed by the band as unworthy of release. It's not as atrocious as this original fate would suggest, as everything sounds well into the required technical standards, most of all on remastered versions. But I kinda see why the lads weren't exactly falling over themselves upon releasing it: the performances are mostly decent, but the final results are not as striking as the first live album of Black Sabbath was supposed to be. Take "War Pigs" as an example: it's a true colossus of metal, one of the most menacing and bombastic songs ever recorded, and the very first official live cut of it should be no less than impressive. The version on "Live at Last" is far from bad, but it leaves to be desired: Ozzy (or "Ossie", as the liner notes ridiculously misspelled it) makes a rather faceless rendition of the song, and the instrumental sections are delivered with proficiency, but not much else. It's good enough of course, but simply because it's one of the best metal songs ever written, not because it was delivered with breathtaking energy or bite.

The same diagnosis above can be applied to "Paranoid" and "Children of the Grave" for instance: both songs are obviously strong enough to stand on their own, but could (and should) have been immortalised on a live release via better (and more charismatic) performances. Not to mention many undisputed classics that were not immortalised at all: "Iron Man" is a blatant absence around here, most of all because it sure was part of the shows and therefore a recording must have existed in usable form. "Killing Youself to Live" is an interesting addition though, as it's a slightly different version from what would later appear on "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" (the shows took place a few months before the studio LP was released). "Wicked World" (a tune from the very first days of the band and which wasn't originally included on any studio album) is also a curio, though I'm not exactly thrilled by the never-ending improvisations that render it nearly 19 minutes long.

For today's listeners, "Live at Last" is interesting in respect to its historic value (enhanced, quite ironically, by the unfortunate timing of its original release), but it's not like you should be ashamed of yourself if you don't happen to have a copy on your shelf. It will be an entertaining ride if you do (songs like "Snowblind" and "Sweet Leaf" can do no wrong, you know), but it's not an essential item by any stretch: one for completists, and that's all.

Ozzy "Ossie" Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Tomorrow's Dream 3:04
02. Sweet Leaf 5:27
03. Killing Yourself to Live 5:29
04. Cornucopia 3:57
05. Snowblind 4:47
06. Children of the Grave 4:32
07. War Pigs 7:38
08. Wicked World 18:59
09. Paranoid 3:10

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

sábado, 7 de maio de 2016

MANILLA ROAD (USA) - Invasion (LP, Roadster, 1980)


More than a band, Manilla Road is a true underground institution. They sound unique, they always kept an independent spirit, and their sheer determination to soldier on regardless of many band changes and utter disinteress from major record companies is truly remarkable. They are metal legends in their own right, and I wholeheartedly believe all the accolades are more than justified.

The humble beginnings of Manilla Road date back to the late 1970s, when now-legendary Mark Shelton (V/G) teamed up with Scott Park (B) and Rick Fisher (D) to give the rock scene of Wichita (USA) a few noisy nights. It's clear for all to hear that they were still finding their feet by the time "Invasion" hit the shops in 1980, but they sure deserve credit just for getting the LP out in the first place. Playing heavy music in Kansas wasn't exactly the most straightforward move towards success you could make at the time, and the lads soon realized they would have to rely solely on themselves if they ever wanted to have an album out. Recorded at a certain Miller Studio in Newton Ks. (probably someone's basement, you know) with a seemingly microscopic budget, "Invasion" won't be the most competently produced or pristine sounding record you'll ever hear, but I guess the near amateurish sound values are not much of a problem, as it somehow enhances the commendable energy behind some quite ambitious (yet still underdeveloped) compositions.

The album oscilates from hard rock to Rush-inclined progressive attempts, with acid rock/psychedelic tinges here and there and only a few hints of their later style of choice. It's a formula that obviously lacks cohesion, but provides enough good moments to make "Invasion" a worthwhile listen.  "Far Side of the Sun" is almost impressive, with a space-rock inspired intro and a simple (yet forceful) song construction that really manages to capture the listener's attention. I also like "Cat and Mouse", where Mark Shelton's guitar prowess really carries the song along, while ballad "Centurion War Games" is the first tune to evoke the epic metal feel of later releases - and it's a convincing one on that, though acoustic guitars are hardly the most common way to conjure such an atmosphere. The 13-minute long closing number "The Empire" also moves across some definitely epic (albeit slightly repetitive) avenues, with Shelton's guitar playing sounding truly impressive once again. He usually downplays his dexterity when mentioning earlier releases, but I really think he's nearly as good here as he would be later on.

I must say that "The Dream Goes On" and "Street Jammer" may be far from atrocious as proto-metal offerings, but are far from being memorable in any sense either - especially the latter, which sounds a bit too cheesy for comfort. The fact that there are only six songs to be heard in total is also something of a letdown, as some ideas turn out to be stretched to near-breaking point - a feeling that grows even stronger when the listener is confronted with some overly long (and slightly boring) interludes. Still, I think that "Invasion" is a victorious, mostly good record that laid the foundations for a glorious history to come, so those of you with an interest for heavy metal history really should consider giving it a few spins. Actually, it's a chance to glance into the melting pot and behold this epic power metal colossus taking shape, quite a funny experience if you're in the right frame of mind.

Mark Shelton (V/G), Scott Park (B), Rick Fisher (D).

01. The Dream Goes On 6:32
02. Cat and Mouse 8:19
03. Far Side of the Sun 8:09
04. Street Jammer 5:18
05. Centurion War Games 3:41
06. The Empire 13:32

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Heaven and Hell (LP, Vertigo, 1980)

RATING: *****

Saying that future wasn't looking bright for Black Sabbath back in 1979 would be a glaring understatement. Engulfed by near-incapacitating substance abuse, the creative fire of the original four-piece was clearly burning out, and there was a near consensus of opinion that Sabbath was flogging a dead horse at this point. The firing of Ozzy Osbourne must have been something of a temporary relief for the other lads, as his lack of commitment was increasingly jeopardizing the whole band - not to mention a much-welcomed fresh start for the man himself, as his platinum-selling solo career admirably demonstrates. But I'm sure the remaining musicians soon realized there was still no new record to offer, and the additional challenge to find a suitable replacement for their charismatic ex-singer may have left them scratching their heads, trying to figure out what to do next. Fortunately for all those involved, they made the right choice: Ronnie James Dio, unemployed after lending his pipes to Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow for a number of years, turned out to be the breath of fresh air that would completely re-energize the Sabbath brand. Something that "Heaven and Hell", the first studio product of such collaboration, materialized in truly striking fashion.

As soon as "Neon Knights" explodes out of the speakers, there's little room for doubt: Black Sabbath is back with a vengeance. It sounds immediately impressive, heavy, menacing and full of genuine, vicious enthusiasm. It took them a few misfires and a drastic change in line-up, but this single track shows Black Sabbath finally finding their place into the renewed metal scene of the early 1980s. I mean, if so many newcomers were still learning their heavy-rocking trade, someone should be teaching them all how it's supposed to be done, and who could do it better than Sabbath? Even when the unmistakeably heavy approach of most songs is temporarily left aside in favour of a more rock and rolling vibe (like in "Lady Evil" and "Walk Away") it never comes as a detriment to the album's merits, as such efforts are strongly connected with the heavier cuts by a newfound sense of conviction. By fully embracing their role as heavy metal pioneers, Black Sabbath relieved themselves from the self-imposed (and ultimately futile) distraction of pointless reinvention. And once these guys have a purpose, you better stay out of their way, you know.

At least half the songs here featured are undisputed classics, easily ranked among the finest songs ever written by the group. The aforementioned "Neon Knights" is a scorcher, but "Die Young" is not too far behind, with unexpected (but still very catchy) arrangements and a soft, synth-based middle section that only enhances the overall sense of unrelenting heaviness. "Children of the Sea" is a more melancholic, evocative number filled with lyrical images of some sort of dreamworld gone wrong, a tune that moves slow but constantly from mellow to ominous and creates a huge atmosphere, abruptly (and brilliantly) broken by the fantastic "look out!" final bit. Truly terrific stuff. And "Heaven and Hell" (the song) showcases one of the finest riffs Tony Iommi ever wrote - automatically turning it into one of the greatest themes for guitar ever gifted to the world. The fact that perfectly good tunes like "Wishing Well" and "Lonely is the Word" (both would easily be highlights in most metal albums of that year) pale significantly in comparision with such metal behemots is to say something about how inspired and focused Black Sabbath were this time around.

The band sounds refreshed, with Tony Iommi bringing his finest collection of riffs and leads in quite a while and Geezer Butler doing a hell of a good job as well, his commanding basslines becoming something of a blueprint for metal bassists to follow from that point onwards. Bill Ward's performance is less impressive perhaps, but he succeeds in adapting his typical free-flowing approach to drums to the more precision-demanding outlines of most songs. And Ronnie James Dio sings beautifully throughout, providing Black Sabbath with the only substitute to Ozzy Osbourne there could ever have been: someone with a distinctive and powerful voice of his own, able to move the band forward without trying to follow Ozzy Osbourne's footprints. I'm not really in love with some of his sword-and-sorcery, pocketbook-fantasy lyrics, but Dio relinquished the mike stand like arguably no one else would, and only the most hardcore Ozzy-Sabbath fans ever dared to question his position.

It would be quite a rapid ride for Black Sabbath Mk 2: less than four months passed from the release of "Heaven and Hell" until the departure of Bill Ward, caused by deteriorating physical and mental health due to alcoholism. On the other hand, Ronnie James Dio's tenure with Sabbath would last little more than three years in total, the singer opting to pack his bags after some ego clashes with Iommi and Butler. Still, there was enough time for a second studio release (the pretty decent "Mob Rules") and a not very successful (albeit entertaining enough) live album ("Live Evil"), so I guess they made the best out of the partnership while it lasted.

If you don't own a copy of "Heaven and Hell", stop whatever you're doing (reading this review, I guess) and go get it straight away. It's not as world-defining as "Paranoid" nor as hugely impressive as "Master of Reality", but it's every bit as good, believe me. No metal collection is complete without this top-drawer masterpiece.

Ronnie James Dio (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Neon Knights
02. Children of the Sea
03. Lady Evil
04. Heaven and Hell
05. Wishing Well
06. Die Young
07. Walk Away
08. Lonely is the Word

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

sexta-feira, 6 de maio de 2016

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Never Say Die! (LP, Vertigo, 1978)


In a sense, "Never Say Die!" is not only the last product from one of the most brilliant line-ups rock music has ever heard, but also presents the conclusion to a process that took away almost all of the band's original doom-and-gloom outlook and bite. Things were going bad inside the band: Ozzy Osbourne abruptly flown the coop in late 1977, forcing the band to go with Dave Walker (ex-Savoy Brown) as an immediate replacement. Soon Ozzy would be convinced to come back though (after some strong insistence from Bill Ward, as it seems), when the band was already hard on work writing a new album. Most of the already finished compositions were scrapped, and the writing and recording process of what would become "Never Say Die!" ended up being done in quite a rush as a result. The never ending grind of drug abuse, intense touring and legal imbroglios surely took a toll on the musicians as well, and it's plain for all to hear that the entity known as Black Sabbath was quickly fading out of sight.

When a song like "A Hard Road" comes out of the speakers, with its multilayered choruses and cheerful rock-and-rolling vibe, one is left to wonder where all the ominous atmophere from the early days of the band had gone. It's not atrocious, see: it just sounds wrong, mostly because it is not the Sabbath we learned to love. Black Sabbath were never about being convoluted or unfathomable, but they aren't about being easy going either: they are supposed to sound at least a bit mysterious, there is a kind of intimidation we expect them to generate, and it's a uncanny absence throughout this LP.

It's now widespread knowledge that, to finish the album as scheduled, the band would work hard on a given composition during the day to record it the same night - hardly the most adequate way to do things in a studio, you know. It comes as no surprise that some tunes are half-baked and disjointed, sounding way more like snippets of music pieced together rather than compositions properly developed to their full potential. "Junior's Eyes", for instance, seems to move aimlessly over an underdeveloped semi-jazzy backbone, its heavier bits having no emotional connection with the rest of the song, while "Johnny Blade" wastes some pretty good ideas (the "what will happen to you, Johnny Blade?" part really sticks to mind) with unnecessary synth arrangements and unconvincing transitions. Bill Ward actually does his best to glue all parts of it together with countless drum rolls, but to little avail. The magnificent riffs are mostly gone, and even when we have a promising guitar opening to capture our attention (like in "Breakout") it is ultimately marred by some ill-advised experimentation - in the above mentioned case, a truly pointless sax solo, which is pretty much all the track is about, God knows why.

In an album full of misfires, "Air Dance" is a surprising highlight: carried along by very prominent synths and keyboards (performed by multi-talented Don Airey), it creates an intriguing, evocative atmosphere which truly captures the listener's attention, developing into an intense (though far from actually heavy) final instrumental section. Pretty cool indeed, and perhaps it could have been a trail to further explore had the band survived disintegration. The title-track is OK too I guess, though its euphoric nature seems a bit too over-the-top to be entirely convincing, like they were simply trying too hard to disguise their own lack of enthusiasm with the whole thing. Other than that, there's very little to write home about: even decent tunes like "Swinging the Chain" and "Shock Wave" lack fire and distinctive ideas, being almost instantly forgettable as a result.

As a whole, "Never Say Die!" is an album that screams 'end of the line' from start to finish, and I'm sure that Ozzy Osbourne's final departure was a relief for everyone involved - most of all the man himself, as he sometimes sound like he just couldn't care less. All things come to an end, and I guess that Black Sabbath Mk 1 had already given us more than enough to justify their run. Both parties managed to move on quite well actually, as Ozzy embarked on a very successful solo career and Ronnie James Dio relinquised the mike stand with a bang, as a single listen to "Heaven and Hell" will be more than enough to demonstrate. Some fans never gave Sabbath a chance after Ozzy left, treating all their later releases as a lingering embarassment; as for me, I'm grateful that Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward changed the world for the best while they were together, and I'll never be able to thank them enough for that.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Never Say Die
02. Johnny Blade
03. Junior's Eyes
04. A Hard Road
05. Shock Wave
06. Air Dance
07. Over to You
08. Breakout
09. Swinging the Chain

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

quarta-feira, 4 de maio de 2016

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Technical Ecstasy (LP, Vertigo, 1976)


If our intention was to resume "Technical Ecstasy" in a single sentence, perhaps we could say it is a very confuse musical result of very confusing times for Black Sabbath. After a long string of legal battles with their former management (please kindly read the lyrics of "The Writ" to grasp just how much acrimony was going on), and having to deal with all the consequences of unbridled substance abuse, the nucleus of Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward were beginning to drift apart. Under such circumstances, the music is most likely to suffer - and if they somehow managed to record a kickass album with "Sabotage", they wouldn't be so lucky next time around. Being already labelled by some of the press as a band bound to crash and burn, and in a period of time when soft rock bands like ELO, The Eagles and Foreigner were the flavour of the month, perhaps Sabbath thought that a less furious, more flamboyant and varied approach would be the right move. Turned out it wasn't, unfortunately.

Opening number "Black Street Kids" is a something of a (back then) modern hard rock song, and it even hints to some avenues Ozzy Osbourne would late explore in his Blizzard, though I'm sure it's not a case of direct offspring at all. It's more of a case of trying to understand the mood of the times and absorve it into their own sound, something that Ozzy would also do in his solo career and which is very commendable, I guess. The results are not truly bad, some may even enjoy it when in the right frame of mind, but it sounds mostly generic and short on personality - and let's face it, Black Sabbath did not made a name for themselves by being predictable and faceless at all. If it was written by a bunch of newcomers inspired by Black Sabbath, most of us would perhaps have a more sympathetic first impression; being a song from Black Sabbath themselves, it turns out to be a disappointing effort, as simple as that.

I wouldn't ever want to be rude with one of my favorite metal bands, but the not-remotely-encouraging description above fits like a glove to most of the songs here featured. "Technical Ecstasy" is a hit-and-miss affair, but the misses are far more common, something in no small part due to a perceivable lack of focus and inspiration. Heavy rock bands flirting with funk music wasn't exactly unheard of (Deep Purple and Atomic Rooster, to name a few, were doing it roughly at the same time), but "All Moving Parts (Standing Still)" is a contrived and insecure attempt to make such a bridge, whereas "It's Alright" turns out to sound like an unconvincing blend of Elton John with The Beatles, though I'm sure it wasn't what they had in mind. And don't get me started on "Rock 'n' Roll Doctor", which would be quite a bad song on a Kiss album, so I think you get the idea. It seems there never was any conviction on what direction the album should follow, so it should come as no surprise that "Technical Ecstasy" never gets anywhere at all.

It's not all bad of course, as these guys wouldn't be able to write a horrible album from start to finish even if they wanted to. "You Won't Change Me" is actually good, a somewhat surprising and competent attempt to write a heartfelt blues rock with synths all over the place, which surely counts as a highlight from this LP. "Dirty Women" is even more impressive, with a extremely pleasant succession of catchy riffs and leads in the finest Iommi tradition - no surprise it still makes its way to the band's setlists to this day. Even some less impressive tunes like "Gypsy" (with a pretty unexpected, almost grandiose interlude to liven up an otherwise forgettable funky-rock song) and "She's Gone" (a well-written ballad full of interesting arrangements, but ultimately ruined by brain-dead lyrics and a very weak performance from Ozzy) have some redeeming features, so don't dismiss them straight away. But still the record fails where it should have succeeded, as it hardly revitalized their dwindling reputation, a scenario that the punk rock influx would only further deteriorate. Where bands like Judas Priest and UFO managed to reinvent themselves into the 1980s, Sabbath were skidding at first - and the final record from the original four-piece collaboration ("Never Say Die!") would be far from enough to salvage the situation. Such is life.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Back Street Kids
02. You Won't Change Me
03. It's Alright
04. Gypsy
05. All Moving Parts (Stand Still)
06. Rock 'n' Roll Doctor
07. She's Gone
08. Dirty Women

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

segunda-feira, 2 de maio de 2016

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Sabotage (LP, Vertigo, 1975)

RATING: ****

It is a near consensus today that "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is a great addition to the original quartet's legacy, and some would even go as far as to consider it the last essential record from the band's entire catalogue (though I don't agree with their reasoning at all, readers take note). But it didn't seem to be such a certainty back in 1974, as "Sabotage" was acknowledged back then as something of a rescue, an attempt to bring back the original heaviness that was getting softer along the way - something that even band members admitted on a number of occasions. I really can't see why, as I can hear a lot of the avenues opened by "Vol. 4" and further explored with "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" being drawn to a logical conclusion on "Sabotage". It is indeed a heavier album than its immediate predecessors, but it achieves so by being more challenging and uncompromising than ever before, surely a step forward rather than a step back. And it sounds awesome most of the time, no doubt about that.

"But it's not proggy Sabbath anymore!", I can almost hear you saying. OK, "Sabotage" takes a more conservative approach when it comes to experimentation, but loses very little in atmosphere and manages to create a more organical mix of Sabbath's trademark sound and the less predictable song structures of prog rock. Actually, tracks like "The Writ" and the truly excellent "Megalomania" are pretty similar to what we had heard on earlier tunes like "A National Acrobat" and "Under the Sun" - only a tad heavier and, let's say, radical in its solutions. Everybody mentions "Symptom of the Universe" as one of the most aggressive songs ever written by Black Sabbath, and rightfully so; but perhaps even more important is the shrewd contrast between the furious opening and the acoustic dynamics of its final section, such apparently disparate elements complementing each other quite nicely. Not to mention instrumental piece "Supertzar", where heavy riffage, string arrangements and the London Philharmonic Orchestra are put together to truly striking results. This is the main strenght of Black Sabbath's sixth studio effort: it's really heavy, one of the heaviest they ever did, but it's also as complex and challenging as they could possibly be. They make no concessions, neither to the charts nor to their less demanding fans: they just take every idea to the last consequences. It's bold, it's uncompromising, and it kicks major ass.

In fact, such is the no-shits-being-given approach here featured that "Am I Going Insane" (the most accessible tune by far) was complemented with a "(Radio)" subtitle to make its peculiar nature even less debatable. No controversy here folks, it's just a minor sellout, let's all get over it and move on with our lives! Unfortunately, it is indeed one of the weaker tunes Sabbath ever recorded, with kinda ramshackle synth arrangements and an extremely dull and repetitive chorus that sticks to your mind for all the wrong reasons. No doubt it was included for the sole purpose to give their record label something to repackage as a single, but I guess it could have been kept out of the full LP, as it really disrupts the listening experience.

Fortunately, there's more than enough good music around here to keep things interesting, and a lot of good performances to make our day too. I'm not afraid to say that this album present some of the finest individual performances from all four musicians, most of all Ozzy (his singing in "The Writ" and "The Thrill of it All" are no less than supreme), but to no detriment of the other guys. The drums on "Symptom of the Universe" are great throughout, Geezer shows a lot of unsuspecting skills on "Megalomania", and the outstanding "Hole in the Sky" present some of the most biting guitar work Tony Iommi ever penned in his life - and it is to say something about how good it sounds, believe me. In a sense, it's the last time we listen to the original Sabbath as a proper band, as everything would fall apart pretty quickly on future releases - they are still a unit, focused and full of determination, and listening to these four lads at the top of their game is always something to savour.

I completely fail to grasp why "Sabotage" is held in considerable disregard by most critics - not to mention the band themselves, as they kept it totally out of the setlists since their reunion in 1997. Perhaps all then-ongoing legal fights with former manager Patrick Meehan are too attached to the compositions for comfort (I'm sure the angered vibe of many songs have a lot to do with that), so I guess it's understandable that they won't have fond memories when revisiting it. Still, this LP is yet another memorable collection of songs from one of the most significant bands in the history of rock and roll, so let's give it full credit for that.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Hole in the Sky
02. Don't Start (Too Late)
03. Symptom of the Universe
04. Megalomania
05. The Thrill of it All
06. Supertzar
07. Am I Going Insane (Radio)
08. The Writ

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

domingo, 1 de maio de 2016

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (LP, Vertigo, 1973)

RATING: ****

For most purposes, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath is a coherent continuation to "Vol. 4": an album which welcomes the prog rock wave of the mid-70s with open arms, but also tries to blend it with the most recognizable trademarks of Black Sabbath's sound. It worked out well enough first time around, though "Vol. 4" is a slight (but perceivable) letdown from its three mammoth predecessors. But "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is quite an improvement, being a far more cohesive and challenging album in comparision - and it's nothing to do with being less proggy at all, as the strings arrangements and experimentations are more than evident and even Mr. Rick Wakeman of Yes fame would appear as a guest keyboardist in a few songs. It has more prog elements than ever before, but it stills sounds way more like Black Sabbath than their previous effort! To comprehend the reasons behind this, I suppose one must look back in time a little and investigate what was lacking (or overdone) one year previously.

Being musically sophisticated was never a strong aspect of Sabbath's appeal, but their music always showcased a very particular sense of drama, in which the lyrics will only complement the eerie landscapes created by monolithic, near-oppressive instrumentation. Tony Iommi's unique approach to guitar riffing is perhaps the most important element in such formula - and where "Vol. 4" lacked memorable guitar parts, "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" brings Iommi's riffs all back to the frontline. The title track opens proceedings a bit like a statement of principles: the magnificent main riff is there, right at your face, with no embellishments or distractions. Almost all songs are carried along by two or three prominent riffs, and even those moments when Tony allows himself to be a bit more flamboyant (such as the main riff of "Killing Yourself to Live" and the euphoric first part of "Sabbra Cadabra") sound more focused and to the point, contributing to the intended effect rather than diverting the listener from it.

I wouldn't say "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is a bleak album, but it's not a jolly light-hearted journey either. If "Vol. 4" seemed to be a conscious attempt to sound uplifting and dissociate Black Sabbath from an image of despondency and devil-worshipping (which was never the point of Sabbath's music, really), their fifth instalment recaptures a more meditative, almost transcendental mood that was always a feature on previous albums, but never to such an extent. Some of the finest words Geezer Butler ever wrote are on this album, rendering songs like "A National Acrobat" and "Spiral Architect" even more striking and enjoyable. It sure better fits the experimental arrangements and adventurous instrumentation here featured than the mundane (sometimes even radio-friendly) themes on "Vol. 4" - and when you put all things together, the results evoke a feeling of musical maturity, consistent with a band moving forward rather than simply celebrating success and all the excesses that come with it.

It's not a perfect album, and some minor shortcomings (most of all the boring synth-based "Who Are You", that never really seems to get going properly) prevent it from really match the sky-high levels of "Paranoid" and "Master of Reality". But "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" is an excellent record with a strong sense of cohesion - something that, to be point-blank honest, the classic line-up would never fully achieve from this point onwards. Here is a band trying to raise their creative stakes, working as a unit to the height of their powers - faithful to the musical monster they originally conjured, but expertly adding ingredients to the cauldron so to make their magic potion even more impressive. I love this album from the bottom of my heart, and repeated listens only reinforce its important place in the band's discography.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
02. A National Acrobat
03. Fluff
04. Sabbra Cadabra
05. Killing Yourself to Live
06. Who Are You
07. Looking for Today
08. Spiral Architect

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!

terça-feira, 2 de fevereiro de 2016

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Vol. 4 (LP, Vertigo, 1972)


You have to be careful when saying things about a huge legend like Black Sabbath. What sense does it make if I stand right here in front of you people and say "Vol. 4" is a letdown after "Master of Reality", or even that it lacks substance when compared to its three predecessors? To put it bluntly, you have to be some kind of moron to say such things without getting red-faced. Still, it's actually pretty much what I'm about to elaborate upon, so I guess you are all well excused to say very nasty things about me and my sheer lack of taste. Nevertheless, I really believe I do have a point, so please give me at least the courtesy of a full reading before kicking my ass - especially since I'm nowhere near about to write a scathing review, simply because "Vol. 4" is obviously a great album and a everlasting milestone of heavy metal. It's just that, historically speaking, it brings some new elements to the table - and such changes (no pun intended) would evolve in a way that sort of undermined Black Sabbath's efforts in the long run.

Let me start with a non-controversial statement: Black Sabbath was obviously trying to reach a wider audience with "Vol. 4". And not only in terms of musical taste, but also geographically speaking, as they were rapidly becoming superstars in the USA. Nothing wrong about any of that, of course - when you're getting big, it's only natural that you would want to get even bigger. The four lads from Birmingham tried to achieve this by (consciously or not) adopting a way less bleak, more varied and even slightly uplifting approach to their compositions, attuned with the psychedelia-tinged prog rock that was the flavour of the month back in 1972. It's almost like, after toying with all things somber, they just wanted to shed some light and good humour upon themselves and their music. While it's not a bad thing in itself, it sacrifices one of the band's most impressive features: the riffs. Tony Iommi clearly tries to expand as a musician, with lots of acoustic parts and a fair deal of nice, well crafted solos - but listen carefully and you'll sure miss the bombastic, almost theatrical guitar presence that always was (and would be) a huge part of the band's impact. "Cornucopia", for example, opens with a great promising riff, but soon metamorphoses into something way more upbeat and full of experimentation - not bad, but slightly unfocused if we're to be honest.

"Wheels of Confusion/The Straightener" is perhaps the finest moment here, embracing the progressive rock emergence and expertly bringing it to their own sound, on their own terms. Clocking on over eight minutes, it's also a bold choice for an opener (not that "War Pigs" was a safe bet, you know), which comes to show they were miles away from any serious sellout. "Tomorrow's Dream" is also great, but things get quite bumpy from this point onwards. "Changes" is perhaps the song that more clearly represents the dangers on the road ahead: let's face it, it's a damn boring mellotron ballad that seems to drag on for like 200 years and with no redeeming features at all. The lyrics are brain-dead breakup nonsense, and the whole song takes what was good on "Solitude" (from "Master of Reality") and fluffs it beyond belief. I see, they wanted a hit single for the USA, but I'm damn sure they could have done better. "FX" and "Laguna Sunrise" are the instrumental fillers here, and both are actually pretty bad too, as they basically serve no purpose whatsoever. If earlier interludes like "Orchid" and "Embryo" were nice moodsetters for what was to come, on "Vol. 4" they are just wasting our time before the next track, both pieces being instantly forgettable as a result. And I don't think that's anything despicable about "St. Vitus Dance", but you sure deserve a place into Black Sabbath Fans' Hall of Fame if you think it holds its own against pretty much anything they did prior to 1972.

But fear not, of course. There are more than enough jewels around here, such as "Supernaut" (with a Tony-Iommi-meets-Jimi-Hendrix guitar that works beautifully), "Snowblind" (perhaps the only truly obscure track here, with a strong, muscular performance from all four musicians) and "Under the Sun", that closes proceedings with another nice prog rock song structure that only enhances Sabbath's usual rifferama. There's no doubt any Sabbath fan (we all are, I guess) will find many things to enjoy on "Vol. 4" - some may even consider it to be one of the best albums they ever crafted, why not? But I must say (and I'm already feeling a bit stupid by saying it, but there you go) that it shows a band starting to veer away from what they do best - and though they would surely hit the nail on the head countless times after that, it was no longer like they could do no wrong. And it means something when you are a legend, as they already were.

Ozzy Osbourne (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Wheels of Confusion / The Straightener 8:14
02. Tomorrow's Dream 3:12
03. Changes 4:46
04. FX 1:43
05. Supernaut 4:45
06. Snowblind 5:31
07. Cornucopia 3:54
08. Laguna Sunrise 2:53
09. St. Vitus Dance 2:29
10. Under the Sun / Every Day Comes and Goes 5:50

Have you been involved with any of the bands mentioned here? Have any extra info and/or corrections? Please e-mail me at and let me know!