sábado, 21 de janeiro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Seventh Star (LP, Warner, 1986)


I guess it's totally forgivable that Black Sabbath would feel like flogging a dead horse after the considerable artistic failure of "Born Again", not to mention dwindling album sales and an almost embarassing world tour. Oh well, these guys sure did flog a few horses back to life in the past, but sometimes you can only get so far, you know. The ship was already sinking when Ian Gillan left to rejoin Deep Purple, and when Geezer Butler announced he also had enough, Mr. Tony Iommi found himself with not much to lean on. After a brief reunion of the original line-up at Bob Geldof's Live Aid concert in 1985, Iommi felt it was about time for a change, and decided to lay the Black Sabbath name to rest for good.

Enrolling faithful keyboardist Geoff Nicholls, bassist Dave Spitz and drummer Eric Singer (then a member of Lita Ford's supporting band), Iommi was soon on work for a solo album. Glenn Hughes (of Trapeze and Deep Purple fame) seemed a perfect choice for a singer, as his voice had very little to do with typical Sabbath and would help giving Iommi's new venture a much needed touch of personality. But, as we all know by now, Warner Bros. had other plans. In fact, the label nearly forced Iommi to resurrect the Black Sabbath name once again, threatening to shelve the whole thing in case of disagreement. Reluctantly, the guitarist yielded to their request, but not before securing a "featuring Tony Iommi" line on the front cover, just to discreetly make his point between the lines. As a result, "Seventh Star" had to bear all the weight of Sabbath's name on its shoulders - something that was unfortunate if you ask me, as the record immediately received the "embarassing sell-out" stamp by hostile critics without ever getting the courtesy of a fair review.

Let's put it unambiguously: "Seventh Star" is actually pretty cool. Not an all-time classic by any stretch, that's for sure, but you just have to take it for what it is to acknowledge its merits. Tony Iommi was clearly willing to experiment with the hard rock vibe of those times - sometimes bordering on AOR like in "No Stranger to Love", but also keen to capture the more lively and forceful angle of the genre, as tunes like "Turn to Stone" and the excellent opener "In for the Kill" will be more than eager to demonstrate. Free from the shackles of Black Sabbath's musical identity (a bit restrictive one in itself, let's be honest), our beloved riffmaster seem quite rejuvenated, and though the band never moves to truly groundbreaking territory, fact is that "Seventh Star" is way more honest and adventurous than people use to concede it.

One of the major highlights must surely be directed to Glenn Hughes. His performance is truly excellent throughout, and it gets even the more impressive when you consider the serious substance abuse and associated health issues the man was experiencing at the time. The aforementioned "No Stranger to Love", for instance, would be condemned to saccarine mediocrity if not for Hughes soulful, memorable performance, whereas the title track owes to him much of its ominous, yet catchy charm. Spitz and Singer keep things simple most of the time, while mainman Iommi clearly roll up his sleeves a little, leaving his trademark riffing a bit on the background and trying out a lot more fills, leads and harmonies than ever before. Granted, sometimes you just wish he would stroke harder on that damn strings, but there's a lot more colors on his playing than usual, and it's quite interesting to hear the man stretching his creative muscles once you get the feel of it.

There are flaws, no doubt about that. I'm afraid "Danger Zone" and "Angry Heart" are a bit too generic for their own good, and the bluesy "Heart Like a Wheel" never seem strong enough to actually get off the ground, being instantly forgettable as a result. But I think "Seventh Star" deserves more respect than it usually gets, and all comparisions with the Sabbath of old are a bit of a shame IMO. The fact that the project was embellished with the Black Sabbath logo was actually its undoing, with few people bothering to give the LP a proper listen and many dates of the tour being cancelled for poor ticket sales. Band members would also come and go on a weekly basis, something that really disturbed the production of follow-up album "The Eternal Idol". But such uncertainties seem to have been surprisingly reassuring for Tony Iommi himself: from this point onwards, he would definitely assume Black Sabbath as his own personal enterprise, asking no permissions to do whatever musically (and commercially) suited him. Many detractors say he just put Black Sabbath's name to shame by doing so, but I must say I do feel a distinct sympathy for those who walk through the crossfire with a brave face and a stubborn mind. God bless him, and all that.

Glenn Hughes (V), Tony Iommi (G), Dave Spitz (B), Eric Singer (D), Geoff Nicholls (K).

01. In for the Kill
02. No Stranger to Love
03. Turn to Stone
04. Sphinx (The Guardian)
05. Seventh Star
06. Danger Zone
07. Heart Like a Wheel
08. Angry Heart
09. In Memory...

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

sexta-feira, 13 de janeiro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Born Again (LP, Warner, 1983)


Three years after reinventing themselves with the highly impressive "Heaven and Hell", Black Sabbath were once again at the verge of collapse. Ronnie James Dio, a decisive feature in such resurrection, decided to use his powerful pipes elsewhere, and soon kickstarted a very respectable solo career, with drummer Vinny Appice lending him a hand at first. That left Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler with the unenviable task to prove the naysayers wrong once again, putting together a strong formation with a stellar singer to match. To everyone's surprise, none other than Ian Gillan (of Deep Purple fame, as I'm sure you all know) accepted the challenge, putting a considerably successful solo endeavour to rest in order to sign the dotted line with Sabbath. Bill Ward was also convinced to return to the fold, and soon work commenced on what would become "Born Again". It was all quite bizarre to be honest, always looking more like an unassuming supergroup rather than a genuine incarnation of the band - and the fact that this apparently disparate partnership was a short-lived one probably came as little surprise to everyone involved with the metal community at the time. Still, "Born Again" is undeniably a very interesting piece of hard/heavy history, and deserves a few careful listens from everyone who cares about the genre.

After you make way through the truly atrocious front cover (I know many people love it, but come on, it's total garbage), you will also have to somehow ignore the very muffled sound from the record, a surprisingly substandard final result for a band as relevant and successful as Black Sabbath. Don't know what happened really, but it sounds like a low-budget demo rather than an official release from one of the most important bands in the heavy metal pantheon, and the whole affair assumes a disturbingly amateurish vibe due to these shortcomings. I'm sure many people see it from a different viewpoint, stating that rough edges are much of what heavy metal is about, but we're not talking about a bunch of kids saving pennies to pay for 500 vinyl copies in a record facility, you know.

Now about the music. The album kicks off quite well actually, with "Trashed" being an engaging and fast-paced tale of a car crash that really set necks in motion. But things get quite shaky as soon as the pointless instrumental (oh rly?) "Stonehenge" starts, with few redeeming features from this point onwards. Some compositions sound quite disjointed in places, while others resort to such well-worn formulas that you can almost guess what's coming next. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with "Digital Bitch", for instance, but it's a simplistic, straightforward heavy rock tune that hundreds of NWOBHM hopefuls could have written in their sleep, whereas "Born Again" (the song) just rambles around without ever getting interesting in the process, its moody-then-a-bit-heavier-heavy-then-moody-again dynamics failing to create any emotional connection with the listener. "Keep it Warm" and "Hot Line" are perhaps slightly better, but I seriously doubt anyone would ever mention these as highlights in Black Sabbath's career, if you know what I mean.

The consensus of opinion before the album release was that Ian Gillan would have serious problems to settle in, and "Born Again" proves beyond doubt that it was a fair assessment. It's not his fault really, as he's just being himself most of the time - but his bluesy voice and real-world, often playful lyrics doesn't sit well with the band's instrumentation. He shrieks quite a lot too, but I guess most of it are ill-fated attempts to liven up and/or glue together songs that were never that hot or well-crafted in the first place. The sad fact still remains, though: it does not work. Sometimes they get a good thing going, as in the aforementioned "Trashed" (the best number here by far) and in some moments of "Disturbing the Priest" - a song that doesn't make much sense to be honest, but with a few interesting twists and turns to its credit. "Zero the Hero", is carried along by some seriously heavy riffing and it's not an obnoxious tune by any stretch, but it drags along for quite a while and kinda overstays its welcome, not to mention how the verses barely fit to the instrumentation.

"Born Again" is an album that gained something of a cult status as time went by, with some critics even arguing it is some sort of overlooked classic. I humbly beg to differ: this is a weak album from a very capable set of musicians, a record that leaves to be desired in almost all fronts and therefore cannot be recommended with any degree of enthusiasm. After a tour that no one involved will recall as successful (the huge Stonehenge props that wouldn't fit in most venues, the dwarf made to look like the crying baby-demon depicted in the album cover, the band playing "Smoke on the Water", yeah, you've got the drift), the whole project was quickly disbanded. Bill Ward left even before that, with Bev Bevan (yeah, the same guy from ELO) sitting at the drumstool on the tour. Gillan was lured away by an offer to rejoin Deep Purple, and Geezer Butler got disillusioned with the whole thing and flown the coop in early 1984. For the first time in his career, Tony Iommi was all on his own - and it took a while until he put his mind together and reassemble a working unit under the Black Sabbath brand.

Ian Gillan (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Bill Ward (D).

01. Trashed
02. Stonehenge
03. Disturbing the Priest
04. The Dark
05. Zero the Hero
06. Digital Bitch
07. Born Again
08. Hot Line
09. Keep it Warm

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

quinta-feira, 12 de janeiro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Live Evil (2 LP, Warner, 1982)


These guys are not very lucky when it comes to live albums, I'm afraid. Black Sabbath's very first of such releases, "Live At Last" was an unashamed cash-in and mostly an act of treason from the band's former manager, Patrick Meehan, who licensed the record without any sanction by the band themselves - and without bothering to pay them a penny for it, of course. And "Live Evil", the 2-LP set conceived to be an answer to Meehan (and also to Ozzy Osbourne's "Speak of the Devil" from the same year) caused such internal friction that Ronnie James Dio decided to pack his bags and the whole band nearly drifted apart as a result! Be careful next time you decide to play a live bootleg from Sabbath at home, 'cause it can't be ruled out that your stereo will explode for no reason and set your whole house on fire, or something. Live recordings can be dangerous, you know.

Things were getting a bit sour within the group even before "Live Evil" to be frank, with Dio and Geezer Butler apparently disagreeing on a number of subjects. But it was during the mixing process of the record that the ego clashes really began, with the other guys accusing Dio of covertly raising the volume of his vocal tracks when they weren't there to stop him (yeah, seriously), while the singer would reproach Geezer and Tony Iommi for choosing terrible pictures of him for the artwork (I kid you not). Such childish disputes went as far as listing Vinny Appice, who left alongside Dio when the band split, as a guest musician (something that was clearly not true) and Dio being credited as "Ronnie Dio" on the liner notes, an epithet the man himself never used throughout his career - and a rather fortuitous connection with "Live At Last", where Ozzy somehow was dubbed "Ossie Osbourne" for no fathomable reason. All very mature, as you can see. Until his unfortunate demise in 2010, Dio would refuse to even listen to "Live Evil", whereas Geezer and Iommi admit without many reservations that the whole affair was close to a disaster.

But is the album that bad, you ask me? Well, not really. Though far from being a classic, "Live Evil" is a pretty decent memento of a very important period in the careers of all musicians involved, not to mention heavy metal itself. But it does have its shortcomings, and a lot of it does indeed have to do with the mixing desk. Though I sure love Geezer's playing, there's no denying his bass is too high on the mix, to an extent that many guitar frequencies got muddied or completely lost in the process. Geoff Nichols' keyboards are credited more as an act of courtesy than anything else, as his contributions are simply nowhere to be found. And the drum solo during "War Pigs" highlights just how uncaring the mixing was with Vinny Appice, as his tom-toms sound like a collection of frying pans and the cymbals are so distant that they seem to have been played in Chicago, while the rest of the band were performing in Dallas. And the audience perhaps were attending a show in Seattle, as you can hardly listen to them around here: even during song breaks or when Dio asks them to sing along, the crowd sounds more like radio static rather than a bunch of people having a good time.

I really love Dio for all the excellent music he gifted us throughout the years, and there's no doubt he was more than capable to stand where Ozzy once stood without leaving anything to be desired. But his rambling during the songs (with countless ooohs and aaaahs and allrights and no-no-nos and so on) gets quite annoying if you listen to the songs in one sitting, and sometimes are truly detrimental to the overall atmosphere, as they leave little room for the instruments to breathe. Some of his performances on Ozzy originals are also a bit too over-the-top, if you ask me. I don't know if he (perhaps unconsciously) wanted to prove he is a more technically gifted singer than Ozzy or something, but songs like "Black Sabbath" and most of all "War Pigs" are almost unbearable in places, with the singer screaming his lungs out and overinterpretating these tunes to a great extent. I'm sure he could have done way better by simply singing the songs as expected, you know.

But let's not be too harsh on this album. There is a nice balance between old and new that sure wil make their many fans happy, and some tracks really work to great effect, such as "Neon Knights", "N.I.B.", "Voodoo" and the memorable pairing of "Heaven and Hell" and "Sign of the Southern Cross", one of those moments of sheer organic brilliance that only a good live recording can capture in full glory. If you're not that much into production details and only demand some good music coming loud and clear out of your speakers, "Live Evil" will probably give you a good return for your money. But it's fair to say that a double live album meant to immortalise such an important and successful moment in the band's existence deserved a way more careful approach that it turned out to receive. Whatever the story, Geezer and Iommi were left to pick up the pieces of Black Sabbath once again, as Dio embarked on a very successful solo career, with Appice more than happy to sit at the drumstool to help his friend. Life moves on, as we all know.

Ronnie James Dio (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Vinny Appice (D).

01. E1505
02. Neon Knights
03. N.I.B.
04. Children of the Sea
05. Voodoo
06. Black Sabbath
07. War Pigs
08. Iron Man
09. The Mob Rules
10. Heaven and Hell
11. The Sign of the Southern Cross / Heaven and Hell (Continued)
12. Paranoid
13. Children of the Grave
14. Fluff

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

domingo, 8 de janeiro de 2017

BLACK SABBATH (UK) - Mob Rules (LP, Vertigo, 1981)


At first, "Mob Rules" hits you with a bang. It surely has it all, you know: a nice front cover, strong individual performances and a extremely competent production, all in service of a quite varied, but still very cohesive set of compositions. Black Sabbath were undoubtedly invigorated after the significant commercial and artistic success of "Heaven and Hell", and a truly efficient (and short on oddballs) record like "Mob Rules" was exactly what they needed to keep the wheels in motion. OK, Bill Ward is no longer there due to its alcohol abuse, but Vinny Appice handle the drumsticks quite competently and really leaves very little to be desired. There's nothing to be fervently disliked on this album, so any harsh criticism would surely be an exaggeration. C'mon, some even consider it to be better than "Heaven and Hell", which is a pretty acceptable way to see things when you think of it. Still, the second Sabbath album with Ronnie James Dio on the mike stand relies heavily on a few functional, but not very sophisticated tricks to get the job done - and it loses appeal once you realise what's going on, like a gag kind of magic that becomes increasingly silly with repetition.

Let's start with "Turn Up the Night", the opening number around here. It's surely pacey and lively, with a then-modern approach to guitar that screams NWOBHM for all the good reasons. It's also meant to be instantly engaging, a song crafted to put necks and hairs in motion... just like "Neon Knights" one year previously. "The Sign of the Southern Cross" sounds gloomy and ominous, carried along by evocative lyrics and bringing Iommi and Dio to the forefront - exactly how an amalgam of "Children of the Sea" and "Heaven and Hell" (the song) would sound like, heh? The mysterious woman in "Lady Evil" takes a slightly different form in "Country Girl", but still conjures the same imagery (and a somewhat clichéd one, even back then), still serves to the exact same purposes. And even closing number "Over and Over" is a repetition of sorts, as its heavy-blues vibe bears more than a passing resemblance to "Lonely is the Word" - seriously, just listen to it.

It's not to say that the lads just took the template from their previous album and repeated it note by bloody note, of course. Maybe "Turn Up the Night" is a slight bit too disjointed for its own good, but all the other songs above mentioned work perfectly well, with "The Sign of the Southern Cross" easily being one of the highlights of the LP. But a more strict analysis makes it all too clear just how safe Black Sabbath is playing throughout this record, to such an extent that you will need a little bit of effort to overlook it in places. No matter how competently they are doing it, still we're listening to Sabbath playing by numbers - and it's not how classic albums are done, not to mention that it was hardly by using well-worn formulas that Black Sabbath made its way into rock and roll history.

But oh well, even your run-of-the-mill Black Sabbath is markedly better than most of the competition, so don't go away thinking about turning you copy into a frisbee or something. There's a lot of charm going on during "Voodoo", for instance, and "The Mob Rules" is seriously vicious, one of the most unbridled and direct songs from the band's entire repertoire. It's a slightly more somber record than its predecessor, and "Falling Off the Edge of the World" is perhaps the song that better encapsules it, though its ostensibly bombastic nature is a bit too calculated to be fully convincing. As stated above, the level of songwriting is very consistent throughout, with the only true letdown being "E5150", yet another one of those pointless instrumental cuts that only the most hardcore Sabbath fans will somehow enjoy. That all said, "Mob Rules" is an album tailored for Sabbath fans, for good and bad: all those who love heavy metal will find at least a few reasons to rejoice, but you can't deny the fact they are mostly preaching to the choir.

Ronnie James Dio (V), Tony Iommi (G), Geezer Butler (B), Vinny Appice (D).

01. Turn Up the Night
02. Voodoo
03. The Sign of the Southern Cross
04. E5150
05. The Mob Rules
06. Country Girl
07. Slipping Away
08. Falling Off the Edge of the World
09. Over and Over

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