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Black Sabbath returned to England, rented a castle in Wales (hoping the seclusion route would revive them), and tried to write again. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was the result of this incubation period, and would be their most challenging and diverse release yet. The title was taken from a Melody Maker headline, and showed their attitude towards the music business. Rick Wakeman of Yes came in on keyboards, and Tony incorporated a rotosound phaser to achieve an organ sound out of the guitars. The cover put the religious groups on alert with its 666 and fascist-styled S's. From the pounding of the title track, to the too personal to comment on "Who Are You" (synthesizer courtesy of Ozzy), to Bill's "Spiral Architect," Sabbath Bloody Sabbath topped out at #4, and the band had their highest charting album since Paranoid.

[ sabbath bloody sabbath ]

However, even with its success, the band continued to sink. Constant touring, legal hassles, and internal struggles with superstardom paid its toll both mentally and physically on all. Bill had hepatitis, Ozzy had a nervous breakdown, Geezer developed kidney stones, and Tony was a physical wreck. To top all this off they were forced to play California Jam 74 or face a $100,000 lawsuit. Fans seemed to think Sabbath were changing and losing focus. Yet their next album, Sabotage, would leave no doubt that the boys were still in it to play loud, monstrous music. The tracks "Hole in the Sky," "Symptom of the Universe," and "Megalomania" left little to worry about for the hardcore fans. There also were the little diversions: Ozzy's personal psychoanalysis with "Am I Going Insane (Radio)," a chamber choir on "Supertzar," and an attack on the music business with "The Writ." Still, lawsuits abounded, and kept the band from performing for several months. Ozzy was handed a writ before going onstage in the U.S.; to drive the stake of conflict in further, their manager split and without their knowledge released the double lp We Sold Our Soul for Rock-n-Roll - exploiting them while they were crumbling; egos and distrust driving them down the shattered road.
[ sabotage ]

Colliding with the snot-nosed punks came Technical Ecstasy. Pushing Sabbath even further down the spiral, this album led to confusion about where they stood as superstars. Brave new musical steps led Bill to finally sing his first song with "It's Alright." After the world tour for Technical Ecstasy, all the years of abuses finally caught up with Ozzy. He decided to set out on his own solo career, leaving the remaining three to find a new frontman - no easy task as this was the first original member to be replaced in their ten year career. They enlisted ex-Savoy Brown Vocalist Dave Walker. Dave lasted long enough to make the TV appearance on BBC Midlands "Top of the Pops" program and perform "Junior's Eyes" from their forth-coming album.
[ technical ecstacy ]

After a brief solo stint, Ozzy returned and the band moved to Toronto, Canada to record Never Say Die, a final statement by this incredible group. This last gasp by the behemoth Sabbath was still a good slug in the face, as is evidenced on the title track. Ozzy mourning the death of his father in "Junior's Eyes," the Spiderman of "Johnny Blade," and the sax and brass of "Swinging the Chain." This album may not have charted very well, but it still showed that - even with their fans displeasure and the music business kicking them in the teeth - Black Sabbath could indeed still blast your head off. However, on the European leg of the tour, the upstart American band Van Halen blasted the old men offstage. Their label was supporting the young lads and leaving Sabbath to rot. The end was closing in, and with the jugular gushing blood Ozzy was fired, with Bill having the undesirable job of breaking the news to him. Tony stated that he was not going in the same musical direction, and trying to get back the recognition he craved, he took it as a challenge to get back to what they once had.
[ never say die ]

Ozzy was fired in 1979, leaving Bill and Geezer uncertain about the decision Tony had made. For Ozzy, it was the end of four frustrating years of work and time to move on. He joined up with ex-Quiet Riot guitarist Randy Rhoads and recorded Blizzard of Oz, and would go on to produce 11 more solo albums. Randy Rhoads (RIP) would die in a freak plane crash during the Diary of a Madman world tour, Ozzy's second album. Tony, still flying the Sabbath flag, has released ten albums over the past 17 years. Geezer, having spent the 80's cleaning up, has formed his own band, "Geezer," and has released two albums to date. Finally, Bill has released two albums under the "Ward-One" moniker.

Having only played together briefly over the last ten years, Black Sabbath have now buried all the axes, matured and said their apologies, and once again have started touring; releasing a live double-cd recorded at Birmingham's NEC arena 12/97, and reforming to possibly produce a new album. Reunion was recorded December 5th 1997 at Birmingham's Nec Arena before thousands of crazy fans. Believe it or not, this is the first official live recording by these four elder statesmen, and it definitely lives up to the billing, "The Reunion To End All Reunions!" You might think that all their past mental and physical problems would have made this impossible, but they lived through it to play two spectacular shows, with the second captured on this album.

One mainstream critic has said that Tony and Bill played sloppily, but I just do not hear what he was hearing. The quality and intensity of this recording is fabulous! Ozzy, screaming as only he can; Tony churning out the power chords; Geezer and Bill filling in the void. After 20 years of not playing or writing together as a foursome, these sage musicians have put on a show to end the millennium! Included are 16 classic Sabbath cuts, including the likes of "Paranoid," "Black Sabbath," "Snowblind," "Children of the Grave," and two newly recorded studio tracks, "Psychoman" and "Selling My Soul." These new tracks were written by Tony and Ozzy during the production work for the live recordings. "Psychoman" sounds like where they left off with the Never Say Die album. It starts out with a classic Iommi riff, leads into a somber interlude, and ends with that patented, crushing Sabbath sound. "Selling my Soul" reminds me of something off of Mob Rules, but with Ozzy singing.

All in all, this is a great outing by the original Metal Maniacs, and their upcoming live shows are not to be missed!

[ reunion ]

On the web:
Black Sabbath
Ozzy Osbourne
Tony Iommi
Bill Ward

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