When I was discovering classic and progressive rock music back in the 70’s, Black Sabbath was on the outs in my circle of friends. Their lyrics, presence and brand all shouted ‘satanism’ and ‘occult.’ The fantasy elements of Yes, Genesis, Camel and their ilk seemed more welcoming to our young minds. So, I never collected Sabbath recordings and did not attend any of their shows, nor did I know anyone who did. As their influence spread and drove the heavy metal movement over time I also stayed away, even though I became enamored of the goth movement in the ’80’s, and even later, knowing that Ozzy Ozbourne actually had become quite an entertaining front man and TV personality and that Dio had become one of the best metal vocalists ever, not to mention the fact that Toni Iommi kept showing at the top of guitar players popularity polls.
All of that changed for me earlier this year when I read of Toni’s illness, recovery, and the rebirth of his classic guitar techniques on the new recording ‘13‘ – hailed as a metal masterpiece and return to form from these survivors. I downloaded the tracks and instantly loved the album. This led me to look into their past work to discover what I had missed. In fact, while several of their most popular tracks present the occult, more of them are about other topics well suited to aggressive rock – the folly of war, drug addition and other social ills. Heck they even sang about fairies with boots! Often there were long instrumental breaks with a clear blues-rock vein, at times reminiscent of early blues based Jethro Tull, with a sometimes ‘progressive’ approach to songwriting, as many of their best tracks switch keys and rhythm as they unfold.
Therefore it was with great anticipation that we finally attended the most recent Black Sabbath show at the Shoreline Amphitheater on August 26, 2013. And it was everything I hoped it could be – great set list, Ozzy still an energetic front man, able to sing and deliver the old and the new work, Toni in rare form ripping through his riffs, and Geezer proving why he’s been one of the most celebrated bassist in rock. The set list featured original work from their first albums, including War Pigs, N.I.B., Paranoid, Black Sabbath, and Iron Man, as well as new tracks including God Is Dead? and Age of Reason. Not sure this will lead me to collect more metal than I have today – I’ve always been more a fan of keys driven work, but I now have Sabbath sitting in their proper place in the collection, between Bad Company and Camel, and alongside the contemporaries of their day. A rebirth of survivors for this older, newer fan.