Tag Archives: Black Sabbath

How Good It Is

After the Coro94 Chsistmas concert in December, I remarked that my next concert, Black Sabbath at the 02 Arena, was just about about the complete opposite.

But the world of music has other ideas.

Black Sabbath lead guitarist Tony Iommi worked with his friend Catherine Ogle, the Dean of Birmingham, on this five-minute arrangement, which celebrates peace, harmony and the Cathedral’s role in the heart of the city. The Birmingham rock legend said he wanted to ‘give something back’ to his home city. The words are inspired by Psalm 133, and it’s sung by the boys and men of Birmingham Cathedral Choir.

It’s as if the musical universe is trying to mess with my mind.

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Black Sabbath: 10 of the best

Black SabbathThe Guardian have just published a piece I’ve written in their “Ten of the Best” series, about Black Sabbath.

The task of choosing ten songs to tell the story of the most influential metal band on the planet wasn’t an easy one. Listening to all their albums, especially the early ones, showed Black Sabbath’s remarkable consistency. For every song I eventually chose there were two or three others that would have been equally valid. At one point my draft list said “Something from Master of Reality”, and I could easily have chosen almost anything from that album. That my final list didn’t have space for “NIB”, “Paranoid”,”Iron Man”, “Children of the Grave”, “Spiral Architect”, “Neon Knights” or indeed anything at all from “Volume 4″ says it all.

One dilemma was whether to base the list around the obvious standards that everyone knows, or highlight some of the lesser-known gems. In the end, I went for a bit of both, including defining classics like “Black Sabbath”, “War Pigs”, “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” and “Heaven and Hell” while leaving room for atypical songs such as “Air Dance” or a representative of the often-overlooked Tony Martin era.

Speaking of the Tony Martin era, one of the constraints I had to work to was that all the chosen songs had to be available on Spotify, and unfortunately neither “Headless Cross” nor “Tyr” were there; the only album available was “Eternal Idol”. Hence the last-minute substitution of “Glory Ride” in place of Tyr’s “Anno Mundi”. Which makes the comment that it was a great list except then “Anno Mundi” should have been there instead of Glory Ride spot-on. Little did he know.

Some of the other comments are amusing; there are clearly a few people who don’t like anything beyond the first four albums and lost it with “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. As as for “Too much Dio”, there is no such thing as too much Dio. But that’s Guardian commenters for you…

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45 years ago today, on Friday 13th Feburary 1970, Black Sabbath released their eponymous debut album. Just like King Crimson’s “In The Court of the Crimson King” a few months earlier, it was an album that sounded quite unlike anything that had come before, and launched a whole new genre of music. Has any album remotely as groundbreaking as those two been released in the past decade?

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2013 Albums of the Year – Part One

It’s end-of-year list time again, when every music blogger is compelled to go back through the year’s record releases and try to pick out the best of them,

Let’s get the obvious disclaimers out of the way first. This is not intended to be a definitive list of the very best albums released in the year. For starters all preferences are personal and subjective. And secondly and more importantly, it’s restricted to those records I’ve actually had the chance to hear. There are no doubt a great many awesome releases I haven’t heard yet.

After many repeated listens I’ve managed to whittle the list down to 21 (Why 21? Why not?). The fact that it turned out to be very hard to restrict it to just 21 speaks volumes about how great a year it’s been. One or two big names ended up not making the cut.

So, without further ago, here’s the first half of my list,  Had I not abandoned trying to sort them all into meaningful order as an impossible task, they would be 21 down 11. As it is, they’re sorted alphabetically.

Big Big Train English Electric Part Two

English Electric Part 2The second half of English Electric follows in a similar vein to the first, with their very evocative and very English brand of pastoral progressive rock. The storytelling lyrical focus shifts to northern England and the twentieth century with tales of railwaymen, coal miners and shipbuilders, and it all sounds far more authentic than much 80s-style neo-prog.

Black Sabbath13

Black Sabbath 13Neither quite the masterpiece some hoped for nor the trainwreck some feared, the reunion of Ozzy Osborne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still delivers a very solid piece of work that proves they still have something to say after all these years. If this does prove to be their final album, it’s a worthy addition to their legacy.

The Computers Love Triangles, Hate Squares

The Computers Love Triangles Hate SquaresThe best no-nonsense old-fashioned rock and roll record I’ve heard all year, by a band who sound as as though they have one foot in 1958 and one in 2013, full of short and punchy tunes that hit you right between the eyes. The end result somehow ends up reminding me of some aspects of very early Blue Öyster Cult.

CosmografThe Man Left In Space

Cosmograf - The Man Left In SpaceAn evocative and atmospheric album from multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Robin Armstrong. Though there are guest appearances from Matt Stevens and Nick D’Virgilio amongst others, Robin plays most of the instrumentation from guitars to drums to keys. The haunting title track is a standout, perhaps one of the songs of the year, and there’s a lot to like across the rest of the album.

The Fierce and The DeadSpooky Action

Spooky ActionMatt Stevens and his band in full electric mode mixing progressive rock, post-punk, indie/alternative and metal resulting in the instrumental record of the year. Narrow genre definitions cannot contain this record; it’s the sort of thing that ought to have a huge crossover appeal way beyond the narrow confines of the Prog world.

King BathmatOvercoming the Monster

KingBathmat - Overcoming The MonsterA powerful combination of grungy guitar riffs with progressive rock textures and melodies, sounding like what you might get if you combined Black Sabbath with Spock’s Beard. The end result is a record with a very contemporary feel despite its use of organic 70s sounds, old-school progressive rock reinvented for the 21st Century.

MaschineRubidium

Maschine - RubidiumThe long-awaited début from Luke Machin’s band combines some stunning instrumental virtuosity with a very mature approach to composition. Their complex and ambitious songs are a seamless blend of metal, jazz and rock into, with great use of dynamics and an ear for a good melody. This is the sound of a band from whom we can probably expect great things over the coming years.

Mr So and SoTruth & Half Lies

Mr So and So - Truth and Half LiesThe fruit of a successful Pledge Music project, Mr So and So’s fourth album is by far their most impressive to date. It’s a hugely varied record with some strong songwriting that uses their distinctive dual male/female lead vocals to great effect, and the harder-edged guitar-driven sound strongly captures the power and energy of their live performances.

RiversideShrine of the New Generation Slaves

Riverside - Shrine of the New Generation SlavesRiverside have always been one of Poland’s finest bands, and with the combination of 70s Deep Purple style hard rock riffs and Porcupine Tree style atmospherics they have delivered what might be their best album to date. They may wear their influences on their sleeves to some extent, but they have more than enough creativity of there own to be any kind of pastiche.

Rob Cottingham Captain Blue

Rob Cottingham - Captain BlueA solo album from Touchstone’s keyboard player, aided and abetted by a strong supporting cast including Touchstone guitarist Adam Hodgson and former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay. It’s a concept album with a Gerry Anderson flavour, with music reminiscent of Touchstone’s early days, plus the occasional excursion into disco-pop.

Thea GilmoreRegardless

Thea Gilmore – RegardlessAn album of Americana-tinged songs with stripped-down arrangements that emphasise the fragile beauty of the Thea Gilmore’s heartfelt vocals, enhanced this time by a string section to add some extra colour.

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Now Playing – September 2013 edition

Some of the records I’ve been listening to over the past couple of days. 2013 has been a great year for new music, but here I’ve revisited some old and sometimes overlooked classics.

Marillion – This Strange Engine

Their live sets in recent years have often drawn heavily from this album, but it’s the first time I’ve given the whole album a listen for a long time. One thing that struck me was how much it resembles their more recent work, despite being a decade and a half old. When it came out it was a bit a departure for them, with more emphasis on atmospherics and textures, and drew mixed reactions. But in retrospect, a lot of their current sound has its roots in this album.

Touchstone – Discordant Dreams

Touchstone’s first full-length album shows just how far they’ve progressed since they started out. I’d forgotten that Rob Cottingham sang most of the lead vocals back in the early days with Kim singing harmonies – It was only from “Wintercoast” onwards that Kim took over as the band’s main lead singer.

Yes – Drama

The announcement that Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes from pop duo The Buggles were to replace Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman made heads explode when announced all those years ago. But thirty years on this is an album that stands the test of time far better than its unfocussed and directionless precessor “Tormato”. I think it’s fair to say that without “Drama” there would have been no Yes three decades later.

Black Sabbath – Seventh Star

Tony Iommi and former Deep Purple singer Glenn Hughes made this collaboration with a bunch of session players after the ill-fated Ian Gillan-fronted Sabbath fell apart. It was never really intended as a Black Sabbath record, and lacks the doom-laden melodrama associated with the Sabbath name. But taken on its own merits it’s an excellent blues-metal hybrid, with both Iommi and Hughes on top form.

Rush – Roll the Bones

I was never that big a fan of Rush’s “Synthesiser period” and found their late 80s output a little bloodless and sterile. Their first release of the 1990s represented a back-to-basics power trio approach with Alex Lifeson’s guitar in the centre of the mix where it belonged.  All very welcome for me, even if the rather heavier following album “Counterparts” remains my favourite Rush disc of the past two decades.

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God is Dead?

The new Black Sabbath track “God is Dead?”, from the forthcoming album “13″, the first Black Sabbath studio album with Ozzy Osborne since 1978′s “Never Say Die”. First couple of listens and I think it sounds a lot better than anything from the aformentioned album, but give it a listen for yourself.

Sign of the times that we now refer to promos uploaded to YouTube as “singles”, but I guess they serve exactly the same purpose as releasing “radio singles” used to for album-orientated bands like Black Sabbath.

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Black Sabbath

I’m part-way through reading Iron Man, the autobiography of Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, which I had as a Christmas present. A fascinating read so far, with tales of rock and roll excess mixed with the stories behind some of the songs, beginning with Iommi growing up in a working-class part of Birmingham. The description of Iommi’s industrial accident, which is not for the squeamish, out to server as a reminder as to why all that health and safety legislation some people want to abolish is there for.

It’s prompted me to dig out a lot of old Ozzy-era Black Sabbath albums, many of which I’ve not played for years, and it’s reminded me just how consistently good they were. Also it’s remarkable just how well-mixed and mastered the albums are, especially when you consider how little time they took recording their earliest ones.

I’d say all the first six albums deserve to be in any self-respecting rock and metal fan’s record collection. It starts with their debut, when they were in transition from the blues band Earth, and blues-rock workouts sit alongside the doomladen distorted tritones with which they made their name, and the quality is consistent right the way through to the metal juggernaut of “Sabotage“, with the face-melting centrepiece “Symptom of the Universe

Black Sabbath, despite some of their Hammer Horror imagery, were never really the Satanic band portrayed in some sections of the media. When you know that main lyricist Geezer Butler was an Irish Catholic, a song like “After Forever“, with it’s infamous line “Do you want to see The Pope on the end of rope” is clearly all about sectarian bigotry.

As an aside, playing seventh album “Technical Ecstacy” and Led Zeppelin’s “Presence” back-to-back makes me think the often maligned and in my opinion somewhat underrated Sabbath album is the one of the pair that’s aged the best. Take away the obvious classics “Achilles Last Stand” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” from Presence, and you’re left with rather a lot of filler.

The best album of the lot has to be “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath“. The monumental title track has to be one of the best songs about being totally pissed-off with life, the universe and everything ever written; “Bog blast all of you” is a great line. But the whole of the rest of the album is pretty much flawless, and displays a far greater musical sophistication than anything they’d done before, whether it’s the keyboard-led “Who Are You”, or the ambitious multi-layered closing “Spiral Architect”.

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