Thursday, December 5, 2013

Black Sabbath - Live...Gathered In Their Masses - Metallic Magic

So - I'm the guy that started the Facebook page, 1,000,000 Black Sabbath fans say yes to Bill Ward. Me and a few friends joked about the outrage of Mr. Ward not being included in the band's plans after he'd been disinvited after their 11-11-11 reunion announcement, and I started the page as a lark, never thinking a million would be on board, and damned shocked when it grew to 25,000 members in a day, and eventually rising to well over 50,000 before it was all over.

I never vilified anyone, though I certainly criticized the poor manner in which the band handled the whole episode, and I stick with that assessment to this minute. I'm a huge Sabbath fan, going back to the early seventies, and for me, Bill Ward's drums were a huge part of the band's sound. That being said, I am grateful for whatever wizardry has rendered Live...Gathered In Their Masses into being such a great document of the band's tour this past summer. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler have never, ever sounded better, and they look great in this awesome DVD. Tommy Clufetos also steps up and kicks some serious metal ass behind the kit - he doesn't have Ward's sophisticated sense of swing, but few rock drummers ever have had that.

The big question for me is that of John 'Ozzy' Osbourne - early clips from the tour suggested that he was to put it charitably, 'addled.' And honestly, I'm fairly certain that some serious post filming work went into making his vocals sound as good as they do here, but for that I am absolutely grateful. While it may be somewhere between genuine and modern technology, I'm very OK with that - I can sit and watch this and as a serious student of rock, I can show this to, and tell my child just why so many consider Sabbath to be the greatest heavy metal band in history.

For me, it's all about Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, and they are bone crushingly beautiful - Iommi's playing is crisp, clean, and his tone is picture perfect. Whatever happened to his tone on 13 is beyond me. I tried on five occasions to listen to the whole album, and I never once made it. I wondered how Rubin reduced the might Iommi to what I heard. Well, it sure wasn't Tony - he acquits himself fantastically and solidifies his position as metal's true godfather. When you hear War Pigs, you are going to melt. It looks great, and sounds even better.

Geezer Butler's bass jumps out of the mix and you can almost hear the callouses on his right hand as he cranks out line after line of precise magic, and I'm not sure who recorded, engineered and mixed the album (I only have a stream - no liner notes to work from), but they deserve heaping mounds of love, respect, and admiration. When Iommi slides down the neck for the intro to Into The Void, you can hear frets hitting fingers - it gets no cooler than that. This is one of the best sounding pieces of work I've heard this year, and I don't care how they did it. At the end of the day, it delivers the goods as well as they have ever been delivered by this band.

Clufetos' drumming is huge, and he actually makes the band sound like Dio's Sabbath jamming with Ozzy, and that I dig. He's more metal than Ward, and I gotta say, he's on fire on this set.

Filmed by god only knows how many cameras, nobody in the world can say anything other than this is a job very, very well done. The editing is excellent, and there are tons of great shots for the proper worship by players and fans alike. They even render Ozzy looking good. Magic? Deal with the Devil down at the crossroads? I care not - somewhere between the black country and Hollywood lies the truth, but the rock 'n' roll kid in me is thrilled.

There have been rumblings that the band could be done with heavy duty touring, and if that's true, they could not have a better send off than Live...Gathered At Their Masses. This will go down as one of the great live documents of rock - beside Live At Leeds, Thin Lizzy's Live & Dangerous, UFO's Strangers In The Night, and Frampton Comes Alive, and we all know that to some degree those shows got doctored, so I can't get my panties in a bunch over how much 'fixing' had to occur.

Tony Iommi has always been given his due as the ultimate writer of riffs, but it's his lead work that keeps grabbing me by the throat - Loner, the first song of the set off 13 isn't going to be on the list of his greatest riffs, but his soloing is sizzling. Mind you, the riffs hear are magnificent - his Laney amps are crisp and clear, not at all muddy nor too gained up - just right. This DVD would be the perfect document to show a judge if you were arguing that Iommi stands proudly right beside anyone who ever picked up a guitar.

Snowblind has Iommi and Butler going down the highway to hell side by side, and it's a great road map to see how the band ventured from the sludgier early days into the crisp riffing of Heaven & Hell. Geezer's bass sounds superb as every note and nuance jumps out of the speakers. Iommi slows things down for the solos and milks every note for all its worth.

Riffs - you want riffs? Black Sabbath's flatted fifth may have started the whole thing, and here even Ozzy's on point - I know I give him hell, but he's well earned it, and I don't have to love him to love his band, which I do.

It's a three for one as the band stays with their eponymous debut with Beyond The Wall Of Sleep, and N.I.B. and we're reminded that they started out on top, and while it's been a trip filled with ridiculous highs and lows, it's still been a helluva trip. I could still do with Osbourne yelling, "I can't hear you," again, again, and again, but it's a small price to pay for getting to hear one of metal's miracles in between, I suppose.

Methademic is another track off of 13, and it's here where Ozzy looks a little lost, staring down at the lyrics and searching desperately for a thin melody to begin with. This isn't near the band's usual standard, and comes off sounding like generic metal for the most part. A good point in which to refresh that drink, pop off for whatever you must do, for things are about to head for the big ending.

Back on track with Fairies Wear Boots, and Ozzy looks a bit more at home again, and you can hear the band stepping back up and hitting the gas, as well. It's somewhat subtle, but I can hear where they are more in sync with what's going on out front, and when Iommi solos, Butler is hitting it hard underneath in support - then it goes into the breakdown, and it's bliss. It's maybe on this tune in which I long to hear Ward's snazzy sense of swing, but it's too late to spend much time mourning what ain't to be, I suppose.

Symptom Of The Universe rocks accordingly, and Clufetos takes the obligatory solo, and while it's certainly adequate, that's all it is, too. His chops aren't up with the better drummers of the seventies, and I'm not trying to beat a horse that's long since run off, I just find this to be mediocre. It doesn't ruin the party, but it does give the Ward fans something to bitch about, and I'm thinking it should have ended up on the cutting room floor for all above. The best thing about it is that it leads nicely into the main event, Iron Man.

Ozzy might sing it, but Iommi is the Iron Man, and it's never more obvious in what might be rock's mightiest single riff. Butler pummels his bass, and it's no wonder that he said he hurt in places he didn't know he had after these shows - he's pounding it out, and his jousting with Iommi on the solo section is nirvanic. Clufetos is much more powerful and impressive on the interlude, and I'm convinced that the solo should have been cut. This marvelous stuff, and nobody won't dig this.

End Of The Beginning is the one time that I think 13 made the mark, and it's heavier here than on the studio version, and truly Sabbath worthy. Even studio magic can't get Ozzy in tune on this, but all I can hear is Iommi, and I'm OK with it.

1971's Master of Reality was where it all started for me and Black Sabbath, so Children Of The Grave is always welcome. This is a great version, and once again I'll say that Iommi and Butler have never sounded better, and that's where it's at for me. Black Sabbath looks funny playing white guitars, but sure enough both Iommi and Butler wield white weapons, and they pummel them just the same. Again, this isn't one of their better, or more original riffs, but this pair could play 'Chopsticks,' and make it metal.

God Is Dead? may be the closest 13 gets to classic Sabbath, and it's a good way to end the set. Iommi sounds better here than in the studio, and this could maybe sit on an older Sabbath outing without seeming weak. There's no real hook, but the rock rolls, and it's appropriately heavy. The new stuff sounds better live than it did in Rubin's room, and for that I'm grateful.

Wrapping it up, it could only be Paranoid, right? Iommi's second best riff is still miles better than anyone else's, right? And Ozzy could sing this one in his sleep. They throw in an all-too-brief moment of Sabbath Bloddy Sabbath, and then it's off to the races, and they end the show with a resounding reminder of why we're watching.

There you have it, ladies and germs - I figure I'll still manage to piss off some of the hardcore, but I think this is a fantastic package, all things considered, and I would say that everyone should buy this, watch this, and love this. I never weathered so much abuse in my life as when I was running the Bill Ward page, so a little more grief won't hurt me none. I'm thrilled to recommend this and even to admit that it may just end up in my year end top ten, if for no other reason that I dearly love Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, and they are magnificent from beginning to end. As they have always been.

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