Live Review: Black Sabbath @ O2 Academy, Birmingham, 19/05/2012

First of all I would like to highlight the predictability of this “review”, which can’t realistically be called a review, because that would imply it was an objective analysis. Attempting to write anything too derogatory about Black Sabbath might be compared to asking a devout Roman catholic to sodomize our good Pope Benedict XVI. This wouldn’t be a good example, because Black Sabbath are the creators, not an implement, secondly, I cannot vouch for the extent of sexual deviancy within the Catholic church.

After several hours of getting steadily giddier in Scruffy Murphies, (a place where a disregard for the decade leaves band t-shirts tightly tucked into denim) where the Sabbath discography was being worked through, we made our way to the O2 Academy. After being frisked and a quick bar visit it struck me that I was possibly going to have to stay in the same spot for the entire concert. The crowd were packed thick from the front to the very back and I had little hope of gaining much ground even if I coated myself in Vaseline drank away my conscience and ran screaming into these good people.

My worries about the view disappear when Ozzy’s voice screams out and an eruption of noise and raised hands is the crowd’s response. The Lord of the riff plays a rising scale and ‘Into The Void’, tears open the night. Concerns about the band’s enthusiasm or ability to play as they might have are immediately smashed. Ozzy sounds powerful and is as animated as I’ve seen him, grinning manically (possibly due to surgery) with blackened eyes, looking like an erratic jack in a box designed by Tim Burton. Tony’s flawless evil groove and biting licks are executed effortlessly, all while wearing his sun glasses and a thick leather jacket which must have been warmer than hell, his demeanour relaxed and emotionless bar the occasional telling smile. After War Pigs, Ozzy stated that people often complain about the lack of early material. The words “Black Sabbath” commence what was without a doubt the greatest part of the night. A glimpse into a part of history that created and evolved into heavy music as we know it today was possible, the intensity and raw heavy power of what Black Sabbath were in the early days electrified the atmosphere, with Geezer’s brilliant and ever changing bass lines maintaining the stomping groove throughout ‘Black Sabbath’, ‘The Wizard’, ‘NIB’ and ‘Fairies Wear Boots’.

It was during this frenzy of greatness that the androids I had situated myself amongst seemed to become increasingly disturbed by my movement, and general display of human emotion. Unequipped for dealing with this humanoid situation they began to shove and elbow me in confusion. For a brief moment, I stopped, puzzled. Tickets were hardly in abundance, this was a show for true Sabbath fans and these nerds are more concerned with me than the fucking Wizard and Lucifer! Ridden of guilt I informed them I wasn’t there to fry their circuits and ploughed through to much greener pastures (or a better view and section of the crowd).

The atmosphere had peaked and the coke fuelled uplift of ‘Tomorrow’s Dream gave way to the crushing Haze of ‘Sweet Leaf’. More early album greats came before the less predictable but very enjoyable ‘Dirty Women’. After being promised one more song if we were loud enough, very predictably, ‘Paranoid’ was played. I’ve never been sure why it’s a favourite and was a great deal more excited when they teased with the intro to ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ before playing it. The crowd explode one last time and a spectacular night is over.

It was a pleasure to see how much the band enjoyed it, with Ozzy joking amongst them, hugging Tony and calling him the Iron Man. The obvious void that Bill (Ward) left is a great shame and I’m sure he’ll feel that more than anyone. I’d be lying if I said that this put a downer on the performance in anyway, bar a “Bill”, chant that went pretty strong during a short drum solo. I’m not sure it was a very good idea to draw attention to the poor bastard sitting in (that’ll be Tommy Clufetos – PC) but he was soon rescued by the rest of the band. All in all Black Sabbath at the O2 Academy was the experience of a lifetime and one I’m honoured to have witnessed.
Michael Collins

High on Fire – De Vermis Mysteriis

High on Fire
De Vermis Mysteriis
E1 Music

Despite seemingly continuous revelry, it feels as though in some quarters, High on Fire have yet to please all the purists, despite increasing acclaim for their work. Some would argue ‘Snakes for the Divine‘ was lacking High on Fire’s true raw power, beckoning for another ‘Blessed Black Wings‘. Others, myself included, would argue High on Fire don’t need another one of those albums, or indeed another ‘Surrounded by Thieves‘. They seem to gamely go about their task with the requisite menace and intensity without any need to shift their approach for an audience which widens a little more with each release. Nevertheless, there will always be a few who can never be fully satisfied.

Moving swiftly onward, the sixth High on Fire album, ‘De Vermis Mysteriis‘ will likely possess a minority splinter cell of people who will stroke their (bearded) chins with a slight collective shrug, just as before. It doesn’t matter that it still sounds like an army of hellish demoniacs riding forth on horseback, hooves pounding the earth, slaying and pillaging for all its worth, or that its the most varied and arguably most complete High on Fire record yet.

Taking its name from Robert Bloch’s fictional grimoire of the same name and mixing Lovecraftian themes, time travel, Jesus Christ and the Immaculate Conception – and heck knows what else – ‘De Vermis Mysteriis‘ begins in atypical fashion for the band, reeling off three tracks at the beginning that wouldn’t sound out of place on any High on Fire record. The track ‘Bloody Knuckles’ is entirely apt, as it is a particularly bruising encounter. And later in the album, ‘Spiritual Rites’ picks up the whip and cracks it with fury, driven by a cracking double bass-driven beat from Des Kensel.

High on Fire – King of Days

The clearest sign of Pike’s recent role in the Sleep reunion holding sway over High on Fire’s matters is evident in ‘Madness of the Architect’, a perfect marriage between Sleep’s groove and High on Fire’s metallic intensity, a relatively slow lurker compared to the pace of the initial onslaught. As if that wasn’t enough, ‘Samsara’, track five, is a solid stoner jam, complete free of vocals, and, thanks to the skills of bassist Jeff Matz, just a hint of the spirit of Cliff Burton being alive and well here.

Though the remainder of the record bears the band’s individuality, the slower jams keep coming, punctuated by the incredible ‘King of Days’, surely one of Pike’s most accomplished vocal performances and a truly monumental song in all respects. The decision by High on Fire to not necessarily drop the pace, but certainly to diversify, pays huge dividends and the album has a whole roars quality in its entirety.

De Vermis Mysteriis‘ will stand out as one of High on Fire’s finest works for its diversity, but the interplay between Kensel, Pike and Matz should not be overlooked’. If any three men should come to define ‘power trio’ in 2012 its these, though it is power blended with precision and a touch of finesse. For me, High on Fire have never lost their edge, but this is as accomplished a record as ‘Blessed Black Wings‘ or ‘Surrounded by Thieves‘, and one that should be only be sneered upon at your own peril.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘De Vermis Mysteriis’ here

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Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

Van Halen
A Different Kind of Truth

Interscope

The last three or four years in Van Valen’s history have been relatively sedate compared to all the rehab, the acrimony, splits, reunions and fights that preceded this later chapter in their career. However tumultuous and public these events have been, Van Halen have not so much bounced back as they have carried on without a care, much like their touring strategy, which seemed focused on their home country. After all the rumours, the will they, won’t theys, have they and haven’t they’s, Van Halen are back with their first album in 14 years, with ultimately defining vocalist David Lee Roth leading the line – the first album he’s recorded with the band since rejoining VH back in 2007.

The first thing to talk about this record is the opening track and lead single, ‘Tattoo’. Quite simply one of the best VH tracks recorded in years, with a simple and funky bass groove from Wolfgang Van Halen, making his recording debut with the band, underpinning a sassy verse which leads into a fantastically catchy refrain of ‘tattoo, tattoo’ that you’ll be singing over and over again for weeks. I’m quite appreciative of that song, and upon first listens, admittedly I was finding trouble in appreciating large parts of the album. But it really opens up on further listens and the album’s quality begins to shine. ‘China Town’ is one example, where drummer Alex injects a little more energy into proceedings. The highlights come and go but there are some outstanding tracks, such as the monstrous-sounding ‘As Is’, one of Van Halen’s heaviest tracks to date, replete with another dazzling Eddie solo and some great bass fretwork from Wolfgang to keep up; ‘Stay Frosty’ is the bastard child of ‘Ice Cream Man’ from their eponymous debut and shows Roth’s lyrical waxing hasn’t diminished one bit, and closer ‘Beats Workin’ is a fine way to end the album with cracking riffs all the way through.

DLR’s voice certainly isn’t what it used to be, now seemingly unable to reach the highest registers, but he still puts in a typically passionate and glitzy performance. Anyone who doubted Wolfgang’s ability or indeed right to fill Michael Anthony’s boots will hopefully be silenced by a more than able performance, though it has to be to keep up with his father’s chops. Still, ‘A Different Kind of Truth‘ probably isn’t going to suit everyone, and no doubt long-time fans of Van Halen will find something they don’t like about the album in greater quantities than I did. The band’s biggest glory days are undoubtedly behind them, but this album has already tasted huge success, and after all the shit rumoured and discussed about them over the last few years, its great that they’ve come back with a pretty good album that still keeps Van Halen relevant in 2012. Still, a UK tour wouldn’t go amiss.

Peter Clegg

God Bless Ozzy Osbourne

One of the first things that will hit you about Ozzy Osbourne upon the beginning of this documentary is that he cuts a very different figure to how the general public and mainstream media portray him. He’s seen working out prior to a show, attending a surprise 60th birthday party in Vegas and posing for photos with fans in Nova Scotia. Firstly, its cool to see someone of his status still more than willing to sign autographs 40+ years into his career. Secondly, and tellingly – doesn’t he look well?

God Bless Ozzy Osbourne‘, which was released on DVD last year but was aired on BBC Two in the UK on Sunday 29th January, 2012, showed Ozzy and his life for what it really is – not the bumbling, mad bastard father every takes him for because of that show, but a human being as fallible as anyone else to weakness and ultimately one with the resolve to overcome that. The documentary charts Ozzy and Sabbath’s rise to fame from their humble beginnings in working class Aston, near Birmingham, England. The detail in Ozzy’s subsequent drug abuse and addiction to alcohol soon became apparent, with all Sabbath members, Ozzy included, detailing Ozzy’s derailment.

The documentary got more personal as it detailed Ozzy’s first marriage to his then-wife Theresa, with some raw, honest opinions and revelations, before later discussing Ozzy’s father’s death & its effect on him – he lost his soul to further drug and alcohol addiction and lost his job as Sabbath vocalist as a result.

Ozzy’s incredible rebound, consisting of his meeting and recruitment of Randy Rhoads and the success of ‘Blizzard of Ozz‘ and ‘Diary of a Madman‘; the recalling of the plane crash that killed Rhoads at 25 was indeed one of the hardest moments to look upon – its still shocking to this day and a damn shame Rhoads talents and potential were taken so soon. The tragedy further fuelled Ozzy’s dangerous addiction which got more and more extreme as the years passed. Indeed, one scene shows Ozzy looking back on his music videos of that period with a mixture of clueless confusion and disgust at his antics.

God Bless Ozzy Osbourne – Teaser clip

Still, Ozzy eventually found salvation, shamed by his son Jack into beating his addiction and becoming clean. It’s safe to say that, after passing 60, Ozzy appears to be a figure of sound health and mind that those who know him as the incoherent mad bastard father from The Osbournes would do well to notice, instead of poking fun at his speeches at interviews.

Henry Rollins, Paul McCartney and more gush praise and happy memories of Sabbath and there are brief moments of hilarity within – the ridiculous misspell from the RIAA in honouring ‘Ossie Osbourne’ for his first gold record with Sabbath is a highlight.Interspersed with incredible footage of Sabbath in the early days playing their self-titled song, their performance at the California Jam, Ozzy on the Diary of a Madman tour. Ozzy’s no stranger to documenting his life on screen, but this is far more an honest, open and emotional portrayal of the man than most are probably used to, and while it doesn’t differ greatly from any traditional out-of-control rock star story, its still an incredible doc worth watching for all the highs and lows.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘God Bless Ozzy Osbourne‘ here 

Trouble – Manic Frustration

 
Previously, this series has focused squarely on individual songs that I feel are either under-rated or simply worthy of a little more love and attention. This series is not restricted to individuality, however, and today’s feature marks the first in the series to look at an entire album that for me is a classic that simply emerged at the wrong time to hit its maximum potential.
 
While Trouble will rightfully be remembered for their landmark doom metal albums ‘The Skull’ and ‘Psalm 9’, but their years on Rick Rubin’s Def American label undoubtedly brought about some of their most interesting work. Having further explored their psychedelic interests on 1990’s self-titled effort; those interests were fully honed and merged with another much less doomy, more energetic album titled ‘Manic Frustration’. Trouble were known from early in the career to openly reference the Bible and religion in general, but they binned this approach with the self-titled album, and portions of ‘Manic Frustration’ continued with this new lyrical stance, although I will touch upon my own thoughts when I begin to wrap this up.
 
The opening track, the riff friendly ‘Come Touch The Sky’, certainly suggests a spiritual awakening, although it could easily be a hazy trip (‘Tell them you came to look in my eyes/saw the morning appear in the skies’). Never the less, it’s not all drifting to the sky and magic trips – second track ‘Scuse Me’ is a real heavy metal anthem, standing for individualism and personal pride. Beyond that, there’s more mixing of Sabbathian riffs and bouncier Priest licks, including stand out tracks such as ‘The Sleeper’ and ‘Tragedy Man’. There’s not a great deal of variation between these, but Trouble were well on top of their game here, sometimes effortlessly spitting out quality riffs and songs that would befit any rock radio station’s playlist, such is their (somewhat unseen) commercial appeal.
 
Where the album straddles the divide between great and spectacular is reflected in the album’s two slower, more psychedelic, more melodic and indeed, Beatle-esque tracks. The first, ‘Rain’, appears fifth in the eleven track sequence. It does feel a little odd, as it doesn’t sit anywhere comfortably in Trouble’s then-current sound and their original trad-doom sound. But it’s a welcome change of pace from the old-school metal influences that pervade Trouble’s sound.
 
The latter, the closing track ‘Breathe…’, is as incredible an album closer as any I’ve heard. In contrast to ‘Rain’, it’s as close to Trouble’s classic doom metal sound as they get on this record, with Wagner delivering spoken word vocals on the themes of death and burial during a dark first half of the song, before turning on a sixpence halfway through and finishing on an uplifting note with another Beatles-style melody, the refrain of ‘down below the ocean/where I wanna be/she may be’ resounding towards the end of the song as Wagner flexes his pipes more and more towards the culmination. Simply incredible.
 
 Trouble – Tragedy Man
Alas, for all the critical acclaim it received, ‘Manic Frustration’ sold poorly, as grunge dominated the landscape with the dreaded lurgy of nu-metal about to stumble into the landscape, Trouble’s relationship with Def American came to end and while they soldiered on with 1995’s ‘Plastic Green Head’, they never did reach the metal spotlight that they had aimed for during their time with Def American, and went on hiatus in 1996. Thus, ‘Manic Frustration’ was consigned to ‘cult classic’ status. Trouble came out of their slumber in 2002 and still plays for a loyal fanbase today although they now only contain core members, guitarists Bruce Franklin and Rick Wartell, and include former Warrior Soul vocalist Kory Clarke in their line-up instead of Wagner, who left the band in 2008.
 
Regarding the lyrics, ‘Manic Frustration’ does seem to fall into the pattern set out by its title, with tracks like ‘Mr. White’, ‘Tragedy Man’ and ‘Fear’ all dealing with themes of mental agony, while the rest of the album discusses mystery, confusion and more regular themes such as love and death. All with the exception of ‘Scuse Me’, of course, as that’s a statement of individual defiance. Songs such as ‘Come Touch the Sky’ and ‘Fear’ do still point towards some sort of spiritual influence, even if Trouble weren’t openly referencing the Bible any more. Lyrically, there’s nothing that stands out head and shoulders above everything else to be closely scrutinized – they are fairly standard by heavy metal fare. But Trouble more than managed to prop them up through a cohesive metal delivery, and without question, this ought to have been a triumph.
 

 
I had a lot of difficulty getting hold of this album and was determined not to resort to a cheeky download. Incredibly, the first copy of this album I managed to obtain was on cassette, which I found in a charity shop in Leeds early last year! But I didn’t want to play the tape, even though its potential collector’s value was lost due to the inlay being perforated. Unfortunately, the CD version too appears to be out of print, and finding a CD is very hard to find; hence, if you’re to find this, you’re probably best trawling eBay, or taking an MP3 download, legal or not. I eventually saddled with Amazon.

 

That said, don’t be put off exploring this album, particularly if you like your metal old-school. It’s a fantastic record and well worth the effort to track down. If only more metal fans in 1992 shared my enthusiasm.

 
Peter Clegg
 

Loincloth – Iron Balls of Steel

Loincloth
Iron Balls of Steel
Southern Lord
2012 is still young and already we’ve received in our inbox the first new album of the year, from latest Southern Lord signees Loincloth. With a title such as ‘Iron Balls of Steel’, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume what lies within is the chest-beating, fist-pounding true heavy metal made famous by the likes of Manowar and …erm… Manowar! However, that’s not strictly true; despite featuring two members of legendary death/doom metal act Confessor (in guitarist Cary Rowells and drummer Steve Shelton), Loincloth’s approach mixes beefy heavy metal riffs into a progressive/technical stew. And sadly, stew is quite appropriate – cos personally, I found it’s a little difficult to pick out anything that stands out about ‘Iron Balls of Steel’.
Don’t get me wrong, riff wise, there’s plenty of them, every song supplying a beefy chug, brimming with time changes, tempo changes, stop start rhythms, etc. It just feels completely lacking in direction. The lack of vocals is one thing – it shouldn’t necessarily matter in this day and age whether a metal band has a vocalist or not. But a lot of this album’s songs don’t even clock in above two minutes, leading to a primarily ‘interlude’ feeling to some of the tracks; where they do spread their legs a little, there’s nothing particularly interesting going on, everything melding into a mush. At times, they could actually do with a singer. More appropriate, they could do with a few more ideas. Other instrumental bands, for example, Serious Beak (whom we recently reviewed) thrive on keeping the listener on their toes, even injecting a bit of atmosphere. You don’t bemoan their lack of a singer as their train is constantly rolling. Loincloth’s instru-metal is cold and only occasionally splutters into life, doing little else besides; a critical downfall.
Progressive metal has been given plenty of technical sheen over the last few years and while I don’t doubt Loincloth’s passion for their music, really I don’t see how it compares to the more natural, often younger bands of today who pull this off with more flair and supreme skill, whether you like them or not. For a band containing former members of Confessor, I’m sure they won’t care for a review like this, and I don’t particularly enjoy savaging albums; but the fact is, there’s not really much good I can say about this album. And yes, admittedly I bought the press garb, and wound up disappointed.
Peter Clegg

Iron Balls of Steel’ is released on Monday 16th January, 2012. Pre-order it here

Winter songs

The weather outside in the UK right now isn’t too frightful but winter certainly took its icy grip over our shores earlier in the month. Thankfully, we’ve not had the repeat of the storm of late 2010 and early 2011 but no doubt the capability is there. Luckily for you, we’ve compiled five songs we feel befitting of the big freeze, however bleak or even positive they may feel. Enjoy.

1. Probot w/ Lee Dorrian – Ice Cold Man

[from Probot, Southern Lord, 2003]

OK, an obvious one to begin with, and without doubt the finest song from Dave Grohl’s childhood dream/metal superstar album. Arriving in the middle of the record, a cold, heartless, doomy riff echoes, before the pounding of the drums introduces Cathedral/ex-Napalm Death frontman Lee Dorrian to bestow a tale of a planet dying at the grip of an eternal winter. The chorus is storming; Eternal winter takes its reign/devoid of life, filled with pain/ice cold man watches earth die’. And as Dorrian delivers that line, you can truly grasp the hopelessness that fills you when caught in an Arctic-style storm.
2. Batillus – …And The World is as Night to Them
[from Furnace, Seventh Rule, 2011]
I recently had to get up ridiculously early for a Saturday shift. It was dark, frost and ice were covering the roads and pavements near my home. A van had slid off the main road at the bottom and almost into a building during the night. ‘…And The World is as Night to Them’, the opening song from blackened doomers Batillus’ ‘Furnace’, was the track playing on my musical device of choice that very moment. I was stood around waiting for the bus and this incredible song, so bleak, so harsh, captured the mood perfectly. Equal parts atmospheric and soul-crushingly heavy, take a walk outside with this track when the sky is black and the surfaces are glistening, and I defy you not to feel in thrall to winter’s cold, icy grip.
3. Immortal – In My Kingdom Cold
[from Sons of Northern Darkness, Nuclear Blast, 2002]
I know I’m trying to avoid clichés, but you can’t have such a list without including Immortal, who are in thrall to all things icy and cold. I could have picked this pretty much any song, e.g. ‘Antarctica’, ‘Arctic Swarm’, ‘Blashrykh (Mighty Ravendark)’ and more besides. But I plumped for ‘In My Kingdom Cold’ because every riff in this song truly sounds like it was pulled directly from the tundra, and Abbath’s trademark scowl truly shows he and Immortal reign supreme over this icy world.

4. My Dying Bride – A Doomed Lover

[from Songs of Darkness, Words of Light, Peaceville, 2004]
That old saying ‘it’s grim ‘oop north’ is seldom more true of the UK in winter, and if any one song could actually capture the bleakness and hopelessness you feel when caught in the middle of nowhere, trapped in a snowstorm and seemingly enveloped by the elements, this would be it. As the title indicates, it’s a song about a hopeless romance and descending into sorrow, but musically the feeling is jarring. I’ve experienced that song whilst walking in the night through snow, and just as the conclusion to the song builds up, its started snowing heavily again. This actually happened just last winter, when the country was ground to a halt by the abhorrent weather. The image in front me combined with ‘A Doomed Lover’ summed up the situation; staggeringly beautiful; but bleak, hopeless and with an unerring air of inevitability.

5. Big Business – Theme from Big Business II

[from Mind The Drift, Hydra Head, 2009]
I won’t lie – this is one of those songs which makes me feel like I’m standing on top of a mountain and shouting the words out so loud that everyone can hear! In all seriousness, this would be the song I would conquer Everest to, if I had the cojones. Just imagine that, as you hear the opening riff, accompanied by the horns, you’re staring upwards at that mountain. Or at some vast expanse. It epically builds up into ‘Mind The Drift’s fantastic climax, and the chimes that ring out the end of the record provide a potent soundtrack to winter’s harsh but undeniable beauty

Let us hear your suggestions for perfect accompanying rock or metal songs that fits the frosty mood this weather brings. I for one find those five just right.
Peter Clegg