Ozzy Osbourne

Music Review – Live Evil by Black Sabbath

Rarely does an album live up to its title this well. I’ve got to give the guys credit: they delivered exactly what they promised. I’m sure music aficionados realize this disc shares a title with a live album recorded by Miles Davis. The similarities end there. This tour-de-force recorded during the Ronnie James Dio fronted incarnation of the band features some Black Sabbbath staples as well as prime cuts from Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules.

I know “purists” will argue that it’s not really Sabbath without Ozzy as the front man. I disagree. Dio (may he rest in peace) had a stronger voice and broader range as a vocalist. Much to his credit he understood he wasn’t Ozzy and decided not to try to be Ozzy. He took Sabbath gems like “Children of the Grave” and “N. I. B.” and made them uniquely his own. His ad libs on “War Pigs” and “Iron Man” gave the songs a more ominous aura lacking in the originals. I still can’t listen to this album in the dark. It makes me keep thinking that Iron Man is coming to get me.

As a bit of a purist myself, I do wish Bill Ward had been on the drums for the recording. While Vinny Appice possessed tremendous skill as a drummer, I think Ward’s style fitted Sabbath much better. His style complimented Geezer Butler’s bass playing better, as well.

Even with half the original members, the Live Evil line up delivered a solid performance. “Paranoid” is one of the greatest metal songs ever recorded: no matter who’s playing it. As remarkable a statement as this is, “Vodoo” and “Mob Rules” sound even heavier than the studio versions. These are phenomenal accomplishments even for the members of Black Sabbath.

I’d describe this album as the Live at the Regal for metal guitarists. Tony Iommi got the most wicked guitar tone I’ve ever heard. It sounded real raw, metallic and heavy. His trills gave me the mental image of his steel strings pounding against an anvil. I enjoyed listening to him stretch out on “Heaven and Hell.” He even tacked on an extended solo piece at the end of it. I also liked the way he anticipated the riff to Metallica’s “One” during his introduction to “Black Sabbath”. Keep in mind Iommi’s axe of choice has always been a Gibson SG Guitar. Let that be a lesson to all you guitarists out there buying axes made so-called “exclusively” for “metal”.

I always thought Weather Report’s Heavy Weather had the most creative album cover. That was until I saw Live Evil’s. It features figures that illustrate every song on the CD against a dark background. It’s amazing they managed to get all tracks represented so vividly.

Aside from the great musicianship, the lyrics are much better than I expected from a heavy metal band. The great alliteration “phantom figures free forever” in “Neon Knights” really set the song apart from others in the genre. Well, that and the line “bloody angels fast descending.” If Shakespeare were alive today and playing in a heavy metal band he’d be struggling to come up with words that good.

Even without Ozzy and Bill Ward, Live Evil represents the Black Sabbath brand very well. Like Miles Davis, Tony Iommy and Geezer Butler both had ears for talent. They managed to bring new capable musicians into the band and keep it relevant. It does make me wonder what might have been had Dio and Appice not left the group following its recording. In that sense this album is both “Heaven and Hell” for fans like me.

Music Review – Ozzy Osbourne: Live and Loud

Who would’ve thought someone with an appetite for rabid animals could turn out to be one of the greatest front men in Rock and Roll history? Nowhere is the extraordinary interplay between performer and audience more deftly displayed than on Ozzy’s 1993 release Live and Loud. Ozzy Osbourne built a rapport with his fans that I haven’t heard since the late James Brown’s 1962 performance on Live at the Apollo.

When I first heard Black Sabbath’s latest release, 13, it made me feel old. In my old age I can’t handle the modern Heavy Metal scene. So I had to go back and listen to some “classic”, mellower Ozzy. That inspired me to pull Live and Loud out of my CD collection and give it a listen. Just like every time I give Led Zeppelin discs a hearing, the monumental talent of the performer struck me just as it did the first time I heard his music.

Ozzy recorded Live and Loud during his 1991 – 1992 “retirement” tour. Fans now shed “No More Tears” as Ozzy thankfully re-considered. (If Ozzy is reading this: please stick to the music and give up television.) The audience can also be grateful for this monumental career retrospective from one of Rock’s most colorful characters.

This album had it all. The band played the classic Black Sabbath tracks us old timers can unwind to such as “Paranoid”, “War Pigs”, and even “Changes”. As an added bonus, the original members of the band re-united, thankfully not for the last time, to perform “Black Sabbath”.

Ozzy also included tracks from his solo career. The band cranked out killer versions of tunes from the Randy Rhoades era, as well. They included such gems as “Mr. Crowley”, “I Don’t Know” and “Flying High Again”. They also played many tracks from the No More Tears album as well as others.

I thought Ozzy’s back-up band outstanding. I liked the heavy bottom end tone Bassist Michael Inez used throughout the entire recording. To my ears it sounds like a lot of modern bass players put guitar strings on their instruments and crank the treble on their amps. It pleased me not hear that on this album. It always brings a smile to my face when the bass sounds like a bass.

I found Randy Castillo’s drumming competent. I did think him guilty of “overplaying” at several points throughout the album. I heard some bass rolls that seemed excessive. I thought he did some unnecessary snare rolls. Before readers comment and point out to me that’s what Heavy Metal drummers do, I still think some of Castillo’s playing excessive. I do concede, however, that he’s not as over-the-top as Mike Portnoy during his Dream Theater days.

The true highlight of Live and Loud was undoubtedly Zakk Wylde’s guitar playing. The tone he got out of his “Bull’s Eye” Les Paul Custom sounded both rough and clear at the same time. He got that legendary Gibson crunch tone on tracks like “Suicide Solution” while sounding great clean on “Goodbye to Romance”. While no Randy Rhoades or Tony Iommi, Wylde added his own unique voice to their guitar parts and made them his own.

The only criticism I have of this album is Ozzy’s repeated use of a certain four letter f-word.  (Hint: It wasn’t farm.) When I first purchased this album in the mid-1990s I lived with my parents. I positioned my sound system next to my bedroom window that overlooked my neighbors’ porch. While I thoroughly enjoyed the music on Live and Loud I couldn’t play it without head phones due to Ozzy’s repeated profanity. This was the one drawback to the album. Due to the sound quality, especially on the tone of Wylde’s guitar, this was an album I wanted to blast at full volume through my speakers. Unfortunately, it was only able to live up to half its title when I bought it.

Ozzy Osbourne’s tremendous passion for his music came through on every song. His sincere love of his fans was evident every time he addressed the audience. I’ve heard many live albums and been to my share of concerts. I’ve never heard a performer as effusive in his appreciation of his fans. After listening to the 1995 re-mastered version of Live and Loud, it’s we who should be thanking Ozzy.