Legendary British heavy metal band Black Sabbath have been with us since 1968. Formed in Birmingham by guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, vocalist Ozzy Osbourne and drummer Bill Ward, the blues rock band was originally known as Earth. At the end of that year Iommi left briefly to join Jethro Tull, before returning to Earth early in 1969.
The band changed their name to Black Sabbath, apparently inspired by the Mario Bava film of the same name, and took a new musical direction. A recording contract followed and their eponymous debut album was one of the first albums to be released by the famous Vertigo record label.
Iommi has been an ever-present member since then, and indeed the original foursome lasted until 1977 when Osborne quit, only to return the following year for the “Never Say Die!” album. However in 1979 he was shown the door.
Numerous musicians have graced the ranks of the band since then, with perhaps the most notable being vocalist Ronnie James Dio (1979-1982, 1991-1992 and 2006-2010 – when the band traded under the moniker Heaven & Hell playing only Dio-era material (although they used the Black Sabbath name for the three new songs recorded for the 2007 “The Dio Years” compilation album). The other recording vocalists have been Ian Gillan (1982-1984), Glenn Hughes (1985-1986) and Tony Martin (1987-1991 and 1993-1997).
Osbourne himself served as vocalist from 1969-1977, 1978-1979, 1997-2006 and from 2011 to date, Butler has provided bass guitar from 1969-1985, 1990-1994 and 1997 to date, whilst Ward’s tenures were from 1969-1980, 1982-1985, 1994-1997, 1998, 2006 and 2011-2012.
The original foursome reunited in late 2011 after Heaven & Hell had ended as a result of Dio’s death from cancer in 2010. Unfortunately, for reasons that the four don’t seem to be able to agree on even the cause of, Ward pulled out of the reunion in early 2012 and was replaced on tour by drummer Tommy Clufetos who’d worked with Osbourne on his 2010 solo album “Scream”. Keyboardist / rhythm guitarist Adam Wakeman, who also appeared on “Scream” also appeared on tour.
When Iommi, Butler and Osbourne entered the studio in the summer of 2012, however, they enlisted the services of former Rage Against The Machine drummer Brad Wilk as a session player.
The resulting record, titled “13” surfaced in 2013, and was the band’s nineteenth studio record and the first full album of new Black Sabbath material since 1995’s “Forbidden”.
A big hit, “13” was planned to be followed up by a new album in 2015. However, it has since transpired that the three founding members could not agree on doing so with Iommi laying the blame on Butler, stating that he had “…so many riffs. I wrote a whole load of stuff for another album and we met up in L.A. but the others… well, Geezer didn’t particularly want to do another album…”, whilst Osbourne for his part said “…I’m 67 in December, it would take three or four years to write and record an album,and so we decided just to do a farewell tour…” Given that “13” was recorded in the space of six months this latter claim seems a little suspect. Nonetheless, the band are now working their way through their final “The End” world tour.
For those of us who wanted to hear more after the excellent “13” album there is good news. Whilst the deluxe version of “13” boasted twelve tracks (as opposed to the regular edition’s eight), it turns out that the band actually recorded sixteen. And so it is that the remaining four tracks have been released as an EP, also called “The End”, with the addition of four live tracks.
So, how does it hold up and is it a fitting end to the band’s long career? Well opener “Season Of The Dead” is seven-plus minutes of excellence. Iommi’s riffing is peerless, Osbourne’s multi-tracked vocals are spot on and Butler and Wilk provide a solid and thunderous rhythm section. There are some tasty martial rhythms in the guitar and drum parts too. Why this didn’t make it onto “13” is a complete mystery!
“Cry All Night” is just under seven minutes of doom metal at its finest and “Take Me Home” features a nice acoustic guitar solo from Iommi on top of another of his trademark riffs.
Meanwhile “Isolated Man” is blessed with an incredibly catchy riff that dominates the final minute of the track, following another great Iommi solo. I could have happily listened to that riff for another minute or two at the end to be honest!
Of the four live tracks, the near-ten-minute “God Is Dead?” is sonically poor – bootleg quality really – and sadly highlights the deficiencies in Osbourne’s live vocal abilities these days.
“Under The Sun” sounds better, as do the final two tracks, though Osbourne still struggles. Only one of these four songs, “God Is Dead?”, made it onto the band’s 2013 live album “Live… Gathered In Their Masses” so it’s nice to have versions of two more “13” tracks performed live, but realistically it’s only going to be the four studio songs that receive repeat plays here in the shadows.
So, half of it holds up to “13” – even betters some of it – and that same half is a fitting end to the Black Sabbath story. It’s just a shame about the second half. Shame the three of them couldn’t have agreed to record a proper final studio release, as I expect that would have been a far better epitaph to this great band…
“The End” tracklist:
1. Season Of The Dead / 2. Cry All Night / 3. Take Me Home / 4. Isolated Man / 5. God Is Dead? / 6. Under The Sun / 7. End Of The Beginning / 8. Age Of Reason
1 – 4 recorded during “13” sessions (2012/13) / 5, 7 & 8 originally from “13” (2013) / 6 originally from “Vol. 4” (1972)