July 27, 2013
Frank Erwin Center
Austin, TX USA
Review by Justin Press
Photos by Justin Press
Black Sabbath - "Black Sabbath Reunion" Tour
"Oh Lord Yeah!"
Black Sabbath returns from the grave with new album, new tour, new line up!
They are the standard bearer for all things heavy metal: the macabre subject matter, the dark and forbidden and ultimately, they represented a conduit to the Devil. Or so we're told. Whatever the case may be, Black Sabbath, now eye-balling their 44th year, show no signs of slowing down, be it cancer, madness or age, as they put on a blindingly brilliant set Saturday night at the Frank Ewrin Center in Austin, Texas to a capacity audience of close to 15,000.
The second date of the highly anticipated 13 Tour would usually find a band still looking for their feet, locating the pocket and/or getting the rust off. There was none of that as Sabbath plowed thru an 18-song set that was full of their heavy blues classics, some obscure nuggets and a fistful of new tracks from the #1 album, 13. Messrs.' Butler and Iommi are still as loud and tactile as a Panzer tank, replacement drummer Tommy Clufetos is the spitting image and capability of Bill Ward circa 1970 and Ozzy was, well, Ozzy, you know what to expect coming in with him, some missed cues, a bit flat but it's his presence that makes the band tick. He may be the wild card but it's his tenor that still gives Black Sabbath it's "punter" vibe.
Opening with the bombastic killer "War Pigs" and it's air-raid siren intro and those colossal opening notes, the curtain parted to find the band flanked by a set of large video screens framed by what appears to be the foundations of Stonehenge. A clean array of amp stacks and a nice open space for Iommi to prowl kept the show engaging but allowed for the focus to remain on the music. And what music it was, riff after riff, thick laden grooves and enough swing to make the arena sway. If Black Sabbath are indeed the vortex into a darker place, then it's a hell of a fun spiral.
To hear 15,000 old-time metal heads, sons and daughters, young Turks and even us middle-age heshers singing in unison "Oh Lord Yeah!" was church, a big, black beautiful church where voices raised the roof and ascended to the heavens. 'Into the Void" and "Under The Sun" took us ardent fans to deep into our record collections, as did "Snowblind", with Iommi's pulverizing guitar work and Butler's thunderous underbelly giving the tracks sharp teeth and a chance for Clufetos to work his grooves mirroring the slow, crawling fills perfected by Ward. And Ozzy, having a chance to escape the more mainstream sound of his solo work was able to dig into his bellows and deliver the goods in much the same manner he did when he was a 23-year lad from the Black Country.
One of the better tracks (on a vastly stellar album 13) off the new record "Age Of Reason" found it's way early into the set and quite honestly has the same groove and cadence as the material from Volume 4 or Sabotage. The lumbering behemoth of the band's signature song " Black Sabbath" rang the death tolls straight into the 1-2 of "Behind The Wall Of Sleep" and "NIB", two sure-fire homages to the existing magic of their debut album. The power not has only been retained but refined, especially the rhythms with Butler and Clufetos locked in. It's easy for the hardcore to dismiss the fact that if Ward is not behind the kit, then it can't be for real. Rest assured, it's very real and very pivotal for if not for Clufetos this whole thing would collapse unto itself. He's young, in shape, schooled and disciplined but also loose enough to understand the jazzier nuances required of the songs. Sabbath might be categorized as metal, but in actuality its blues and jazz with a very Devilish bent. The opening track for the new record "The End Is The Beginning" worked well as a mid-set bludgeoning, coming right to the doorstep of the aforementioned "Fairies Wear Boots", a prime mover if their ever was one. The instrumental prowess shown on 'Rat Salad" may have been a highlight with it's jazzy flashes and well-orchestrated fills leading into a onslaught of a drum solo, yes, a drum solo, de rigueur for the hard rock sect and why not, when you have the chops, then lay them down.
An interesting array of lighting including panning effects and bright whites lit up the hall while stock footage including some seedy naughtiness during "Dirty Women", along with close-up band shots kept the visuals active but again, none distracting. And honestly when you have a marching to warfare set closer like "Children Of The Grave", a simple set-up will do, because not an effect or an illusion in the world is going to top the rumbling bass lines and riffs that just rain down like hell upon you. The breakdown during "COTG" gives you a clear look into the inspiration that Metallica took for "Creeping Death". And again, the sight of thousands of hands aloft, heads banging and fists pumping is a close as some may find to a cleansing, well-spirited exorcism.
The encore of the inevitable "Paranoid" along with the teaser intro for "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" may for some be played out and we're all guilty of thinking that, but when "that " simple riff kicks in, it always feels like the first time again. A gracious bow and a "we'll see you again Austin" salutation were really all there was left to communicate. The band left it all on the stage, the crowd left it all on the floor and all felt right in the world.
You think about the age and history of Black Sabbath, the endless cautionary tale that seemed to mark their legacy but after seeing and hearing them Saturday night you realized that Gods do still walk the Earth, some may be shamans, others might be care givers and some, some can just move mountains with their guitars and drums. Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler are just not human; they are beyond the pale. Tommy Clufetos is worthy of the throne he's taken over and Ozzy, God bless him, is still the cornerstone for the band. His mournful delivery and onstage persona have helped a good many of us from childhood to adulthood, and fingers crossed will continue to do so until we too have to sell our souls for rock and roll.