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Bank One Ballpark, Phoenix, AZ; 12/31/98

Reviewed by William D. Derham

Re-emerging from an acrimonious split back in '78, heavy metal magnates BLACK SABBATH buried the hatchet and re-formed the original line-up; Ozzy Osbourne, vocals; Tony Iommi, guitar; Geezer Butler, bass; and Bill Ward, drums for a comeback that looks to be a momentous occasion for metalheads of all ages. Kicking off their North American tour with a thunderous set of classic Sabbath smash hits, galvanizing the gothic-apocalyptic meets sci-fi/horror movie sound they pioneered back in the late 60s, Ozzy and company shook the environs of the spanking new Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, Arizona, laying down the kind of indomitable sonic crush very few current rock acts can muster.

For this explosive inaugural performance special guests included neo-metallic bands SOULFLY, SLAYER, MEGADETH and PANTERA whose presentation paled by comparison to the elder metal-meisters' display of raw power and uncanny chemistry. Sure Ozzy utilizes a teleprompter to spoonfeed lyrics and moves not-so-swiftly across the stage. And yes, added "accents" to fill out the drum sound were employed and there is a back-up drummer waiting in the wings in case Bill Ward's ticker tocks out [Ward recently suffered a mild heart attack] but for sheer metal mayhem Sabbath is the undisputed dominator; both Butler's and Iommi's raging riffs were firmly intact.

Even though the aforementioned guitarist and bassist toured in '97 with Ozzy on a leg of the Ozzfest [FAITH NO MORE's Mike Borden handling the drum chores] something was amiss then. As Butler recalls, "Even though it was good and musically it went down well we didn't realize how important Bill really had been to the overall feel of Sabbath. No other drummer has got that, and it's never really complete without him, or any of us."

Having all grown up in the industrial murk of Birmingham, England and touring incessantly seems to have formed an indelible bond between the band who all hover around the half century mark. And so it was Birmingham that the Sabs chose to mount their triumphant return to performing together with two magnanimous shows in their home town on December 5th & 6th '97 that also spawned the appropriately titled REUNION double CD (click here for a review). This record faithfully captures the powerful drama of their early work and includes two newly Ozzy/Iommi penned tunes, "Psycho Man" & "Selling My Soul." These two new tunes were mercifully omitted on tonight's set list.
Opening the show was a video compilation of Sabbath in their hey-day played to the intro strains of an air-raid siren from "War Pigs."The eerie Gothic stage, blanketed in fog, sprang to life as Ozzy, Butler, and Iommi rose from beneath the stage in strategically placed individual elevators. That's when Sabbath's ultraheavy bombast incited the crowd to do precisely what Ozzy was requesting them to do: "Go fucking crazy."

It was evident that Black Sabbath was back in their element and remarkably tight for a band dormant for so long. Continuing on with tremendous chemistry they hammered out tried-and-true classics like, "Behind The Wall Of Sleep," "N.I.B.," "Fairies Wear Boots" (with some incendiary guitar work), "Killing Yourself To Live," "Electric Funeral," "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," "Orchid/Lord Of This World," "Black Sabbath" (complete with chilling bell peel), "Sweet Leaf," "Children Of The Grave" and wrapping up with "Paranoid."

Capping off a night of solid, memorable hard rock, the roof of the ballpark opened to expose the New Year's full moon. A dazzling fireworks display signaled an end to the night's festivities, but the orb in the sky wasn't the only moon in sight as Ozzy dropped trou' and gave the exhausted crowd a glimpse of his bare arse.

Religious picketers still show up at Sabbath concerts, but Butler insists that the band was never the Satan worshipers people labeled them as being. "The whole Satanic thing was misinterpreted," he says. "To us it was a bit of a joke right from the beginning. If they really listened to the lyrics, they'd have found we were against all that stuff. We were trying to say the real Satan was here on Earth in the shape of most politicians sending young men off to war etc."

Black Sabbath will continue to tour in support of the new record and pummel their audiences with their brand of preposterously intense musical know-how. Following in the footsteps of the ROLLING STONES and KISS, Sabbath will also wage a huge marketing campaign with the usual jackets and t-shirts as well as collectable dolls in their catalogue of merchandise.

$abbath $avvy $abbath-ka ching!

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Copyright 1999 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:16 -0400.