I was first introduced to Black Sabbath back in my early years of high school when I learned a guy I was smitten with loved the band. Prior to that, I’d kind of avoided their scary dark image and clung tightly to my beloved Rolling Stones. But things always change when a cute boy comes along. And so I bought my first Sabbath album, 1971’s Master Of Reality, with the phlegm-soaked cough of “Sweet Leaf” opening up a whole new world of music.
And so I was not the only one who let out a saddened moan when it was announced that Sabbath would be touring together for a final time. If you wanted to see them live, the time was now. Although when they announced a new album and reunion tour with all four original members – Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward – back in 2011, it was an exciting moment for longtime fans who had been craving this to happen since Ozzy was given the heave-ho in 1979, that glee quickly turned to gloom when it was announced that Iommi was battling lymphoma and Ward was having contract issues with the other members.
Things eventually worked out: 13 was released in 2013, they toured without Ward and were planning on doing another record. However, the latter was scrapped and a final tour was scheduled, with the very last dates slated for their hometown of Birmingham, England, which would be filmed for future release.
What Black Sabbath – The End, released a few weeks ago, gives us is a harkening back to what it must have been like when Sabbath was an infant band, lurking through the clubs playing music that scared the bejeezus out of the unsuspecting. “I don’t remember where we first played ‘Black Sabbath’ but I can sure as hell remember the audience’s reaction,” wrote Ozzy in his 2009 autobiography. “All the girls ran out of the venue screaming.”
Almost fifty years later, the only screaming was done by fans worshiping at the band’s final altar. Mesmerizing with a dark psychedelic hypnotism via that same “Black Sabbath” number that led some people to believe they were the black wings of the devil himself, the first song of the concert film gave off the vibes that this wasn’t going to be a happy daisy chain of songs illuminated with hugs and kisses and merry goodbyes. Black Sabbath would go out as Black Sabbath. In other words, those Iommi/Butler dark rumbling chords that propelled such songs as “Into The Void,” “Iron Man,” “Snowblind” and “Dirty Women” into our subconscious would rule the night; Ozzy appearing almost subdued, allowing his Prince Of Darkness shtick to come across almost straight-faced – I emphasize almost, cause Ozzy is Ozzy of course.
It is not often that a band’s true energy is caught on film and have it transport into your living room but the guys on the technical side of Black Sabbath – The End have done a stomping good job of it. The sound is crisp at the same time it’s dark and feverish; the video is sometimes eerily still, other times schizophrenic, jumping to a three-split screen. It gives the film a living, breathing feel, almost as if Owsley Stanley, the notorious psychedelic-era sound engineer, had ghosted himself into the equipment.
Other Sabbath hits are given their last hoorah: “War Pigs,” “Children Of The Grave,” “Faeries Wear Boots” and the end-of-the-night “Paranoid.” “Sweetleaf” shows up in the Angelic Sessions bonus section, featuring Ozzy, Iommi and Butler in the studio going through five songs, one of which Ozzy complains about being “too fucking tired” to sing but told to go back in there and do it again.
To sum it all up, Black Sabbath – The End will undoubtedly top the end-of-the-year best DVD lists, for rightful reasons: sound quality, visual stimulation and the concert itself. We may be saying goodbye to the godfathers of heavy metal but this is the best possible way to relive their last breath for years to come.