Sunday, 22 January 2017

Black Sabbath - Metal Pioneers Take A Triumphant Final Bow - Manchester Arena, Manchester, 22.01.17.

“How the fuck are you?” hollers Ozzy Osbourne, clad in glittery black and smudged kohl from behind his microphone, over the distorted fretwork of Fairies Wear Boots. The Prince of Darkness has seen better days – nearing seventy, the lines on his face are more pronounced, his posture more shrunken and frail – but with several thousand cheering acolytes in front of him, he strikes an oddly defiant pose. To his left, guitarist Tony Iommi, resplendent in velvet, is methodically statesmanlike as he concisely conjures stormy licks; to his right, the shaggy Geezer Butler franticly strums his bass with all four fingers like a man possessed. It is high pantomime, crushingly heavy and joyously booming.
Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath performing live at
Download Festival 2016. (Credit to Birmingham Mail.)
Few bands can match the longevity of Black Sabbath in terms of critical and commercial success. Though a revolving-door cast of members have played in the group throughout their forty-nine year career, including the late, legendary Ronnie James Dio, the classic lineup of Osbourne, Iommi and Butler are forever the definitive core trio of the band. Together, they are icons, architects of doom, sludge and stoner metal, with an early back catalogue of stone-cold classics that remain the genesis of heavy metal to this day.

It’s from their first four records that all but one track is culled from in this celebratory farewell lap of a tour, aptly named The End. Over a hundred minutes, Osbourne and company forgo a mawkish send-off in favour of dispatching gloriously camp and dark renditions of their signature songs. From the foreboding, inverted tritone riff of Black Sabbath, thrilling in its chilling execution, to the crunching blues of N.I.B., aided by Butler’s psychedelic bass-work, Sabbath serve up slices of definitive metal with a workmanlike efficiency, backed up impressively by touring drummer Tommy Clufetos.

Arguably the biggest surprise is Osbourne himself, notoriously unreliable as a vocalist on stage. Despite his advanced years and reputation, he is near-perfect across the first half of the show, with Under the Sun and Into the Void impressive highlights. Though it wavers later in the night, there is more good than bad with the Madman’s performance. The same can be said for Iommi, who deploys exquisite solos on Hand of Doom and a low-slung Dirty Women, but plays the seminal Iron Man in a key different from the rest of the band. Clufetos too suffers from a touch of overindulgence; during Rat Salad, his ten-minute drum solo could easily have given way to another song or two.
Ozzy Osbourne and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath performing
live at Download Festival 2016. (Credit to Birmingham Mail.)
But these are small gripes with an otherwise well-polished, warmly received show. And when the hits come – an electrifying War Pigs, a bruising Children of the Grave – they outweigh the cost of mistakes. “One more song!” chants Osbourne, clinging to the side of an amp as the lights go down again, and duly, his wish is granted with a blistering Paranoid, still as scorching as it was nearly five decades ago. Black Sabbath may have reached The End; but undoubtedly, their legacy will live on long after their final bow.

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