What Have You Done For Us Lately, Black Sabbath?
In What Have You Done For Us Lately? we examine the recent output by legendary artists. Yeah, we’re happy when they return with a new album… but really, just how happy are we? We’ll gauge their recent output since (in this case, the highlights of Black Sabbath‘s career since reuniting with Ozzy Osbourne in 1997), take a hard look and see how their recent material has held up… and maybe help you to find a few gems that you overlooked. Upon the release of Sabbath’s first album with Ozzy in three decades, “13,” let’s have a look at how the members’ recent outputs have held up to the group’s considerable legacy.
What has Black Sabbath done for you lately? They don’t have to do anything: anytime you hear a loud, scary metal band playing at skull crushing volume, that’s Sabbath’s influence. A list of bands they’ve influenced would be longer than this article. They’re more than simply one of the most influential heavy metal bands of all time — they’re ground zero for heavy metal. All that said, over the years, guitarist/leader Tony Iommi’s determination to keep the band alive nearly drove their reputation into the grave. After Ozzy was thrown out of the band in 1979 (going on, of course, to eclipse his band’s popularity — though not influence — with his solo career), they had a great “act two” with singer Ronnie James Dio. And after he quit, they had a pretty good, albeit short, “act three” with former/future Deep Purple screamer Ian Gillian at the helm. From there, it went a bit “pear shaped,” at the Brits are wont to say, with a number of singers, drummers and bassists cycling through the group.
After a few stillborn attempts at reuniting with Ozzy, the band got back together for the Ozzfest tour in 1997. Foreshadowing the interpersonal problems that would plague them in the years to come, drummer Bill Ward wasn’t included on the tour; Faith No More’s Mike Bordin (Ozzy’s drummer at that time) played for the band for the Ozzfest dates.
In December 1997, Sabbath got it together and staged a full reunion — drummer Bill Ward included — for two hometown shows at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre. Were the shows technically perfect? No. Ozzy is a bit “pitchy,” and the band most likely fixed some things in the studio (which is almost always the case with live albums anyway). But when the four original Sabbath members perform together, the chemistry and power is undeniable. The album also featured two new studio tracks: “Psycho Man” and “Selling My Soul,” the latter of which featured a drum machine instead of Ward (and, in truth, neither song really held up to the band’s legacy). The live album came out in ’98, and the band once again headlined Ozzfest (this time with Ward) in ’99.
Tony Iommi – Iommi (2000)
For the first time, Sabbath’s boss and keeper of the flame steps out on his own (though there was also the 1986 Sabbath album Seventh Star, which started out as a solo album, but his record label forced him to call it a “Black Sabbath” album). This time, he worked with a number of lead singers including Henry Rollins of the Rollins Band (and whose former band, Black Flag, named themselves after Sabbath), Phil Anselmo of Pantera, Serj Tankian of System Of A Down, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins, and on “Goodbye Lament,” Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters. On “Who’s Fooling Who?” he teamed up with Ozzy Osbourne and Bill Ward (Geezer Butler couldn’t make the sessions due to scheduling issues). Iommi has released two albums under his name since, but this is easily his strongest effort. Later in 2000, Tony and Ozzy teamed up again – this time with the Wu-Tang Clan – for “For Heaven’s Sake 2000″ from the Loud Rocks compilation. It’s a curiosity, but you only need hear it once.
Ozzy Osbourne – Down To Earth (2001)
In 2001, Sabbath once again headlined Ozzfest, and this time, they had a new song, “Scary Dreams,” from a proposed album they were working on with Rick Rubin. But it didn’t work out, the sessions were shelved and Ozzy returned to his solo career, and one of his best backing bands ever: Zakk Wylde on guitar, future Metallica member Robert Trujilio on bass and Mike Bordin on drums. Down To Earth was a solid album with at least one classic: “Gets Me Through.”
GZR – Ohmwork (2005)
Geezer Butler puts out occasional solo work under variations of his name. His solo debut as g//z/r, Plastic Planet, came out in 1995, followed by Black Science (as Geezer) in 1997. In 2005, he called himself GZR for this album, where he nods towards post-millenial metal (without going too overboard), and on the political “Dogs Of Whore” (about President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Osama bin Laden) he reminds fans that he was the guy who wrote “War Pigs” all those years ago. But while there’s cool moments on the album, it also shows that Geezer is more of a team player than a band leader.
Heaven & Hell – The Devil You Know (2009)
The 2000s saw a lot of ups and downs for Black Sabbath fans. In 2002, Ozzy and his family became international celebrities when The Osbournes began airing on MTV. Sabbath headlined Ozzfest in 2004 and 2005, released a box set collecting all of their albums from the Ozzy era, The Black Box, in 2004, and were finally inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 2006 (only the original lineup was included: they appeared together, but declined to perform). In 2007, with Ozzy occupied with another solo album, Black Rain, Rhino Records began assembling a sequel of sorts to The Black Box: a collection of the band’s best material with Ozzy’s successor, The Dio Years. That lineup went on tour — but instead of calling themselves Black Sabbath, they made it clear that they were a different band, and called themselves Heaven & Hell (after one of their albums, arguably a move they should have made in 1980). After the tour, they hit the studio for this well received album, and then toured again. Coincidentally (or not), Ozzy and Tony were embroiled in a lawsuit during this time, over who owns the rights to the name “Black Sabbath.”
The Verdict: Based on their latest releases, it sounds like Ozzy, Tony and Geezer still have more metal to unleash on the world, but the whole has always been greater than the sum of the parts… and one of those parts is estranged drummer Bill Ward. Fans are still holding out for a reunion with all four original members, which becomes more unlikely with every passing minute. However, as previously mentioned, the band’s legacy would be secure even if the members never recorded another note.