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It’s a difficult thing to fathom, but the sad truth is that all good things must come to an end, and the end was very much in sight in the lead up to the last LP of the Ozzy years of Black Sabbath. Much like the random ramblings of an ancient man in the final stages before death, the band went out in one of the most incongruous of ways possible with an album that was all over the place and didn’t articulate much aside from the fact that the band was still alive in a metaphysical sense. But in that fit of madness there were a few moments of clarity, and they manifested themselves in the two singles that preceded “Never Say Die”.
“A Hard Road” is by no standard a great Sabbath song, but it is a song that has a sense of familiarity and catchiness that makes it recognizable to the metal fan. It rests on a driving mid tempo riff set that tends to drone rather than develop, but rests beneath an adequate vocal performance with a solid melodic contour that bears some similarity to the band’s simpler music on “Vol. 4”. The highlights are the really simple yet highly effective guitar solo that can practically be sung along with, and the stew of melodic vocal overlapping that goes along during the closing section of the song.
“Symptom Of The Universe” was a really solid choice for a b-side if the goal was to remind the Sabbath faithful of the time that the band still remembered what they had accomplished, although it utterly overshadows the a-side at every term. It’s one of the fastest and most riveting of Sabbath’s many proto-metal creations, and also drenched in progressive trappings and technical showmanship that rivals the entire progressive rock scene of the time. The principle riff is up there in terms of heaviness with “Children Of The Grave” and faster than the original speed number “Paranoid”, and shows the beginnings of what would later become Sabbath’s darker character on such offerings as “Born Again”, “Headless Cross”, “Dehumanizer” and “Cross Purposes”.
Although long out of the realm of mainstream accessibility in its original vinyl form, this can now be found along with 5 other singles from this era of Sabbath in CD form, with the original artwork still intact. It does show a band that was in decay and on the brink of self-destruction, but even the ending gasps of a genius before passing on are a noteworthy event for those that will compile his biography.