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This is the true, original Black Sabbath, captured live to tape in their dead and gone 1970s glory, so what's to complain about? Couple of things, I guess, even from an Ozzy era Sab worshipper such as myself. For instance, why did they open the record with "Tomorrow's Dream"? Why does the first stoner metal song ever written come after a rather mediocre tune? Well, fuck it, because I can simply drop the needle straight onto "Sweet Leaf", light up, and head for the riff-filled land.
The inclusion of songs like "Killing Yourself To Live" and the crushing "Cornucopia" are a Sabbathian dream as those deeper cuts are rarely available in any compilation, live or otherwise. The opening lick of "Cornucopia" is one of the most punishing riffs in the entire Sabbath riffalogue, and it's a goddamn shame that it's so commonly overlooked. At least Type O Negative understood the meaning of it all, as they would sometimes tease their live audiences by just sticking the tip of that one in there. Ah, this piece of wax is truly a Sab nerd's delight.
Side A is rounded out with the first death metal song known to mankind, I think you know it, for it will crush all of humanity from here to eternity: "Children Of The Grave". That's right, I make no bones about worshipping at the altar of the Lords Of This World. I digress, and alas! I was at first deceived by the track list of side B, as all the sleeve will tell you is that three songs are there, and two of them have been performed at probably every Sabbath show ever.
The reason you should buy this album is for "Wicked World," for it is so much more than just that classic and jazzy little number. Yes, Tony wanks it for an extended amount of time. Whatever. The reward for the true fan is the tasty riff cornucopia (see what I did there?) of "Into The Void" (which, in case you didn't know, is the heaviest riff EVER, period) and "Supernaut", but hark, what is this that jams before me? The Sabs have got the blues, mates! I had never heard this one before, and I don't know what to call it, other than glorious! Spellbinding! Providential! Over the blues-driven genius that is Iommi-Butler-Ward, Ozzy commiserates with us about a no good woman who done him wrong. I fucking love this! And all I had to do was happily hand over $5 to my local record store for this live slice of riff cobbler, performed by none other than the inventors of the riff!
It's a shame that Black Sabbath never managed to record a live album of a standard they were satisfied with during the strongest part of the Ozzy era. Until Past Lives came out, the closest thing we had was this quasi-official release - not a bootleg, because it was released by people with the legal rights to the recordings in Europe, but not approved of by the band.
The sound quality is pretty raw, but is above bootleg standards - it's more or less average for a live recording from the era. Musically speaking, if you've had the original albums on heavy rotation this album isn't going to reveal anything particularly new or revolutionary about the material on here - Killing Yourself to Live has different lyrics because it hadn't yet been finalised as a composition but the instrumental side of the song has been more or less pinned down at this point, Wicked World turns into a medley, and Ozzy repeatedly shouts "COCAINE!" during Snowblind rather than whispering it once. In fact, it's Ozzy's performance that changes the most from the studio albums here; the album provides ample proof that during his prime Ozzy was an insanely extroverted frontman on a mission to make sure every single member of the audience has a great time.
Buyers should be aware that the first disc of Past Lives is exactly the same as this album, so there's no good reason to buy it separately when you can get Past Lives and in effect have a bonus disc of additional performances with it.
A fair time back now this was my first Sabbath album, back in the days when I was trusting in the myths that "live versions are always better than studio" (sadly not always true). Starting off with this album was probably not a good idea, but after amassing a fair quantity of studio material (most of it post-Ozzy, but never mind!) and listening to this album over the course of a few years, one can say that this is still a fine album. Not as good as some of the legendary ones in Metal history, and not quite as good as Live Evil imo, but still a fine album.
On the whole the songs are faithful to their studio counterparts, bar Killing Yourself To Live (because this was recorded before Sabbath Bloody Sabbath was released - all these tracks were recorded in 1973) and Wicked World, which becomes an 18-minute monster containing jazz improvisation and a bit of Supernaut. The songs sound a lot beefier in this live environment, and chances are you should know the songs already.
Ozzy's crowd interaction is limited to introducing a few of the songs, but listening to these songs makes you think he HAD to be stoned when he was singing them. The way he shouts "We love you!" and random points over the album is precious, although my personal favourite is "Alright everybody, clap your hands!". Don't ask me why, it's just the way he says it...