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About 12 years ago the masses were saturated in mindless glee over the news of the original lineup of heavy metal’s forefathers Black Sabbath reuniting. I must confess that at the time I was swept up by this tide of sensationalism as I had spent a good amount of time in a Sabbath cover band in high school playing all of the obligatory classics note for note on my trusty six string. But even though many thought that the original magic would return and a new studio album would be in the works, the final culmination of what became one of the greatest farces in Metal history turned out to be this solitary song.
Naturally some will point to the other compositional effort of 1998 “Selling My Soul” to disprove this point, but as far as any kind of actual attempt at recapturing the original spirit, this is pretty much it. What we have to show in the confused little demon wannabe known as “Psycho Man” is something that is about 2/3 Ozzy Osbourne plodding with a small helping of atmospheric detailing in the mode of “No More Tears” and “Ozzmosis”, and 1/3 of something that might have been heard on “Cross Purposes” or “Dehumanizer”, but with less energy and enthusiasm. This listens closer to being an earlier version of a pop/rock/AOR version of metal that would later be explored by Motley Crue with the “Red, White And Crue” new song “If I Die Tomorrow”.
The weakness in this song doesn’t end with the lack of interesting song and the going through the motions nature of the riffs and predictable rhythm section accompaniment, but also bleeds into the overall performance. Ozzy’s vocals are all but completely shot, and all of the studio magic in world may bring it up to a tolerable state, but can not hide the lack of range and dynamics in the performance. Multiple voice parts are overdubbed into the chorus to give the appearance of a stronger arrangement, but tends to perplex the ears and defeats the purpose of this song, which is to be a radio hit. Granted, the name recognition attached to this band was so strong at this point due to the media hype that just about anything short of the decrepit rubbish heard out of Metallica on “St. Anger” would have dazzled critics and fans alike.
Naturally there must be some perks on here to make up for the crappy title song on this single, right? Wrong! In true Metallica fashion, Sabbath put out two versions of this that both essentially compound the problems inherent in the title track. The first version throws in a shortened version of an already predictable song, as if the masses are too dumb to comprehend 5 minutes of 4 bare bones riffs with banal melodies, or maybe the concept of vocal counterpoint is too much for them to handle the ending where the two choruses are mixed together over the faster riff. We are also treated to a remix of said song that basically destroys any of the atmosphere established in the album version, dries out the drums and makes the bell tolls at the beginning almost inaudible. The other version of this single, in an equally stupid fashion, takes out the complete version of the song and replaces it with a pretty poor live performance of “Paranoid” off the “Reunion” album, where Ozzy’s inability to hold a pitch is not masked by multiple takes and input from others reviewing the process.
Although all but completely impossible to find, this release has found a home on the internet in a few places, so if you’re a core-Sabbath fan from any era and you’re up for some self-inflicted pain, then check this out. But for those who aren’t into that but are of a similar musical persuasion, I don’t think I need to reiterate the fact that there was basically no studio material at all after the release of the “Reunion” album and that Sabbath has essentially been dead since barring the resurgence of the Dio lineup of the band under a different name. This band went from being a force to be reckoned with in the recording studio throughout the 70s, 80s, and the first half of the 90s to basically being a sideshow attraction for Ozzy’s circus of self-worship Ozzfest. But even if you ignore all of that, this song still sucks and is maybe just slightly ahead of the horrid dribble that Ozzy put out on “Down To Earth” a few years later.
I have the Danny Saber Remix version of this song on the compilation album entitled No Boundaries, which is a benefit album for the Kosovar refugees. It's much different from anything I've ever heard from the band on Paranoid and has a unique sing-song quality like that of a campfire song. Lyrically, it deals with a psychotic person who is obsessed with killing and enjoys hearing his victims scream for mercy.
Black Sabbath has, for very long, been about evil, dark, grim subjects and I'm not surprised that this song is that way either. It's just that I was surprised that they would put a song with this subject matter on a Kosovar refugee benefit album. With their lyrical and musical innovation in later albums, I would think they would put a song on the disc that better exemplifies its cause.
Anyhow, it's still an awesome song, with shrieking, wailing vocals and wicked soloing. Nothing too technical, but it's very doomy. Anyone who's a diehard Sabbath fan should either pick up the aforementioned compilation album or this single. Good stuff.