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Yes, it's not the tightest, punchiest, most digitally-enhanced record out there, but who cares? It's the original Sabbath line-up getting back to doing what they've done all their lives. Ok, Ozzy's voice isn't quite there for a few high notes, but the feeling is still there. The sound isn't identical to the sound of the records, but why should it be? This was 1997 and the best of their work was early to mid seventies. The warmth between the band is still there, and they've still got their energy.
Iommi's guitar takes on a particularly evil, brutal, particularly during the solos, while Geezer's bass complements it perfectly, fitting underneath with more clarity, although slightly less volume, than on the originals. As I mentioned, Ozzy's voice breaks up slightly on the high notes of songs such as War Pigs and Black Sabbath, but that just makes him sound all the more evil. Bill Ward makes full use of his thunderous, expansive new sound, especially during NIB and Iron Man.
As far as standout tracks go, it really depends on perspective. If your favourite song is Children of the Grave, then you'll probably appreciate the explosive new dimension it's got out of the new technology, and the same goes for most of the other songs on there. Of course, if you can't bear to hear War Pigs or Black Sabbath changed, then don't buy it.
The two last tracks, recorded in a studio shortly before the gig, are the reason my review is less than 100%. After so much great music, though, I think we can excuse them this little fuck-up. Anyway, they're at the end, so you can just put in the next CD a little early.
"Reunion", although perhaps not very spectacular - is a more than worthy attempt at capturing a Black Sabbath concert on cd in the original line-up (and imo certainly tons better than the "Live At Last" release).
Of course you can hardly say that musically this is "the best" Sabbath line-up but it's a nice, nostalgic look back on the Ozzy era and it has to be said that all of the band-members give it their utmost best, resulting in a fairly decent live album with practically all of the "classics" featured.
Couple this with 2 very decent new (!) tracks, which although perhaps not as strong as some of the bands other tracks, did make me curious as to what the "reunited" line-up could come up with album-wise (as it seems now - nothing - the reunion has turned out to be a complete disgrace and only interesting for nostalgia's sake - thank you very much guys but perhaps it's time to lay Sabbath to rest once and for all) and a very nice booklet and you get a release which is well worth buying (and certainly more so than the xxxth "best off" compilation).
Not bad at all...
It would be so easy to be cynical about this album - four 50-year-old guys re-hashing stuff that's been done over 20 years ago (most of it closer to 30). It would also be easy to gush about this album (c'mon, it's THE Black Sabbath - the only one that really mattered, anyway...). Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and depending on what you value most about Sabbath this album could really go either way, so I'll try to be as fair as I can be.
The good view: A great two-disc set featuring the bulk of Sabbath's more popular tunes (i.e. most of Paranoid and the more name-worthy ones off of the first and third ones, and a smattering of the later ones that have been endlessly covered by other bands). The sound quality is excellent - nice and clean, but still quite obviously live, and the renditions are almost completely faithful to the originals. There are only minor variations in solos, song arrangements, and only once does Ozzy change a vocal melody to accommodate his vintage voice. What's more, there are two bonus NEW STUDIO tracks of the classic lineup. The booklet is also FULL of old pictures and one of the most complete histories of the band I've ever read. (I also managed to get one of the rare digipak versions, which has a very nice layout throughout).
The cynical view: This could've been a lot better. Sure, you've got to expect the band to play Paranoid, Iron Man, etc., but they really didn't go deep often enough. The only really unexpected tracks are Spiral Architect, the full arrangement of WASP/Behind the Wall of Sleep/Bassically/NIB, and Lord of this World (nicely led into by Orchid) - other than those songs, it's ALL their 'hits' (well, yeah, except for "Dirty Women" from Technical Ecstasy, but that's another down point...). And faithful though these may be, missing is the earlier wildness, out-of-control distortion, and spontaneous jam-session flights they used to take off into (for comparison, check out the "Live at Last" live album, recorded in 74, released in 79, and for the most part still available...). And speaking of sounds, this could've used a lot more dirt - the guitar is a bit too washed-out in reverb (the 'live feel', you know?), and the bass is far too clean and modern-sounding (Bassically is almost an embarrassment, sound wise - the coolest part was the fuzz-wah on it). And finally there are those studio tracks - one of the most obvious moves, and as expected they only serve to show that whatever collective chemistry they had back then seems to have spoiled after far too many years apart (and I probably shouldn't even mention that Bill's timing was so off in one song that they replaced him with a drum machine, but this is the cynical half of the review...). I can't fault the layout/packing though, even being cynical...
So, considering all of the above, CAN I boil it down to a bottom line? Only that it really depends on your attitude towards Sabbath. It should definitely be given a chance, that's for sure, and if you're in the mood for what basically amounts to a 'live-best-of', then this is right up your alley. However, if you miss what TRULY made Sabbath such a great band, I'd recommend checking out the "Live at Last" album instead. For what it is, it's great, but it could've been quite a bit better.
(Originally published at LARM (c) 1999)