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Despite the best of efforts, every retrospective tends to lack total objectivity and is influenced by the events surrounding it during its making. In the case of the two chaptered telling of Black Sabbath’s story that came about in the early 90s, this influence is fairly blatant. The first part featured a fairly mundane and boring retelling of the Ozzy years, no doubt because Tony Iommi was more focused on making music than living in the past, which is what would happen to this whole band about 6 years later. The second part, however, proved to be much more interesting, though equally as biased by the events that were taking place when it was put together.
Although most opinions and individual recollections of the events depicted on here are heard, with the notable exceptions of Ozzy, Glenn Hughes, and Tony Martin, how these events are remembered are subjected to the dominant influence of Ronnie Dio, and the other 3 members of the “Mob Rules” era of the band. This is mostly due to the fact that this was put together during the making of the “Dehumanizer” album, and because the band was still in a state of life at this point in history, most of the albums created between 1983 and 1990 are treated with a sense of nostalgia, while “Never Say Die” and Ozzy Osbourne are all but shrugged off as complete water under the bridge, and both of the Dio era albums are treated almost as if they’d happened yesterday.
While I’m not one to bemoan Ozzy being treated as a footnote in the band’s history considering what occurred after this, this documentary does tend to be a little bit unfair towards the Gillian and Hughes era of the band, while the Tony Martin era is heavily represented yet still treated as something that was completely over and done with. Gillian’s comments on his brief stint with Sabbath are good spirited and humorous, bringing a sort of light heartedness to what is otherwise a fairly serious affair. Cozy Powell’s interviews are also fairly good natured, though not quite as animated and a bit more stoic, while Bill Ward sort of comes off as the tired old guy who used to be a drummer during his brief interview remembering the whole “Heaven And Hell” tour and him leaving the band. Ronnie James Dio is extremely serious and intellectual throughout most of his footage, which basically holds true for most of the mainstays in the band and Iommi in particular.
Much of the details surrounding the events that led to the constantly shifting lineups in the mid 80s are glossed over or simply omitted. Though whether this was done out of a sense of courtesy between the band members or to fit the template of the time is uncertain, it gives a brighter and more professional picture of all these guys that isn’t necessarily completely true. The dispute of Dio and Appice versus Iommi and Butler is shrugged off by Dio as being merely the consequence of everyone being overworked and details about the nature of the band’s breakup are skipped. Likewise, the circumstances in which Tony Martin, Cozy Power and Neil Murray were booted in favor of the “Dehumanizer” lineup is left up to the imagination, which is again directed towards a feeling of professionalism. The truth is that Tony Martin and most of the other musicians not immediately connected to either the Dio or Ozzy years of the band were largely seen as expendable because Iommi, Butler and the others didn’t see these eras of the band as being Black Sabbath, despite the label to the contrary. As a result, the presence of only Cozy Powell to represent this era doesn’t fully do justice to the true nature of how that era of the band has been treated up until the point that this was made, let alone afterward.
The music videos that are shown on here are equally as interesting as the historical remembrances of each member, and masterfully crafted. Most of the earlier stuff is basic gig footage and lip synced material, of which Dio succeeds as being the most animated and entertaining to watch. It isn’t until “No Stranger To Love” that the formal music videos actually begin and Sabbath’s short period of flirtation with MTV came into being. The video itself is somewhat corny, particularly the scenes with the characters of Denise Crosby (aka Lieutenant Yar from Star Trek TNG) and Tony Iommi reflecting on their broken relationship and the stray dog walking aimlessly through abandoned parking lots. But the song itself, which is in the special version with the backup singing during the chorus, is quite a treat for anyone who wants a more rocking version of an 80s power ballad. The Tony martin music videos are the best on here, particularly “The Shinning” and “Headless Cross”, which both have a strong dark and gothic sense of scenery. “Feels Good To Me” goes back in the corny direction again with a cliché Cinderella-like plotline, but the song itself is good despite being edited for radio.
When the documentary closes after showing studio footage of the band at work on “Dehumanizer” material, there is a lot left to be pondered. The main thing is obviously factoring in what has happened since, and how the optimism of Ronnie Dio and the others about the prospects of their future seemed dreadfully misplaced. Although it is a highly entertaining video and should be bought solely based on the musical content within, a lot of the historical material comes off as either incomplete or obsolete. It is definitely something that should be looked into by anyone who really has an interest in the inner workings of this unique machine that is Black Sabbath, but it should be kept in its proper perspective and not treated as the whole story, but merely a part of it, told in the past about a still more distant past.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 11, 2009.