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I have to be honest about a couple things right up front. First of all, I thought Ronnie James Dio was about ten times the singer Ozzy is. I think Heaven and Hell (or Dio-fronted Black Sabbath, however you choose to think of them) was in many ways a much better band than Black Sabbath fronted by Ozzy could ever be. And I agree that the constantly interrupting interview segments in The Last Supper keep this DVD from being a truly great concert DVD.
All that being said, though, I have to admit that there is/was something special about the original Black Sabbath lineup that simply works better than any other combination that has used the name "Black Sabbath." You can feel it in the very opening of "War Pigs" right towards the beginning of the DVD. You can feel it in how relaxed and playful the members of the band are with each other in the interview segments. You can feel it palpably when you see Geezer and Tony play, in the way they interact with the audience, with Ozzy, with each other, and in the almost youthful energy with which they play when Ozzy is onstage.
I got The Last Supper the week after I got Heaven and Hell Live at Radio City Music Hall. And even though, as I said above, I frickin' LOVED Dio, the difference between Heaven and Hell playing together in that DVD and Black Sabbath playing together in The Last Supper is like night and day. In the Heaven and Hell DVDs (both the Radio City performance and the Wacken performance captured on the Neon Nights DVD), the playing is top notch, but there is a certain kind of business-like atmosphere, compared to the playing on The Last Supper. Geezer in particular is way more laid back. And yes, I realize that there are several years between the Black Sabbath reunion concerts, and it's possible that some of the slightly more subdued atmosphere is simply due to the age of the musicians advancing. But I think it's more than that.
I really think that Ronnie James Dio was such a strong frontman that any band, even the venerable Iommi and Butler, ends up looking a little like a backing band, playing with such a strong frontman. With Ozzy fronting the group, however, there's an amazing balance between all the members; you immediately get the sense that these guys all know each other so well, that they're 100% comfortable, 100% in their element.
So yes, it's kind of annoying that the interviews keep interrupting all the Sabbath classics being played live. Yes, Ozzy stumbles around the stage like some bizarre bag lady. And yes, this lineup probably has a snowball's chance in Hell of ever reuniting again. But one of the best reasons to get a live DVD of a metal band is to see something special take place, something that has had the great good fortune to be captured for posterity. And The Last Supper is that kind of document. For a very brief time, these guys who started playing music as kids got back together, and just enjoyed the hell out of talking together, playing together, and they recaptured a little bit of the old magic.
In the closing years of the 1990s Black Sabbath were the beneficiaries of one of the most gargantuan tides of hype ever observed in the history of rock music. Everywhere fans seemed to be hungering for some sort of triumphant return to the glory days of the 1970s, where the oldest of metal heads and a good number of non-metal heads agree is where the true magic of heavy metal existed. My own problems with this implication aside, this was a golden opportunity for the band to come together and put together a brilliant new studio album with the Ozzman at the helm, a man who in spite of putting out a crapshoot known to many as “Ozzmosis”, seemed to still have his pipes in fairly good working order.
Alas, it was just not to be, as is proven by the musical content of this documentary. As a whole, this is a very good an educational DVD that answers many of the questions that the younger generation of this band’s following had about what went on when all of these classic songs were conceived. But sadly due to Ozzy’s self-destructive behavior and a completely by the numbers performance out of the band, masked only by the elaborate stage set up, what comes across musically is a band that appears to be washed up and out of ideas. Obviously for anyone who has heard Iommi’s solo album “Fused” and the latest offering of this band under the Heaven And Hell name “The Devil You know”, this wasn’t the case, but Ozzy’s extreme lack of stage presence and mostly flat vocal performance just ruins things.
The band was smart enough to avoid the really botched performances from the “Reunion” performance such as “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” where they have to omit the entire closing section and alter the principle verse melody due to Ozzy having almost no high range left and “Spiral Architect” where Ozzy hits all the notes but just sounds utterly lifeless. But even when the band has their best foot forward on songs such as “War Pigs”, “Fairies Wear Boots” and “Paranoid”, it just doesn’t live up to the hype and sees Ozzy sounding slightly under pitch and completely underwhelming. Other songs such as “Snowblind” and “Sweet Leaf” see Ozzy failing to hit even moderately high notes, though the rest of the band shows a little bit of life on these songs and compensate a little bit for a shot singer leading the fray.
It’s actually a welcome occurrence when the interview period of the band interrupts each of these songs, as they offer a much more interesting form of content than the butchering of more than a dozen classic songs. Geezer’s reminiscence of the bible bumping bone heads that panned their music without really understanding it, Iommi remembering a journalist who hated the band reviewing a show that they ended up canceling and printing the negative content for a concert that never happened, and Bill Ward elucidating the true origin of the song title “N.I.B.” are all key moments where a great blend of humor and seriousness articulates an autobiography of sorts for the band that millions have come to associate with the birth of metal. Even Ozzy, though stuttering profusely, has a few interesting things to say on the various encounters the band had in their early years.
Although this reunion didn’t amount to much more than a 10 year death and burial of Black Sabbath, this DVD is something of a silver lining in an otherwise sad end to a legendary band. It has some interesting details about the goings on of the band from a period that has been obscured by decades of time passing by and buried under the continuing hype of Ozzy’s various solo endeavors and personal antics, as well as several other eras of the Black Sabbath beast with new masters at the helm. For an idea of the fruit that this reunion actually bore, soon after this Ozzy went on to record the worst album of his solo career and then gave birth to the most ridiculous of MTV’s creations since the Real World in The Osbournes. Considering what might have happened if these guys actually went into the studio, I would argue that this reunion was a failure, and 10 years of studio silence is a de facto concurrence of my opinion with objective truth.