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In the 70s and 80s, Orson Welles started doing television commercials for Paul Masson wine. Yes, you read that right—Orson Welles, the man who made renowned classics like Citizen Kane and Touch of Evil, was reduced to shilling alcohol on national television during the final years of his life, a sad reminder of the fact that even legends can fall from grace when the money is tight and the creative well has run dry. There was no more feeling in the work, no more originality, no more artistic integrity to be found in the man’s last endeavors.
Geezer Butler’s Ohmwork is about as close to Orson Welles’ television commercials as any metal album may ever get.
Geezer Butler, for those of you who just discovered heavy metal less than an hour ago, was the original bassist for Black Sabbath. While he is universally recognized for his astute musical contributions to the metal genre, diehard fans know that Geezer’s real gift during the original lineup’s inaugural run was his insightful lyrics; he was chief songwriter on nearly every Sabbath tune through 1978’s Never Say Die. Sabbath songs like “A National Acrobat,” “War Pigs,” and “Children of the Grave” are constantly used as examples of songs that tastefully combine macabre metaphors with political messages, and numbers like “Black Sabbath” and “Hand of Doom” established morbid imagery as a standard in heavy music. Butler is, in short, considered one of the most important and brilliant musicians to ever contribute to the genre, with some regarding him as the most significant metal bassist in history.
But oh, how the mighty have fallen. With Ohmwork, Butler’s third solo release, it is apparent upon first listen that whatever magic Butler had in the 70s has been gone for some time, replaced by delusions of modernity. Missing are the doomy riffs and clever lyrical plays that made Geezer a heavy metal standard, and in their places are boring, repetitive riffs and childish and empty words often sung (and sometimes… gulp… rapped) by Clark Brown. While the old Geezer would have credited his audiences with enough intelligence, for example, to figure out that a song called “Cornucopia” was about gluttony and immorality, his song titles now include “Dogs of Whore” and, my personal favorite, “Aural Sects” (say it out loud). It’s true that Clark Brown was responsible for the lyrics on this album, but Geezer knew he’d be putting his name to it and most certainly condoned and, most likely, supported the awful lyrics being attributed to him on this album.
Then there’s the music itself. As was hinted at before, this album takes more pages out of the nu metal cookbook than the Sabbath cannon, with many songs that are downright laughable. I’ll admit that the album starts off fairly well—“Misfit,” the album’s one and only decent track, begins with a good riff and respectable vocals, although an interlude with Clark Brown spouting the usual rapcore nonsense (“How far can we push this!”) takes away from much of the song’s potential. After that, we get “Pardon My Depression,” which is part cacophonous noise and part inane screaming by Brown. “Prisoner 103” is even worse, beginning with positively laughable rapping by Brown and not getting much better after that.
The rest of the album is mostly indistinguishable, with similar riffs being repeated throughout and Pedro Howse’s subpar guitar playing not helping matters much. The only thing worse than the music on this release is the knowledge throughout that what’s being heard are the sounds of a living legend trying desperately to stay relevant, grasping at straws to try to capture the hits he’s hearing on modern metal radio and turn them into hits for himself. Butler claims he’s just playing what he wants, but it’s doubtful that a man who has written such beautiful music in the past truly wants to be playing this type of pseudo-mainstream garbage. It doesn’t even sound much like he’s trying; his bass is not featured too prominently on this album, and he has been quick to point out that Brown wrote all the lyrics, perhaps because he knows as well as we do that this is an embarrassing display. Black Science proved that Geezer could successfully deviate from his doomy roots when he really tried, but eight years later, it appears the tank has run dry. All the Paul Masson wine in the world won't make this one sound like a winner.