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Book Review – RAT SALAD: Black Sabbath, The Classic Years 1969 – 1975

Rat Salad: Black Sabbath, The Classic Years, 1969 – 1975
(2006, St. Martin’s Press)
By Paul Wilkinson

Here is a short review for a book I had considered buying on and off for years. While I have read a number of Black Sabbath books, I held off on this for awhile because it focuses on the Ozzy era up through 1975 and it’s well-known that I prefer the likes of Ronnie James Dio & Tony Martin over Ozzy Osbourne’s tenure. Still, when I found out it was available from the local library, I checked it out and gave it a shot.

To be honest, I got about 80 pages into this 240 page book before I decided to walk away from it. I am a huge Sabbath fan but you not only need to be a major Ozzy-era fan but also a musician to really get the most out of this book. All the talk about C sharp, E minor or whatever is absolutely boring to me. I am not a musician, so that detailed information means nothing to my brain. I read a review that stated this book is like a text book, in some ways, I agree.

In addition to that, the author tries to interject his own personal history into the book. I found this to be quite odd and it really disrupts the flow of the book whenever he delves into his personal life. If he wants to talk about how Sabbath affected his teenage years, fine, but I don’t care to learn about his school days, his best friends or first kiss. It’s really out of place and the author comes off as a self-important snob but then I guess most of us music critics are exactly that.

Bottom line: if you love the early years of Black Sabbath AND are a musician, you’ll probably like the book a lot. For those of us that like to listen but can’t play a note, there are much better books on Black Sabbath out there.

Buy ‘Rat Salad’ at Amazon.com

Black Sabbath – Born Again [Deluxe Edition]

Black Sabbath – Born Again [Deluxe Edition] (2011, Universal Music/Sanctuary Records – UK Import)
Original Release: 1983, Warner Bros. Records

Disc One
1. “Trashed”
2. “Stonehenge”
3. “Disturbing The Priest”
4. “The Dark
5. “Zero The Hero”
6. “Digital Bitch”
7. “Born Again”
8. “Hot Line
9. “Keep It Warm”

Disc Two
1. “The Fallen” (Previously Unreleased)
2. “Stonehenge” (Extended Version)
3. “Hot Line” (live)
4. “War Pigs” (live)
5. “Black Sabbath” (live)
6.. “The Dark” (live)
7. “Zero The Hero” (live)
8. “Digital Bitch” (live)
9. “Iron Man” (live)
10. “Smoke On The Water” (live)
11. “Paranoid” (live)

Band:
Ian Gillan – Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitar, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums
Bev Bevan – Drums (Disc Two – Tracks 3-11)

Additional Musicians:
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards

Producer: Black Sabbath & Robin Black

So this is the third time I’ll be reviewing this album (click for my original review and unmixed demos review). The original album itself is great and I count it as one of Sabbath’s best records. Born Again is notorious for the muddy mix it has and while this 2011 edition is a remaster and NOT a remix and has been cleaned up a bit. Honestly, I really can’t tell the difference between this edition and the 2004 reissue. It still sounds muddy and muffled and granted there is a certain atmosphere it gives to the album but I would still love to hear a remixed and clean version but it looks like that is basically an impossibility given the condition of the source tapes.

Now, just like before with previous Sabbath “Deluxe Editions”, the main reason I bought this was for the second disc. Previous to this release, “The Fallen” and the extended version of “Stonehenge” were being passed around on bootlegs. I guess Iommi wanted to finally “officially” get them out there so good for him and both songs are good tracks anyway so it’s good that Tony can finally make some money off them.

The real jewel of this release is the live tracks. Again, Born Again-era concert bootlegs are available (like Purple Sabbath Definitive Edition) but it’s nice to have a legit live release of Ian Gillan fronting the band. The songs are taken from the band’s performance on August 27, 1983 at the Reading Festival in Reading, Berkshire, England. In comparison to the Purple Sabbath bootleg, much of the set is the same except “Children of the Grave” and “Heaven and Hell” are not present while “The Dark” intro is. I’m not sure whether if what is presented here is the full set from the Reading show but the bands plays a few notes from “Heaven and Hell” at the end of “Paranoid”.

I know to this day there is great controversy surrounding the album, Gillan’s involvement with the band and of the band’s choice to cover “Smoke On The Water” in concerts (BTW – it goes over well with the Reading crowd) but Born Again is a great and special moment in the band’s history. Even if the reaction at the time from critics and fans alike was lukewarm, the Born Again album stands tall in the Sabbath catalog and the live show was just as good. If Ronnie can cover Ozzy songs, why not Gillan? He does a fantastic take on “Black Sabbath”. Although to be honest, I’d rather hear Gillan’s take on the Ronnie songs.

And going off of what I said earlier about the reaction to this album being lukewarm, I definitely think a big part of that ws because the album was never released in the U.S. for some reason (not a single U.S. reissue either!). So maybe the lack of excitement over this album and lineup was due word of mouth with those words coming from disgruntled fans who either wanted Dio or Ozzy in the band. I imagine in those days it was harder to get your hands on an import so if you knew a guy who sayid the album sucked, you took his word for it and passed that critique along to the next guy.

While Ozzy/Dio loyalists will probably ignore this release, I highly recommend this release for fans of the Gillan era. Even if you have the original album, it’s worth picking up for the second disc.

www.blacksabbath.com

Buy the Deluxe Edition on Amazon.com

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath [Remastered] (1987, Warner Bros. Records)
Original Release: 1970, Warner Bros. Records

1. “Black Sabbath” … 6:20
2. “The Wizard” … 4:24
3. “Wasp”/”Behind the Wall of Sleep”/”Bassically”/”N.I.B.” … 9:45
4. “Wicked World” … 4:47
5. “A Bit of Finger”/”Sleeping Village”/”Warning” … 14:15

Band:
Ozzy Osbourne – Vocals, Harmonica
Tony Iommi – Guitar
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums

Producer: Rodger Bain

I hate when songs are combined onto one track. This seems to be a common practice with albums from the early ’70s. What is the point? This is a 5-track CD that could’ve easily been made into 10 (even though a few are instrumentals). The UK Vertigo Records release of this album didn’t combine songs onto one track so why did Warner?

Anyway, this is yet another album that is so classic and influential it’s been talked to death already so what can I really add? “Black Sabbath” is a purely evil sounding song and you can here the complete heavy metal genre stemming from it. “The Wizard” features the band’s blues roots, coming off like a Led Zeppelin rocker. Of course, “N.I.B.” is another classic as well in which you can here the song’s influence in many other metal bands. The rest of the album furthermore displays the blueprint for a number of different metal genres like doom metal and stoner metal.

I can’t say this album is a favorite of mine (the Ozzy years have never been my preference), but this album’s power and impact and legacy cannot be denied. One of the most important rock albums of all time.

Highlights: “Black Sabbath”, “The Wizard”, “N.I.B.”

www.black-sabbath.com

BLACK SABBATH – The Dio Years

Black Sabbath – The Dio Years (2007, Warner Bros. Records/Rhino Records)

1. “Neon Knights” … 3:51
2. “Lady Evil” … 4:23
3. “Heaven And Hell” … 6:59
4. “Die Young” … 4:44
5. “Lonely is the Word” … 5:50
6. “The Mob Rules” … 3:13
7. “Turn Up the Night” … 3:42
8. “Voodoo” … 4:32
9. “Falling Off the Edge of the World” … 5:03
10. “After All (The Dead)” … 5:42
11. “TV Crimes” … 4:02
12. “I” … 5:12
13. “Children of the Sea” (live) … 6:12
14. “The Devil Cried” … 6:01
15. “Shadow of the Wind” … 5:40
16. “Ear in the Wall” … 4:04

Band:
Ronnie James Dio – Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitar
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums (Tracks 1–5)
Vinny Appice – Drums (Tracks 6–16)

Additional Musicians:
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards (Tracks 1–13)

I’m becoming quite the completist when it comes to Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath. I never gave much thought to this album until recently. I own all of Sabbath’s albums so why would I need a compilation of the Dio years? For the three new songs: “The Devil Cried”, “Shadow of the Wind”, “Ear in the Wall”.

As a representation of Sabbath’s Dio era, this is a near perfect release. The only songs I think they missed the boat on are “The Sign of the Southern Cross” from Mob Rules and “Computer God”, “Master of Insanity” and “Time Machine” from Dehumanizer. What can I say? I’m a huge fan of Dehumanizer. It’s one of Sabbath’s most underrated albums alongside Born Again and Headless Cross.

But let’s get back to the new tracks. The story goes that the label had informed Iommi & Dio that they were putting together this compilation and asked if they had any unreleased songs they could use. They didn’t but Tony and Ronnie got to talking and decided to try to work together again on some new stuff for the album. The rest is history and the third go-round of this fantastic partnership lasted up until Ronnie’s unfortunate passing due to cancer.

The new songs don’t really sound like anything they might have done on Heaven and Hell or Mob Rules. The songs here sound more powerful, darker, and gloomier. Much more in line with Dehumanizer, though not quite as heavy. Anyone who likes The Devil You Know will like these tunes as well. “The Devil Cried” is the best of the bunch but truthfully none of these songs are classics but it is all still solid & enjoyable Sabbath. It’s mid-tempo, plodding doom metal (“Ear In the Wall” picks up the pace a bit) with Dio in as good as form as ever. As time went on, his voice never wavered in power but got slightly deeper and richer in sound.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the Dio years and wants to dip their toes in the water, this is a great way to do so.

www.blacksabbath.com
www.heavenandhelllive.com
www.myspace.com/heavenandhelllive

BLACK SABBATH – Born Again: Unmixed Demos & The Fallen

Black Sabbath – Born Again: Unmixed Demos & The Fallen (CDR bootleg)

1. “Hot Line” … 4:54
2. “Keep It Warm” … 5:44
3. “The Fallen” … 4:28
4. “Digital Bitch” … 3:44
5. “Stonehenge” … 4:54
6. “Trashed” … 3:47
7. “Zero the Hero” … 9:09
8. “Born Again” … 6:33
9. “Disturbing the Priest” … 5:38

Band:
Ian Gillan – Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitar, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians:
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards

Producer: Robin Black and Black Sabbath

Surfacing in 2004, this release is as the title explicitly states, a bootleg of the unmixed demos from 1983’s classic Born Again album. Demos usually don’t appeal to me because they are what they are: demos. An unfinished product. Not so in this case. These unmixed numbers are actually mixed a bit better than the final product (which reportedly was the victim of the master tape’s exposure to humidity) and darn near close to being complete other than a few extra solos and altered lyrics.

In comparison to the officially released album, there are only two major differences with this bootleg: the absence of the short instrumental called “The Dark” and the inclusion of “The Fallen”. “The Fallen” fits in well with the rest of the album so I’m not sure why the band decided not to include it on the official release. Perhaps they were saving some of their ammo for the follow-up which never occurred?

Click here for my thoughts on the official Born Again release.

www.blacksabbath.com
www.heavenandhelllive.com
www.myspace.com/heavenandhelllive
www.gillan.com
www.myspace.com/iangillan

BLACK SABBATH – Sabotage

Black Sabbath – Sabotage (1975, Warner Bros. Records)

1. “Hole in the Sky” … 3:59
2. “Don’t Start (Too Late)” … 0:49
3. “Symptom of the Universe” … 6:29
4. “Megalomania” … 9:46
5. “Thrill of It All” … 5:56
6. “Supertzar” … 3:44
7. “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” … 4:16
8. “The Writ” … 8:09

Band:
Ozzy Osbourne – Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitar
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums

Additional Musicians:
Gerald “Jezz” Woodruffe – keyboards

Producer: Mike Butcher & Black Sabbath

Another Sabbath album from the Ozzy years that I picked up only after running through all of the band’s non-Ozzy years. I’ve read a lot about how Sabbath Bloody Sabbath started the band’s decline in quality and it amazes me that anyone could label both that album and Sabotage as missteps. Regardless of whatever what happening internally, the music they were releasing was still great heavy metal.

Apparently this album was a conscious effort to return to a more of a no-frills sound after some of the more experimental stuff that was on the previous release. The funny thing is that, according to Wikipedia, up to that point this was the most time-consuming and expensive Sabbath album and Ozzy has particularly noted this is when Iommi became “obsessive” with production. Well, whatever they did and however long it took, it paid off.

“Hole in the Sky” is nothing less than classic metal featuring a great riff and it’s a great way to start off the album. “Symptom of the Universe” and “Megalomania” fit into that same category as well. “Supertzar” is another favorite of mine (would’ve easily fit on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath) and I believe I read somewhere that this was often used to open their shows even long after Ozzy had left.

My only real gripes are that “Thrill of It All” comes across as filler and “Am I Going Insane (Radio)” is more synth-heavy weirdness that had popped up on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.

Highlights: “Hole in the Sky”, “Symptom of the Universe”, “Megalomania”, “Supertzar”

www.black-sabbath.com

BLACK SABBATH – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath

Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath [Remastered] (2004, Sanctuary Midline – UK Import)
Original Release: 1973, Warner Bros. Records

1. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” … 5:45
2. “A National Acrobat” … 6:16
3. “Fluff” … 4:11
4. “Sabbra Cadabra” … 5:59
5. “Killing Yourself to Live” … 5:41
6. “Who Are You?” … 4:11
7. “Looking for Today” … 5:06
8. “Spiral Architect” … 5:29

Band:
Ozzy Osbourne – Vocals, Synthesizer
Tony Iommi – Guitars, Piano, Harpsichord, Synthesizer, Bag Pipes, Flute, Organ
Geezer Butler – Bass, Synthesizer, Mellotron
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion, Timpani

Additional Musicians:
Rick Wakeman – Piano, Synthesizer (“Sabbra Cadabra”)

Producer: Black Sabbath

I can admit when I’m wrong. The Ozzy era produced some GREAT music. He’s my least favorite singer from the band’s storied history, but you can no longer deny the music made during this era. Most people maybe would have started with the Ozzy albums, but I didn’t. I went from Dio to Martin to Gillan to Hughes and out sheer curiousity, having conquered everything else Sabbath has done, I gave Sabbath Bloody Sabbath a chance (also bought Sabotage at the same time).

In the ’70s, they did things a lot differently than today. It isn’t uncommon to see 14, 15, or even 16 brand new songs on an album. How much of that do you think is actually quality stuff? The lower your number of tracks, the less likely you’re going to have filler and there’s no filler on this album at all. Eight classic tracks. Yes, even “Fluff”, an instrumental that was meant more as a joke than anything serious.

Of course, some of this stuff is extremely dated like “Who Are You?” and the aforementioned “Fluff”, but that just adds to part of the charm but I can’t help but feeling like I’m the one on drugs just by listening to some of these songs. Sabbath really loved their synthesizers and pianos on this album.

I really love the artwork. The front and the back feature some beautiful images and there’s quite a number of interesting theories as to what is going on. Is the man dying? Is he being taken to Heaven or to Hell? Or is he just mad?

Great release and it’s encouraging me to seek out more Ozzy Sabbath releases.

Highlights: “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”, “Fluff”, “Sabbra Cadabra”, “Looking for Today”

www.black-sabbath.com

BLACK SABBATH – Born Again

Black Sabbath – Born Again [Remastered] (2004, Sanctuary Midline – UK Import)
Original Release: 1983, Warner Bros. Records

1. “Trashed” … 4:16
2. “Stonehenge” … 1:58
3. “Disturbing the Priest” … 5:49
4. “The Dark” … 0:45
5. “Zero the Hero” … 7:35
6. “Digital Bitch” … 3:39
7. “Born Again” … 6:34
8. “Hot Line” … 4:52
9. “Keep It Warm” … 5:36

Band:
Ian Gillan – Vocals
Tony Iommi – Guitar, Flute
Geezer Butler – Bass
Bill Ward – Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians:
Geoff Nicholls – Keyboards

Produced by: Robin Black and Black Sabbath

What do you get when you make Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan the lead singer for Black Sabbath? Purple Sabbath! However you wanna name’em, both bands’ influences show up on Iommi & Co.’s third try at a singer. Ronnie James Dio (along with then-drummer Vinny Appice) had exited the band after a battle of egos between Dio and Iommi. Supposedly, a mixing war between Iommi/Butler and Dio/Appice for the 1982 live album Live Evil was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Ronny and Vinny would go on to form the band Dio, which itself has gone on to become a legendary hard rock/heavy metal band itself while Bill Ward was coaxed back behind the drum kit and ex-Deep Purple front man Ian Gillan was installed as the new voice for Sabbath.

And what Gillan and Sabbath delivered is one Sabbath’s heaviest! I really love Gillan’s voice used in a Sabbath setting. The album didn’t set the the world on fire or garner many positive reviews at the time (even now, All Music Guide completely trashes it), but I happen to think it’s one of the best from the band’s catalog and it’s criminal that it hasn’t seen an official CD release in the United States. It’s funny how once people get perspective on something they can go, “oh yeah — this album rocks”, after trashing it for decades.

I don’t see why this album never got proper credit though. The riff in “Zero the Hero” is just plain MEAN and “Disturbing the Priest” is a manic and ugly (in a good way) heavy metal song where Ian does an amazing over-the-top performance. Toss in “Born Again” which is a slow ‘n’ gloomy number that sounds like a song from the Ozzy era and the Purple-esque “Hot Line” and that’s more than enough to give this album a thumbs up from me. Not that the rest is filler though!

The mix is fairly muddy, but the music is so amazingly evil and heavy, it actually adds to it, but I would still love to hear a cleaned up version some day, but unfortunately, Sanctuary didn’t do that with this issue. They only remastered the already muddy mix. The demos for this album actually have better production values, that’s where Sanctuary should have gone for a proper mix. I’ve read that the cause of the poor mix had something to do with humidity getting into the studio and screwing up the tapes. The band wasn’t around at the time of this accident, so off the tapes went and by the time they discovered the error, it was too late — the album was already pressed. Both Iommi and Gillan have mentioned they would like to eventually give us a remixed version to match what they originally intended. Hopefully, that’ll happen someday.

I had owned a CD-R copy of this album for a few years, but I’ve always wanted a real CD copy, so when I found out an import was available from Sanctuary Midline over in the UK, I went for it. Sanctuary seemingly holds the European rights to most Sabbath releases and they do a really great job with the reissues, giving band photos and a back story on each album in the booklet. My only complaint is that the 2004 reissues all feature the same kind of purple printing featuring the Black Sabbath fallen angel on the actual CDs. This type of printing seems to work for Seventh Star (which was a fairly light album), but to use it on a heavy metal monster like Born Again? It strikes me as silly.

Highlights: All of it. One of my favorite albums.

www.blacksabbath.com
www.heavenandhelllive.com
www.myspace.com/heavenandhelllive
www.gillan.com
www.myspace.com/iangillan

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