soundstreamsunday #99: “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath

blacksabbath1.jpgIf they’re the only band on the infinite linear mixtape to be featured twice, and back-to-back at that, it’s because of the singularity of their two lead singers, who so influenced their respective versions of Black Sabbath that each iteration of the band made a distinct impact on rock and metal.  Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has stated that the difference lay in writing for Ozzy Osbourne, who sang the melody of the riff, versus writing for Ronnie James Dio, a far more technically accomplished singer, who sang around the song’s chords.  But even with Dio’s vocal expertise stretching Sabbath’s range, the core of Black Sabbath’s legacy really does belong to Ozzy, whose shakily intoned shriek conveyed — at least across their first six records, and before it became Ozzy’s schtick — the terror of a man trapped inside a nightmare.

When Sabbath took to the studio in October 1969 to make their first record, they were like dozens of other post-Cream British blues rock bands struggling to find their own voice.  But, they had some advantages that maybe weren’t immediately apparent.  Iommi’s short and ultimately unsuccessful stint in Jethro Tull in 1968 was an education, as that band was finding its own, heavier feet following the departure of Mick Abrams (Martin Barre, the definitive Tull guitarist, would be hired shortly after Iommi filled in, with a thunderingly loud but finessed guitar style not unlike Iommi’s).  And Ian Anderson provided an object lesson for Iommi when Iommi went back to his band Earth: success would largely depend on the labor you put in.  Tull worked for its fortune.  As Earth transformed itself into Black Sabbath, Iommi demanded the band become a workhorse, and the group began developing a set of songs around bassist Geezer Butler’s night frights, a fascination with horror movies (e.g., Black Sabbath), and two significant technical issues that became key to a conceptual breakthrough: the tips of Iommi’s fingers on his right (fretting) hand had been shorn off in an accident in 1965, and it was while developing his newly renamed band’s sound and songs that he down-tuned his guitar to make it easier to play with the plastic tips he adhered to the tops of his fingers; also, Butler’s facility on bass was limited in their early days, so he ditched melodic runs and just mimicked Iommi, also down-tuning his bass.  The result was literally diabolic.  From the opening notes of “Black Sabbath,” the sound sends shivers, and it is here that heavy metal was born, out of imaginative use of limitation — such is Art — and the doom-laden tritone, the diabolus in musica, that Sabbath employed as its calling card.  Iommi, riffing on Butler’s attempt to mimic Gustav Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” from The Planets suite, produced a metal manifesto so potent that it resonates almost 50 years on, remaining a rock touchstone of its era as significant as Velvet Underground & Nico, Astral Weeks, Forever Changes, or Funhouse, ever begging the question: What is this that stands before me?

Studio version here but also the Paris ’70 version, with Ozzy jumping like Iggy.

There is, in fact, none more black.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

soundstreamsunday #98: “Children of the Sea” by Black Sabbath

heavenandhellMetal is a tricky business.  So is memory.  I first heard “Children of the Sea” soon after it was released,  I think, as a young teenager in 1980, tutored by an older sister in thrall to Rush’s Permanent Waves, Judas Priest’s Unleashed in the East, and, most of all, Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell.  It was later that I learned of Sabbath’s late 70s identity crisis, their parting of ways with Ozzy Osbourne, and Ronnie James Dio’s efforts to help salvage a band worthy of his prowess.  It couldn’t have been an easy road, and by all accounts wasn’t, BUT… the fruit of Osbourne’s dissolution, Dio’s post-Rainbow quest, and the Sabbath juggernaut’s need to produce a next record, was a pair of LPs blueprinting one way forward for metal: operatic vocal facility, pop-tinged melodies, subject matter less doom-and-gloom than dungeons-and-dragons.  With, of course, guitars fully and thunderously intact.  It was what Heart showed it could be with 1978’s “Mistral Wind,” and would be taken to its natural conclusion by Iron Maiden in the next decade; but, as the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal began to draw its borders as the 70s turned into the 80s, it was Black Sabbath, the original metal wellspring, still sitting in the center of the compass rose.

Of course, many die-hard Sabbath fans don’t acknowledge Dio’s Sabbath as the real Black Sabbath — a respectable point of view, in fairness, that such distinction can only come with the inclusion of Ozzy and in consideration of the first six, genre-defining, Sabbath LPs — and the band itself acknowledged this when reuniting for a tour and LP with Dio in 2007, calling themselves, naturally, “Heaven and Hell,” out of respect for both Dio and Ozzy.  But for a certain generation of us the Dio-led band was the gateway to Black Sabbath, with Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules (1981) jewels in the crown equal in quality heaviosity to the  First Six.  And it turns out that Dio’s here-be-dragons sensibility was just what Sabbath and metal needed: dramatic vocal flights, lyrical escapism, and a feel for the sheer cliff riffs.  I imagine too that his maturity (he was in his late 30s at the time, older than the rest of the band by at least six years) brought a steady, compositional, horns-flashing hand to a Sabbath dearly in need of it.  Dio would set a solo course soon after Mob Rules but would never stray far from the tone he set in his work with Sabbath.

From the flawless first side of Heaven and Hell comes “Children of the Sea,” the kind of fantasy piece Dio trademarked, where the story lines are drawn vaguely enough to appeal broadly, and are there, ultimately, in support of the Riff King, for if there is one true hero in the story of metal, it is and will forever be Tony Iommi.  Two versions here: the original studio take and, because it counts, the Heaven and Hell band version from 2007, with Dio, at the age of 65, still bringing every bit of showmanship to the legacy he was so justifiably proud of.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section.

Review: Emperor Guillotine – Emperor Guillotine

Emperor Guillotine

Dallas’s Doom Metal upstarts EMPEROR GUILLOTINE have landed firmly within the Metal scene as one of the “newest modern” instrumental bands carrying the torch of the blueprint that BLACK SABBATH created over 40 years ago. In particular, SABBATH‘s first three albums are all over the project’s full-length debut release. From the song structures, the occasional synth noodling and the demonic Blues you cannot mistake the influence.

The project was formed by multi-instrumentalist and sole band member, Ben Randolph. A digital only release, it wets the appetite of every doom metal fan and the excitement for what comes next.

One of the biggest highlights of the record is definitely its production. It is obvious that EMPEROR GUILLOTINE reaching for a retro feel and are heavily influenced by Rodger Bain and his early BLACK SABBATH productions. Randolph achieves it in a very good way. One of the issues with bands going for this type of sound is that usually the bass is mixed too loud and dominates the material. In this case, the bass is audible but it still gives way for the guitar and drums. The guitar has enough gain, it’s powerful and greasy—just as it should be.

The songwriting is as strong; there is plenty here to celebrate. “Sailor on the Seas of Fate,” “Sea of Dust,” “The Oak and the Ram,” “Witch Mountain,” “The Bastille,” and “The Unearthly” are heavy, pounding numbers that represent this release. “Ursa Minor” is a beautiful acoustic piece that connects the “sides.” Its melody is haunting and recalls the atmosphere of 1960s inspired acoustic, folk records.

“Emperor Guillotine” is an excellent introductory release from Randolph. My hope is that the next releases will embrace more of different styles such as folk rock and progressive rock. On their next release they need to instill the confidence that they don’t need to rely so heavily on imitating BLACK SABBATH. Do yourself a favor and check this album out out.


Black Sabbath: The End

black-sabbath-the-endThe boys in black have embarked on their final tour, and I was fortunate enough to see them perform at the MGM Grand Garden Arena last night. Geezer, Tony, and Ozzy (still missing Bill Ward!) played all the hits (“Black Sabbath”, “Snowblind”, “Iron Man”, “War Pigs”, etc.) before ending the night with the classic “Paranoid.” The original members were not the only standouts, however: young drummer Tommy Clufetos rocked as hard and played as well as Geezer and Tony. His lengthy and frenetic drum solo about halfway through the show was certainly a highlight.

After Tony Iommi’s recent cancer scare, it’s good to see the group back together one last time. They will be missed, but I wish them the best in retirement.

Below: my one grainy shot, and some video from the concert. Spot the tune!



BillyNew: Quill’s Latest

Quill - Brush With The Moon med res.jpg
For Immediate Release 
UK Country Rock Band Quill Featuring Bev Bevan of ELO, The Move and Black Sabbath to Release New Album “Brush With The Moon”
Birmingham, UK – QUILL is a well-established, 7-piece country/folk/rock band based in Birmingham, England, from the same stable as ELO, Black Sabbath, The Moody Blues, Led Zeppelin, Christine McVie (Fleetwood Mac) and more, have been wowing audiences for many years. In the past, all of these musicians played in and around Birmingham and kept in touch with each other. 
Says lead singer Joy Strachan–Brain, “ ‘Brush With The Moon’ is Quill’s first album to be released Worldwide and we are excited!!Until 2012, Quill was one of the busiest gigging bands in the UK, just getting out there and making music. Our self-penned album ‘Privileged’ sums up how we felt, doing a job we loved, visiting interesting countries , meeting amazing people and making music.” 
The band’s new album “Brush With The Moon” is a collection of songs written by the late BEN BRAIN. Ben was bass player and husband to Quill’s lead singer Joy Strachan–Brain. He left a legacy of wonderful songs and inspired by Jeff Lynne’s use of John Lennon’s demos on “Free as a bird”, Quill was moved to use Ben’s vocals and original demos to create this new album. “Brush with the Moon” is a tribute to Ben and has truly been a labor of love. 
Featuring respected musicians: Bev Bevan (ELO, Black Sabbath), Brian Tatler (Diamond Head), Tony Kelsey (who has played guitar with Robert Plant, Stevie Winwood, Jim Capaldi) and Matt Davies (well respected bass player and vocalist) along with band members Joy Strachan-Brain, Dave Bailey, Kate McWilliam and Tim Tandler 
Bev Bevan commented, “Over the years I have always been an admirer of Quill. I was particularly a fan of Joy, the lead singer, who I considered to be the best female singer around the Midlands area. When I was asked to put a band together for a national tour called ‘Stand up and Rock and found that the show needed a female lead vocalist, I immediately asked Joy to be part of it and she agreed. Since then ‘Stand up and Rock’ has become one of the most successful shows around with sell out tours around Great Britain. About a year ago I joined Quill as percussionist (being a drummer, I have always also liked playing percussion instruments too and have done so in the studio with The Move, ELO, Black Sabbath and Jose Feliciano). It’s great to be doing it live on stage now, and playing drums on some songs too. The line up has changed since I joined and the band now has a more folk and country rockier edge to it. The band is also now concentrating on just theatre shows and festivals and I’m very proud to be part of it and delighted to be on this current , newly released album ‘Brush With The Moon’. Joy and I are writing songs together and we are looking forward to recording tracks for another album to be released later this year.”  
Ben Brain was not only a fantastic wordsmith and performer, but a well respected artist. All of the album artwork consists of Ben’s sketches, which accompany his handwritten lyrics. All of Ben’s drawings seemed appropriate for the “Brush With The Moon” digipak artwork. The front cover is a water colour painting Ben had produced depicting the songs on the album. Additional artwork contribution to the album was from Ben’s daughter, Jenna Swann. 
JOY STRACHAN-BRAIN (lead vocals) 
KATE McWILLIAM (violin/vocals) 
DAVE BAILEY (keyboards/acoustic guitar/vocals) 
TIM TANDLER (drums/percussion) 
BEV BEVAN (drums/percussion) 
MATT DAVIES (bass guitar/vocals) 
TONY KELSEY (guitar/mandolin/vocals) 
1. Quicksilver 
2. Tumbling Years 
3. Schoolyard 
4. Poppy Fields 
5. Nine Mile Camp 
6. England 
7. Hollywood Blue 
8. Wedding Dress 
9. Twister 
10. Man In White 
To purchase Quill’s “Brush With The Moon”
QUILL is enjoying performing to sell-out shows throughout the UK, taking the audience on an exciting and emotional journey that features songs from an album that the audience can relate to. 
Quill tour dates
Acoustic Festival of GB – June 21, 2015, Uttoxeter Racecourse Wood Lane ST14 
Americana Festival – July 12, 2015, Loughborough Road Loughborough LE12 
Robin 2 – August 1, 2015, 
Artrix Theatre – August 15, 2015, Bromsgrove Highway Bromsgrove B60 
Abbey Theatre – September 26, 2015, Abbey Green Nuneaton CV11 
Prince of Wales Theatre – October 9, 2015, Arts Centre Cannock WS11 1DE 
Assembly Rooms – November 7, 2015, 1 Mill Street Ludlow 
Sutton Coldfield Town Hall – December 4, 2015, Upper Clifton Road, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands B73 6AB
Huntingdon Hall – December 11, 2015, Crowngate shopping Centre Worcester 
Watch the promotional video
Press inquiries: Glass Onyon PR, PH: 828-350-8158 (USA),

Is This The End, My Friend?

Apparently, it is.  Black Sabbath is calling it quits:

Last summer, the original lineup of Black Sabbath — Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, and Geezer Butler — roared back to life after some 30-plus years apart. In rather short order, the trio snagged their first-ever No. 1 album with 13, toured the world for nearly a full year, and even celebrated by winning a couple Grammys back in January. Now, in an interview with Metal Hammer (via Rolling Stone), frontman Osbourne talks the metal icons’ future plans, which include “one more album, and a final tour.”

We’ll get one more album, with a final show in November, 2015, in Tokyo.  Part of this is due to the cancer treatment for guitarist Tony Iommi, and we do wish him well.

Godspeed, Black Sabbath – you’ve had a great run and your influence extends far beyond your own genre.  You will be missed but you will not be forgotten.

War Pigs: Black Sabbath and Rise of an Empire

Reflections on why Black’s Sabbath’s “War Pigs” is the music of choice for 300: Rise of an Empire (over at CWR):

It is odd to hear this song’s denunciation of the demonic evils of war paired together with the film’s nauseating spectacle of cruel violence, which even includes graphic sexual violence. But the song’s prominent placement reveals a strange form of magical thinking. Apparently audiences want both to take pleasure in the most perverse displays of torture and murder, and yet at the same time to adopt a pose of moral superiority towards it all, as if their delight in the spectacle is not a real delight.

Top Ten… or Top Thirteen?

For my personal Best of 2013 list, I have just posted (over the last few days) an alphabetical listing of my Top Ten:

Big Big Train: English Electric Part Two

Deep Purple: NOW What?!

Dream Theater: Dream Theater

Haken: The Mountain

Holy Grail: Ride the Void

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Sound of Contact: Dimensionaut

Spock’s Beard: Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories

The Winery Dogs: The Winery Dogs

But, as promised, I am now going to add three more to the list, as three bonus additions, and thus make this a Top Thirteen list.

Why? Well, because this is the year 2013, and also because Black Sabbath released 13 this year (which also happened to be one of Mike Portnoy‘s favorites).

So, stay tuned for #11 on my Top Thirteen of 2013…

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