Tuesday, March 11, 2014

CD Odyssey Disc 601: Black Sabbath

I have now randomly rolled three Black Sabbath albums out of the last seven, which is a statistical anomaly to say the least. I know for certain it can’t happen again, though, because this is the last Sabbath album in my collection. Fitting that it should be a live record I suppose.

I should be taking a nap right now, since I have company tonight and an early day tomorrow, but I want to get this review written while it’s hot in my blood. Even if it weren’t, I’ve a hankering for something other than the mighty Black Sabbath and the Odyssey doesn’t release me from the thralldom of one album until I start the next one.

Disc 601 is….Live Evil
Artist: Black Sabbath

Year of Release: 1982

What’s up with the Cover? I loved this cover as a kid. It depicts a bunch of the Black Sabbath songs featured on the record. From left to right we have Paranoid, Voodoo, Heaven and Hell, Neon Knights, Black Sabbath, Iron Man, War Pigs, Children of the Grave (and possible Children of the Sea as well) and The Mob Rules. I used to have the Neon Knight done in purple on a big silk screen that hung over my bed.

How I Came To Know It: I knew this album when it came out. I believe my brother was a fisherman at the time and he used to come in off the boat and buy about 10 albums with his pay cheque – when he let me, I’d borrow them when he was back at sea. This was one of those.

How It Stacks Up:  I have ten of Black Sabbath’s studio albums and I recently reviewed the last one and stacked the up (back at Disc 598). As a live album, “Live Evil” kind of exists apart from those, so while I’ll rate it, I’m reluctant to stack it up.

Rating:  3 stars

I’ll always regret not seeing Black Sabbath live in their heyday. While you can argue their heyday was years before, the 1982 edition of Sabbath for “Live Evil” with Ronnie James Dio singing and Vinny Appice on drums this is still an impressive lineup. Also, the title is a palindrome – nifty!

Since I’ve already reviewed my other ten Sabbath albums, I won’t dwell too much on the individual tracks too much.  I will note that when you have a live album of a band that has been around for twelve years, choosing which songs to include in a performance is part of the art.

Personally, I like about one-third classic hits, one-third obscure stuff for the hard core fans and one-third stuff off of your new album. For the most part, “Live Evil” met my expectations, although it was a bit light on the obscure stuff. Also, while I know it is hard to pick just what classic songs to include, not choosing a single track off of their best album (“Volume 4”), is a huge oversight. I was particularly bummed not to hear “Supernaut” one of the all-time great riff-tracks. That said, “N.I.B.” was able to fulfill the monster riff requirement fairly well.

The production is not as meaty as I would have liked, but that is part of the live album experience (and why I tend to prefer studio albums as a general rule). No matter how good you sound, the production will never match the studio unless you’re cheating (Yes, I’m thinking of you, Kiss Alive!).

Dio clearly relishes singing the new (i.e. ‘his’) material, and he delivers great live versions of “Children of the Sea” and “Neon Knights.” That said, the best thing about “Live Evil” for me is hearing how some of the early Sabbath tracks are re-invented for Dio’s vocal style, which is so different from Ozzie’s.

As I noted back when I reviewed the album “Heaven and Hell” at Disc 565, my first experience with Black Sabbath was with Dio as the singer, and my first experience with a lot of the earlier songs was off of “Live Evil.” At the time I just assumed that is how the songs sounded. Later I discovered the joy of Ozzie Osbourne, and I admit his original versions are overall better. That said, Dio does solid work on the classics, and on “War Pigs” I think he equals the original. It is less bluesy and grimy than the Ozzie version, but it has a dreadful importance that only Dio’s operatic style can deliver.

The album falls down a bit near the end, where the band goes a bit overboard with “Heaven and Hell.” I love this song but despite Dio’s exhortations, you can’t really hear the crowd singing along as he instructs them. Later the band switches to “The Sign of the Southern Cross” and then they blend it with “Heaven and Hell.” This works OK, but when they decide to do it again with “Paranoid” they lose me. It feels a bit like they can’t decide if their triumphant end should be a Dio-era song or an Ozzie-era song. Guys – the fans came out to see you, so they already like you. Don’t overthink it.

So this album has some warts, but it is well played and performed, and it is hard to go far wrong when you are working with a wealth of material this good. While not a great live album, it is certainly a good one.

Best tracks: These are chosen based on how much I like the performance, rather than if they are merely a good song, since the album is full of good songs: Neon Knights, N.I.B., Children of the Sea, War Pigs

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