HEAVEN & HELL | 04.24 | SAN JOSE
By: Dennis Cook
Heaven And Hell :: 04.24.07 :: HP Pavilion :: San Jose, CA
Outside the arena that normally hosts San Jose Sharks hockey, a lone wack job paraded with a huge sign that announced eternal damnation for fornicators, murderers, and worst of all – based on the oversized font – homosexuals. Heavy metal will always draw finger pointers like this but in an era where rock is pretty domesticated it’s good to know there’s still a subset that can angry up the blood of both fans and its detractors.
All night I was struck by how metal acts excel at cool logos, memorable graphics and other conceptual stuff that deepens the connection for the listener. By actively playing to rock’s innate tribalism they imbue everything with a richer symbolism than the mainstream or indie sphere. Before I got too thoughtful, I pounded whiskey and watched a balding Dr. Johnny Fever look-alike amble past the bar wearing a scrolling LED belt buckle that read, “No Fat Chicks.” The dudes-to-does ratio was 10-to-1 but that’s no surprise at a gig with the testosterone level of a junior high locker room.
Out of respect for Ozzy, the quartet is touring as Heaven And Hell, taken from the title of their first collaboration in 1980, an album as hugely influential on metal as Iron Maiden‘s The Number of the Beast or Judas Priest’s British Steel. That Sabbath was still able to reinvent the wheel a decade into their career with a new singer was pretty impressive. After the superb studio follow-up (1981’s Mob Rules) and a dodgy live album (1982’s Live Evil) it seemed Sabbath’s pairing with the former Rainbow/Elf singer was over. A lackluster reunion album and tour in ’92 did little to inspire future hopes. Well, we were all wrong. Having seen the reunited original Sabbath a couple times, I wasn’t expecting to have my dick knocked in the dirt. But that’s just what these middle-aged masters did.
Few bands do big entertainment like Black Sabbath/Heaven And Hell. The combination of archetypal riffing, instrumental prowess and epic/cartoon storytelling is, to say least, stimulating. Dio is simply the best metal vocalist of all time. His bright tongue has lost very little luster in the years since he introduced us to the “Man On The Silver Mountain” (1975 if you’re curious). Butler played bass like Dave Schools‘ grandpappy, which fit Appice’s wonderfully busy percussion. Stock still at stage left, Iommi quietly reminded us all night that his tunings and crazy picking style birthed this freakin’ genre. That may sound like hyperbole but I doubt that any of the musicians watching slackjawed stage side would argue with me.
Like some sort of Black Sea Scroll, Sabbath sketches the past and the future of metal for anyone willing to be an acolyte. That primal force was far more readily apparent with Dio at the helm than the never-lucid Ozzy Osbourne. It’s almost unfair to compare the shambling reality show star to one of metal’s royal purists but the pudding, sirs, is where the proof lies. I’d see Heaven And Hell again in a heartbeat but think twice about checking out Black Sabbath proper again.
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