Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Black Sabbath - Past Lives

I'm not really a metalhead, but there's something very satisfying about listening to heavy music. Even without getting up and thrashing about the room, it's a great way to vent your frustrations. And nothing is more certain in life than that there will always be frustrations to hound you, and impair your ability to be happy. And that's where heavy music comes in to play.

Black Sabbath is a really great band. The thing I like the most about them, I think, is the way that Tony Iommi's riffs sound. They're just so heavy, and powerful, and they hang in the air. They're really unrivaled, at least for its time. Other bands played heavy music - Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, etc. - but none of them could compare to the meatiness of a good Black Sabbath riff. And there are so many of them. Black Sabbath has a ton of great songs, the majority of which don't get the radio play they deserve.

Past Lives is a collection of live recordings from the seventies, during Black Sabbath's initial (and classic) stint from 1970 to 1978, with Ozzy Osbourne at the helm. The liner notes are a little bit ambiguous, but with the help of Wikipedia, I've managed to determine that this double disc album consists of three general periods.

The entire first disc is compiled from two shows in England in 1973. This would be about the adolescent period for Sabbath - their best/most legendary material (everything on their first four albums, including, of course, Paranoid) has been released, but it's still relatively fresh, and the band is still young. Of the nine tracks included, three are from Vol. 4, two from the band's third album Master of Reality, one from the upcoming Sabbath Bloody Sabbath album (Killing Yourself To Live, which is a great track), two from Paranoid - including the title track as well as War Pigs, which is very interesting to hear them do live - and one from their self-titled debut album. That last track, Wicked World (a song with some especially great riffs, by the way), is stretched out to an almost twenty minute long jam, with shades of Into The Void, and Supernaut thrown in the middle, which appropriately recalls the style of the band's first album, which contains a lot of instrumental noodling, and tossing of various songs together into single tracks (the album has five tracks, but at least ten songs or musical pieces).

The first part of the second disc of this live compendium is a show from 1975. Apart from including another great track from Paranoid (Hand of Doom), it takes advantage of its later status by including three tracks from the band's latest album at that time - Sabotage. Megalomania is a great song. The rest of the second disc is an early show from 1970, demonstrating the band in a much younger state. You get to hear three tracks from their debut album - of which, I'm particularly interested in Black Sabbath, the song that named the band, since I like it so much. In addition to that, you get two tracks from Paranoid - Iron Man, and the album closer, Fairies Wear Boots.

There is a lot of noise about Black Sabbath being a great live band, and it's true, they sound great on these live tracks. I'm sure the effect is even better in person, as it usually is. I think that, on the other hand, Black Sabbath is a band that also benefits from the clean production of the studio, where their riffs can make a full impact with minimal distraction from unwanted elements. Plus, Ozzy does sound better in the studio, I have to be honest. So some of these songs, like War Pigs, for example - while they sound great live, I still think I prefer their studio counterparts. But it is interesting, after all, to hear the band do these songs live - especially for me, as a performing musician, to see how they accomplish certain things on stage that aren't as easy to pull off without all that studio magic.

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