From their debut nearly 50 years ago, no band has been more synonymous with heavy metal than Black Sabbath. After numerous lineup changes over the years, including a reunion with the Ronnie James Dio-era band for the Heaven and Hell project, fans of the original Black Sabbath finally got their wish when, in 2013, the group (albeit without drummer Bill Ward, who sat out due to contract issues and was replaced by Brad Wilk) recorded a new album, 13, with Ozzy Osbourne on vocals, their first since 1978's Never Say Die!
After touring extensively for 13, the band, now with Tommy Clufetos on drums, the band decided to wrap up their legendary career. While bands go on farewell tours all the time (Osbourne himself "retiring" decades ago), the recent health problems for guitarist Tony Iommi make this one seem like it will stick. Appropriately enough, the group dubbed their farewell tour "The End" and finished the tour in Birmingham, England, where they began all those years ago. This final show was filmed and makes up the Blu-ray Black Sabbath -- The End.
The show begins with the same ominous bell and rain sounds that open the band's first LP. A flaming Black Sabbath logo illuminates the stage as the band launches into their namesake song. The band, all clad in black, cut menacing figures on stage, even after all these years, particularly Osbourne, whose eerie vocals drive the song. For his part, Clufetos fits right in, looking and playing like a young Bill Ward, aggressively bashing the drums. The crowd, which is outstanding from the get go, gets whipped into a frenzy as the song picks up the pace toward the end.
"Fairies Wear Boots" follows with plenty of shots of the crowd head banging. Psychedelic imagery fills the screen behind the band as they lock into a tight groove. For those who doubt Sabbath's influence, compare the guitar lick toward the end of this song to the one in Metallica's "For Whom The Bell Tolls." Sabbath were pioneers in doom metal, as the opening of "Under The Sun/Every Day Comes And Goes" proves, but the song is not all sludge either. The song showcases groove-laden verses, an up-tempo section and numerous key changes. As the saying goes, often imitated but never duplicated, no group really sounded like Black Sabbath before Black Sabbath and they still do it better than anyone.
Sabbath keeps the doom metal coming with "Into The Void," from their brilliant Master Of Reality album. The song's lengthy intro is followed by one of Iommi's greatest, if underrated, riffs. Osbourne sounds good here and throughout. As this song is tuned way down on the original LP, Osbourne doesn't have to worry about hitting notes from 40-plus years ago here.
There are some songs where the passage of time has made it difficult for Osbourne to perform them without significantly lowering the key though. A trio of these "Supernaut," "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," and "Megalomania" are presented as an instrumental medley that gives Osbourne a break and allows the band a chance to shine. Iommi has lamented not being able to do songs such as "Symptom Of The Universe," which sadly is not included as part of the medley here.
Osbourne senses the crowd's intensity during "War Pigs." They clap along in between power chords while overpowering Osbourne while he sings. Osbourne for his part trades verses with the fans, who are all too happy to oblige. The love between artist and audience is very much in evidence here.
The show ends with two of Sabbath's biggest songs, "Children Of The Grave" and "Paranoid." On the former, Osbourne delivers a strong vocal as balloons falling from the rafters contradict the fire and skull imagery on stage while the latter finds the band ending with really the only song appropriate enough to do so. Subtle keyboard flourishes from Adam Wakeman (son of Rick) add extra textures to "Children Of The Grave." The crowd, intense from the start, drowns out the band with their singing, leaving the arena saddened that their heroes would be gone forever, but satisfied with a killer performance.
The Blu-ray is filmed in 1080i High Definition 16:9 Widescreen and looks great. The show is well filmed and there are many excellent shots of both the band and the audience. Audio options include DTS-HD Master Audio and LPCM Stereo. As a bonus, the band recorded a number of songs, dubbed "The Angelic Sessions," live in the studio. These were not performed during the concert itself but are included here not only as a bonus CD, but also in video footage. One can sense the fun the group is having as smiles abound while they play such classics as "The Wizard" and "Sweet Leaf." The performances truly are a highlight of the collection.
Since their first album in 1970, Black Sabbath has been at the forefront of heavy metal and they remain arguably the most important band in the genre's history. While it would have been nice to have Ward on drums for this all-important finale, Clufetos is an excellent drummer in his own right, and the band delivers potent performances throughout. Fans of the band will want to check out Black Sabbath -- The End, as it is a worthy final chapter to this incredible story.