Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Live Review: Black Sabbath @ Download Festival, Donnington Park, Saturday, June 11th 2016

By Steve Wilson

1. Black Sabbath
2. Fairies Wear Boots
3. After Forever
4. Into The Void
5. Snowblind
6. War Pigs
7. Behind The Wall of Sleep
8. N.I.B.
9. Hand of Doom
10 Rat Salad (with drum solo)
11. Iron Man
12. Dirty Women
13. Children of the Grave
14. Paranoid
The Review:
After spending the first half of 2016 in a depressed state due to the fact that I wouldn't be going to see Black Sabbath on their 'The End' tour, I was given a last-minute chance to do so at this weekend's Download Festival. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance and prepared myself for what would turn out to be the muddiest Donnington festival in history (I know it's been called Download for almost twenty years, but let's be honest. It's the Donnington Monsters of Rock Festival in all but name, and always will be!).
I spent the daylight hours of Saturday trudging through lukewarm mud while managing to not fall over, catching glimpses of bands I'd never heard of (with notable exception of Megadeth, who were actually quite good) and grudgingly spending five pound plus a pint on beer. It took the edge off the mud and wet weather, though, and several pints later, I was ready for the main event. Please welcome live on stage: BLACK SABBATH!
Black Sabbath's set began, appropriately enough, with 'Black Sabbath,' the now legendary dirge that opens their iconic first album. This was my first ever Black Sabbath show, and looks like it could be my last. I was determined not to miss a second. With that in mind, I stood in the pouring rain, a pint in each hand, and paid my respects to godfathers of doom metal.
With the opening track out of the way, it was on to the “Paranoid” album with 'Fairies Wear Boots.' Both Tony Iommi and Geezer Bulter were in perfect sync with drummer Tommy Clufetos, who has played live with the band since 2012, despite not appearing on their last album “13.” He's not Bill Ward, as it would be impossible to replace him, but he manages to do a solid job of replicating Ward's classic grooves on this track, and throughout the set. He hits harder than Bill did on the original tracks, but retains enough of his jazz swing to sound authentic. I was impressed.
Next came two tracks from the band's classic third album “Master of Reality”: 'After Forever' and 'Into The Void.' Both were executed flawlessly by the band, with Ozzy turning in a surprisingly solid performance, only missing a few of the higher notes on these songs, which I expected him to do. He hasn't really hit the high notes live for some years now, although he carried off the mid section of 'Into The Void' in grand style, and if you weren't looking, he could pass for a much younger version of himself.
A blazing rendition of  'Snowblind' from the “Volume 4” album followed, with Ozzy making quite a show of shouting 'Cocaine' on the choruses. In fact he sounded very enthusiastic indeed and left me wondering if he ever stopped partaking of it. Whatever he's on, it's working, and he sounded great on this classic track which was topped off by a spot-on solo from Iommi, who wisely went for the album version on this song (as he did throughout the set), rather than improvising and wasting precious time.
'War Pigs' marked the rough halfway point in the set, which lived up to expectations, again minus the odd vocal weakness here and there from Ozzy. To be honest, most of the audience (myself included) were just grateful that he was alive and well and able to perform! We'd spent so long waiting for Sabbath to play, we were just happy to see and hear them at this point!
By now it was raining for real, with Ozzy comically asking “why does it always have to fucking piss it down?” The band played two tracks from the first album, 'Behind The Wall of Sleep' and 'N.I.B.' (complete with Geezer's iconic bass solo intro). This was a real treat for me. I expected the usual “War Pigs” and “Snowblind”, but to hear these early tracks live at such an emotional point in the band's career was a privilege, and they did not disappoint. Clufetos recreated Bill Ward's original mid-paced groove on 'Behind The Wall of Sleep' perfectly, locking in seamlessly with Geezer's bass.
Then came a return to the “Paranoid” album with 'Hand of Doom', another test for Ozzy's ageing voice. He warmed up by the mid-section and pulled of a performance every bit as satisfying as the 1970 original. This was followed by the instrumental 'Rat Salad,' with an extended drum solo which gave Iommi, Butler and Osbourne a chance to go backstage and take a break. They are almost 70 years old after all. I was tired just watching them, so I can only imagine how physically draining a full set must be at their age. They then returned to the stage for live standard 'Iron Man' (also from the “Paranoid” album), which warmed the crowd back up after the slightly over-long drum solo.
'Dirty Women' was a nice surprise, and the only song from the band's late '70's period. The band handled the tempo changes with ease and it sounded convincing and solid. It was nice to hear something from the “Technical Ecstasy” album, a period which was overlooked in the rest of the set, as were “Sabotage” (no 'Symptom of the Universe!' - a criminal oversight!) and “Never Say Die”.
“Children of The Grave” was the last song it the main set. While the song itself lived up to expectations with all original members turning in solid, convincing performances, Iommi made an almost unforgivable mistake in omitting the 'Embryo' intro. He just played a couple of notes then shrugged his shoulders and smiled before the band went into the song proper. It just looked like he couldn't be bothered, and I think it's fair to say that a band of their stature could have afforded to make the effort. Don't get me wrong, they are legends by any stretch of the imagination, but come on Tony! We love this music and all you had to do was add a minute to the set. I don't think he realised how offended some of us were by this move. As a fellow musician, I was, at least, and I'm sure others would have been too, especially the guitarists in the audience.         
The show was rounded off by a short pause, which gave room for the soaked but happy crowd to chant and cheer for more, before the band returned to the stage to belt out 'Paranoid.' This song never sounds that good live, but it benefited from being played by Geezer and Tony instead of the versions from Ozzy's band that I've heard in the past.
Gas-powered fireballs (which were surprisingly hot, even from a few rows back!) were the icing on the cake production-wise before the closing firework display above the stage, which is a Donnington staple, and came as no surprise.
Minor criticisms and slight flaws aside, Black Sabbath lived up to their reputation as a classic band, and arguably the most important in heavy metal history, especially for us doomsters. I was honoured to witness them live, and I will be sad to see them go, even though their farewell tour has been extended into some expensive indoor dates next year. Heavy metal being what it is, this could be The End, or it could just be their 1998 Reunion all over again. They may well be back, you never know. Never say die!