Music Reviews

Black Sabbath

Past Lives


Amidst all of this Ozzy-mania inspired by the success of MTV’s The Osbournes comes a true gem. Past Lives marks the first official U.S. release of live recordings by the original line-up of the groundbreaking heavy metal band Black Sabbath – John “Ozzy” Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Bill Ward, and Geezer Butler. The two-disc set is a must have for any Sabbath fan or anyone interested in the influences of all of the heavy sounding bands that are around today.

Disc one is better know to fans as Live At Last, a live record only available as a bootleg from the U.K. until now. This long sought after album has been remastered and finally gives US fans an affordable chance to hear what this band sounded like live in their prime. Starting with a thunderous rendition of “Tomorrow’s Dream,” the foursome doesn’t relent until the final echoes of “Paranoid” reverberate through the speakers. Seminal anti-war song “War Pigs” is especially timely these days. The sound is a bit uneven, raging from muddy to surprisingly clear, but for a live album from 1973 this is to be expected.

The sound quality is better on the second disc that collects earlier recordings from venues throughout the Seventies. While disc two contains several classic rock radio staples such as “Iron Man” and “N.I.B.,” it also gives us a glimpse at some of the more obscure Sabbath songs. The ten-minute version of “Megalomania” is a sonic treat as the band gels in a way that some bands strive for their entire careers. The bluesy groove of “Behind the Wall of Sleep” segues seamlessly into the finale of a personal favorite “Fairies Wear Boots.”

A live recording should always take the crowd into account. How well did the recording capture the crowd’s energy and how much energy was there to capture? Past Lives is a mixed bag in this respect. At times, the live crowd energy is almost tangible as they cheer along between songs or shout out during key moments, while at other times it almost sounds like a recording with just the band in a garage.

While the standard release comes with a booklet full of classic photos and an essay detailing the band’s place in musical history, the limited-edition digipack comes with a double-gatefold cover, a booklet, poster and even a Sabbath guitar pick. Even with reunion tours a good chance to see the original members of a band these days, nothing can quite capture the magic of a band in its prime in front of a live audience chomping at the bit to hear them play. Check out Past Lives for a slice of history from a time when Ozzy and his pals were on top of the world and were changing the future of heavy metal music.

Sanctuary Records:

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