Black Sabbath returned to the stage for an intimate hometown show at Birmingham Academy on May 19. K! Features Ed Nick Ruskell was there to witness the event...
Tonight, heavy metal came home. Just a short jog from the Aston streets where the members of Black Sabbath grew up, they're here for one night only for a low key (well, a snip of the number of people they'll be playing to at Download) hometown show.
Ok, so Bill Ward is nowhere to be seen, replaced by Ozzy's drummer Tommy Clufetos. But far more important than who's behind the drums is who's out front, stage left. Tony Iommi - still undergoing treatment for lymphoma - is standing onstage, dressed head to toe in black, smiling from ear to ear and blasting out the enormous opening riff to Into The Void. The sight of the man who invented heavy metal still able to play makes all this business with drummers and contracts completely irrelevant. With 3,000 people chanting his name - and referred to by Ozzy as "The Iron Man" during that song's intro - Tony Iommi is a genuinely heroic guitar hero.
As for the music, Sabbath are simply on fire tonight. Each seismic riff that comes from Tony's guitar - War Pigs, Snowblind, Sweet Leaf, loads more - is absolutely crushing. Electric Funeral, with it's wah-wah led cautionary tale of nuclear arms, has never sounded as heavy as it does when Tony and bassist Geezer Butler roll out its mammoth, mournful groove this evening, while Iron Man remains the most sing-along riff in metal history.
There's the usual horsing around from Ozzy (watched from the balcony by Sharon), but he's also in truly spectacular voice. He belts out Children Of The Grave like a sergeant major, while his doomy wail during Black Sabbath is chilling. And then he whips out a harmonica for The Wizard's bluesy intro, a sight that never fails to make you like him just that little bit more.
Is Bill Ward noticeable by his absence? Obviously, yes. But get over that, not gonna happen, and Tommy Clufetos is a hell of a sticksman; dextrous, heavy hitting, and able to lock effortlessly into the same swinging groove with Geezer Butler that Ward did. It's not the real thing, but Christ it's close. The rhythms of War Pigs and Iron Man's thunderous lurch are spot on, with every jazzy freakout and flourish played with genuine class. Although the should they/shouldn't they debate over his mid-set drum solo will doubtless rage for a while to come.
You could spend all day, night, and the following morning down the pub arguing about the perfect Sabbath setlist. The one Sabbs air this evening hits all the right spots - with a rare airing of Vol 4 classic Wheels Of Confusion being a particular treat - but how come Symptom Of The Universe was an instrumental? And as much of an underrated banger as Dirty Women from Technical Ecstasy is, did it really need to come at the expense of a proper run through of Sabbath Blood Sabbath, instead of just a tease of the intro riff?
But that's nitpicking. Setlists don't matter. Internal politics don't matter. What matters is that tonight, Sabbath are here, Tony Iommi is onstage. And for two hours, the most important heavy metal band of all time prove that, 42 years after the world heard that infamous tritone for the first time, they are also the best.
Download, you're in for something magical.
Into The Void
Under The Sun
Wheels Of Confusion
Behind The Wall Of Sleep
Fairies Wear Boots
Symptom Of The Universe
Children Of The Grave