They came, they played, they conquered, they left without saying goodbye. This tour is proving a surprisingly unsentimental end to Black Sabbath, here on their last visit to the big smoke, playing their last ever shows after almost 50 years of metal mayhem, before they make their final exit in Birmingham next weekend. There were no big speeches, no teary waves from the stage, just two hours of loud, heavy, interlocked guitar and bass riffs, thunderous drum rolls and tuneless roaring.
Sabbath stumbled on the prototype for heavy metal back at the end of the Sixties, honed it to perfection in the Seventies, and are riding it all the way to the finish line with the imperious skills of veteran road warriors. This set was all business, Sabbath’s big-hitter tracks delivered with fierce, focused intent
Psychedelic blues, flanged power chords, atonal riffs, a bass played like a lead guitar, a lead guitar played like a shrieking banshee. Sabbath don’t really have a rhythm section – or rather, the guitar and bass are the rhythm section, while the drums just pound and pummel, flay and roll, sending out shock waves.
With his long hair, headband and droopy moustache, replacement drummer Tommy Clufetos looked like he had turned up for a Spinal Tap fancy dress party, but at 37 he brought a physicality to proceedings that kept energy levels high. The original trio, all in their late sixties, did not have to do much more than play their parts. Guitarist Tony Iommi and bassist Geezer Butler rocked, poker faced. Even Ozzy Osbourne did not stray far from his centre spot, hanging on to his microphone stand as if he needed it for support.
In his prime, Osbourne was an uncontrollable clown who brought manic and unpredictable thrills to Sabbath’s dark, masculine force, but old age and infirmity have restricted his scope for nonsense.
Yet, crucially, his performance was far more controlled, his singing vastly improved since their Reunion tour in 2013. Sabbath have been on the road, saying their long goodbyes, for a year and a half now, and, if nothing else, it seems to have done Osbourne’s voice a world of good. He roared the songs like they mattered – the crowd did the rest.
You’ve never really seen a mosh pit until you’ve seen stout, grey-haired, old men body-slamming. The band may have treated it like another day at the mill, but for hardcore, long-serving fans it was certainly an occasion to be relished, the last stand of one of the most forceful, original and influential rock powerhouses of our times. With a final wave after Paranoid, the bat-munching frontman of their Satanic majesties offered an incongruous “God Bless, we love you all” and they were gone. Job done.
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