And so, after all the recriminations and line-up changes, final tours and fall-outs, it seems that the end truly is upon us. It’s a bittersweet admission that, yes, this probably is the last outing of the quintessential metal band, but if this truly is the end, then this release is a fitting end-note to a legacy that stretches back across the decades.
Released in multiple formats, The End is an audio-visual extravaganza from the Birmingham titans. Available in a typically bewildering array of formats, the most basic package is a single disc (either DVD or blu ray) featuring the concert, filmed on the 4th February in Birmingham. The disc features the complete, 16-track concert recorded in Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 as well as the Angelic Sessions, a five-track studio set. There’s also a handsome, eighteen-page booklet with liner-notes and images, which is a nice touch. For those wanting something a little more special, there is a two-disc set (featuring either a blu ray or DVD) with identical video content, plus a bonus CD featuring the Angelic Sessions (but not the concert); Finally, the audio of the concert is available on triple vinyl or double CD.
For this review, we have the single disc DVD and the results are impressive. Although DVD lacks the visual punch of blu ray, it is clear that no expense has been spared with regard filming the set. Multiple cameras swoop across the stage and the arena, capturing the band and the audience in crisp detail. Dick Carruthers does a fine job of directing the film (aided by editor Tim Woolcott) and he uses the multiple angles to create a remarkably dynamic film of a band who are (Tommy Clufetos aside) remarkably static performers. Although some have said that the quick-cut edits are distracting, they certainly help to give the film visual heft. It also helps that the stage, which is backed by a gigantic screen and frequently bracketed by flame and smoke, offers enough activity to keep things interesting and frequent close ups allow us to see Tony’s false finger tips as he tears across the fret-board. All in all, this is a pretty faithful and impactful film of Sabbath in action (check it out for yourself in the clip below).
The video is, of course, as naught compared to the audio when it comes to a live show. No strangers to the art of the live album, there are many recordings of live Sabbath out there, but the team of Tony Iommi, Greg Price (who also recorded the show and produced the FOH sound) and Mike Exeter do a fantastic job of rendering the show in crisp, clear detail. Turn it up and listen as Tony’s guitar roars, Geezer’s bass rumbles and Tommy’s drums thunder in a mix that offers impressive separation and clarity. Ozzy, meanwhile, turns in a remarkably restrained performance that flows from the heart of the mix nicely, and the surround sound mixes certainly do a good job of opening up the soundstage nicely, really placing the viewer at the heart of the events unfolding on stage. In short, it is an exemplary mix that will have you cheering along with the enthusiastic home crowd who packed out Birmingham’s Genting arena.
The final Black Sabbath tour was a lengthy enterprise that lasted just over thirteen months, with the band playing 81 shows around the world. An emotional trek that saw Tony, Geezer and Ozzy say farewell to a band that spanned nearly five decades, the only two niggles were the absence of anything from final album ‘13’ and the absence (after much to do) of founding member Bill Ward. It’s a shame that the band were unable to bring the famed drummer back into the fold for at least some of the shows, but there’s no question that Tommy provided the band with the sort of pummelling backbone upon which Tony and Geezer could hang their monumental riffs.
Fans argue over the exact number of classic albums that Sabbath produced over the course of their career, but it is unarguable that the first four albums, at the very least, are stone-cold classics, unworn by the passing of time and packed with an almost embarrassing number of stand-out tracks. Indeed, such is the power of those first four, near-mythical albums, that the band stick almost entirely to them, with only ‘Sabbath bloody Sabbath’ and ‘megalomania’ emerging in an instrumental medley and a surprise rendition of ‘dirty women’ (from ‘Technical Ecstasy’) deviating from the path. Of course, Sabbath being one of the most revered metal acts of all time, the band could easily have played for three hours or more and still left members of the audience disappointed that their favourite track was not aired. Nonetheless, what you get is as close to the cream of Black Sabbath as it is possible to get. Curdled, and blackened cream, perhaps, but cream nonetheless, and performed with a panache and power that is all the more emotional given the knowledge that this is the band’s (probable) last outing.
Highlights abound and picking out a favourite moment seems almost entirely redundant. Certainly, the roar that greets the opening ‘black sabbath’ is both emotional and hair-raising, whilst the howling intro to ‘War Pigs’, arguably the world’s greatest heavy metal singalong has lost none of its impact through familiarity. Both ‘into the void’ and ‘snowblind’ stake out Sabbath’s claim to kick-starting the entire doom genre, whilst the concluding might of ‘Children of the grave’ and ‘paranoid’ is as perfect a finale as any metal band could ever wish to have. Throughout it all, the band play with well-honed ferocity and it’s impossible to escape the feeling that the fact of the band’s imminent demise supercharged the performances of all those concerned. Sabbath may well return in some form or other in the future, but this still comes across as one of the greatest heavy metal send offs of all time. However, whilst the band perform with customary aplomb, it is Ozzy who truly stands out. Always the showman he sings his ass off at this show, hitting the notes with impressive consistency, but he also allows more space for the instrumental sections than he typically does with his solo outfit. Thus, whilst he spares no effort to get the audience involved, there’s always room for the solos to shine, all of which makes for one of the best live Sabbath recordings to date.
The standalone DVD / Blu Ray features a five-song studio performance from the band. It includes behind the scenes footage, including an amusing exchange just prior to ‘Sweet leaf’ between Ozzy and his sound engineer, as the recalcitrant singer tries to summon the energy for one more take. The studio tracks are not particularly good – the band lacking the vibrancy that comes from interacting with a crowd – but it is a welcome bonus that adds value to the overall package. However, whilst viewers may find themselves occasionally drawn to the studio footage, it is the monstrous main concert to which they will return time and again.
The final (probably) show of the greatest metal band of all time was always going to be a monumental affair. Filmed in front of a partisan, home-town crowd and packed with tunes that have become part of the fabric of any self-respecting metalhead’s very existence, ‘The End’ is a celebration of the power of Sabbath’s music. With all the age-old recriminations and egos brushed away, what remains is a lasting testament to the enduring power of a humble band that emerged from a West Midlands city in the late 60s only to take over the world. Emotional, powerful and perfectly filmed, ‘the End’ is a must-have DVD. 9