The Prince of Fucking Darkness. The Godfather of Heavy Metal. John Michael Osbourne. Call him what you like, but Ozzy Osbourne is a legend: The iconic voice and face of Black Sabbath; a band that laid the solid foundations for the evolution of every subsequent genre of Metal in the early seventies. Having put their past differences behind them, the on-again-off-again relationship with guitarist Tony Iommi and Bassist Geezer Butler has never looked more solid – although, sadly, original drummer Bill Ward declined the opportunity to continue recording and touring with Sabbath. The victim of several (and sometimes near-fatal) pranks at the hands of his bandmates in the early days, Ward was reportedly dissatisfied with the contractual conditions of the recent reunion. In his stead is 33 year old Tommy Clufetos whose past credits include playing and recording with Alice Cooper and Rob Zombie. He joins Iommi, Butler and Osbourne in the Odyssey Arena to perform in front of a sold-out 11,000-strong audience.
The show starts with the sound of a jovial Ozzy making cuckoo noises as his shadow is cast, arms spread, onto the curtain surrounding the stage. The venue erupts with cheers and applause as the curtain opens and ‘War Pigs’ sets the scene for an evening of classic heavy metal. Once in the spotlight, Ozzy’s years of decadent lifestyle are hard to refute as he doffs his long black cape to reveal a well-fed belly, and a gait belying his 65 years. The dithering demeanour portrayed in the farcical MTV show The Osbournes however, is a grossly exaggerated parody of the ill-effects of his life-long drug-abuse, and has since been diagnosed as being, at least in part, attributed to the genetic Parkinson’s disease. Iommi, on the other hand, looks a picture of health, despite still undergoing treatment for the lymphoma that was diagnosed in early 2012. The fact that three of the founding members of this seminal band are still performing and creating new music together 45 years after forming in Birmingham in 1968 is almost incredible.
The sound and lighting at the Belfast Odyssey leave nothing to be desired. The custom-built backdrop houses three large non-standard video screens which are used to display live band footage, pre-recorded videos and album artwork during the show. Paying tribute to what is probably the most widely recognised and influential heavy metal albums of all time, Paranoid, the masters give us five songs from their second album released in 1970. In fact, of the fifteen song setlist, just two are from their new album 13, and all of the rest bar one are from the first four albums which were released between 1970 and 1972, almost completely avoiding the forty years and fourteen studio albums in between. It is hardly surprising that the ten albums recorded without Ozzy are not represented, but it almost gives the sense that Black Sabbath are now a tribute act to their early-seventies selves. The capacity crowd, mostly mature old-school metallers, don’t care in the slightest however; they are loving every genre-defining moment of it, and would probably be disappointed were it any other way.
During a crowd-pleasing Paranoid trio of ‘Fairies Wear Boots’, ‘Rat Salad’ and ‘Iron Man’, drummer Tommy Clufetos, who was born a decade after the album was released, performs an astounding drum solo while the other band members enjoy a few minutes’ break. While most Sabbath fans present would have been delighted to see the full original contingent with Ward on drums, it’s hard to imagine how he could possibly perform as proficiently and impressively as this talented percussionist half his age. Despite dropping a stick during a particularly intricate fill, his agility and instinctive reactions meant he grabbed a fresh stick without missing a beat. Only that the moment was captured on the big screen, we would be none-the-wiser of his gaffe.
Ozzy repeatedly asks the audience “How are you doing?” and adds “I can’t fucking hear you”. The constant reiteration of this particular statement makes us joke whether it is time for him to invest in a hearing aid. Demonstrating his own sense of humour he pours a bucket of water over the head of one of the security guards. Why? Simply because he can. The band exit the stage after ‘Children of the Grave’, but everyone knows the show isn’t over yet. Not until they play ‘that song’. Sure enough, they return to the stage, and after a teaser of ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ they break into ‘Paranoid’ prompting a deafeningly loud sing-along from the audience. A group bow to a standing ovation from their committed fans brings the concert to a close. A concert that will probably have people asking “were you there?” for some time to come.
Photo: Olga Kuzmenko