BLACK SABBATH – THE END E.P. Album Review
BLACK SABBATH – THE END E.P. "Forgettable and Disappointing" by SHANE BRANNAGH
Black Sabbath’s fifty year career, supposedly came to an end in February of this year as they played their final “farewell” concert in their home city of Birmingham. Many fans myself included were somewhat sceptical that Sabbath were well and truly finished. As the current state of reconciliation between Axl Rose and the current line-up of Guns N’ Roses might suggest, if the price is right anything is possible. Bassist, Geezer Butler himself has cited that he remains open to recording new music, but as it stands the limited edition EP, simply titled “The End” remains the Coda to Sabbath’s oeuvre.
First and foremost…three of the four original members, returning to the studio, to write and record a new album together, after an absence of thirty five years could no doubt prove problematic to say the least. Much of the immediate hype surrounding the reunion of the original line-up dissipated when talks with original drummer Bill Ward fell through. In a somewhat arbitrary fashion, Audioslave’s Brad Wilk was conscripted to fill the void and the band’s final studio album “13” was recorded. I myself was somewhat sceptical of the release. Heaven and Hell’s first and final album “The Devil You Know” was Sabbath in all but name and a stellar release at that. As such Sabbath’s reunion felt less a rebirth and more so, another indiscriminate roster change, following the passing of the late, great Ronnie Dio in 2010. When “13” proved that Sabbath, regardless of frontman were still capable of producing classic albums. With memorable tracks “Zeitgeist”, “Loner” and “God is Dead”, the latter of which scored them a Grammy, Sabbath had in my humble opinion, released their finest album since 1980’s “Mob Rules”.
Whilst the EP “The End” was only available at venues across their final tour dates, I find it somewhat bewildering that the members of Sabbath made an intrinsic decision for this to be their final studio release. Whilst Led Zeppelin’s “Coda” was a somewhat underwhelming release from an otherwise stellar catalogue, there was certainly an element of conclusiveness to the album, that objectivity had a few memorable tracks.
Guitarist, Tony Iommi had stated, that whilst they had plans to record further material, “Geezer did not want to record another album”, with Osbourne stating that the project would take a further three to four years to complete. It’s hard not to think of the EP as something of a compromise in that regard. The four studio tracks are essentially leftovers from the “13” sessions, coupled with four live recordings taken from the 2013 tour dates. Now how does it stand up to scrutiny?
“Season of the Dead” is a serviceable track harkening back to the mid-tempo chugging grooves the band were known for in the mid 70’s. It’s heavy, but repetitive and overstays its welcome. The band perform as well as ever, but it’s lacking a certain magic. 5/10
“Cry All Night” steps things up a notch. It’s a more energetic effort, harkening back to the Zakk Wylde era of Ozzy’s solo career. It features a short but sweet, blues influenced solo by Iommi and a strong vocal performance. 6/10
“Take Me Home” feels like a forgotten omission from 1973’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”. The track features some interesting flamingo guitar, tracked over the sludgy drone of down tuned riffing. It’s the strongest track on the EP by a wide margin, and it’s a little bizarre that it was cut from the album. 8/10
“Isolated Man” is another somewhat forgettable track, that doesn’t stray far from the formula. Geezer Butler’s bass work is superb, but coupled with scattershot lyrics and an overtly simplistic riff, the song never really gets off the ground. 5/10
The four live tracks that accompany these outtakes are something of a mixed bag as well. The sound mixing for one is considerably lacking...and it’s more than jarring when the EP cuts to the hallway mark. As is evident from the live rendition of “God Is Dead”, Ozzy remains the weakest link of Sabbaths live ensemble. At sixty eight years old, it’s forgivable that Osbourne struggles to recreate his studio performances, note for note. For the most part however the band are as tight as ever. 6/10
The second live track “Under the Sun”, is much more energetic. The band sound like they’re having a blast on this track, with a frantic guitar solo by Iommi that ticks all the boxes. It’s a fine performance of an all but forgotten deep cut from Sabbath’s early years. 7/10
“End of the Beginning” mostly plods along for the first two minutes or so, before the band knock it up a notch. It’s a fine performance, but nothing special aside from a blistering solo from Iommi who mostly carries the track through till it’s overcome by the roar of the Canadian fans. 5/10
The EP draws to a conclusion on a performance of “Age of Reason”. Osbourne vocals are off kilter for the most part, drowning out the band. Iommi and Butler’s performances I cannot fault but it’s a pretty tepid performance for which to end the album. With an abrupt “Thank you” the EP cuts out, concluding the effort on a rather uninspired note. 4/10
In conclusion I would state the “The End” as a mostly forgettable effort and a disappointing epilogue to Sabbath’s legendary catalogue. Some good performances are lost in the poor sound mixing, and the throwaway nature of the four studio tracks, suggests that the band members themselves but little effort into the production of this release. In the end…the release feels uninspired and unnecessary at best. As a lifelong fan of the band…I prefer to think of “13” as their final studio release….as Black Sabbath, the originators of heavy metal would no doubt prefer to go out with a bang, than a half-hearted whimper. I give the EP an over-all score of 5/10.
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