BLACK SABBATH
The Reunion 1999
Epic Records
Live at the Spectrum, Philly, PA

"Just like witches at black masses" the congregation gathered. Blackness laid like a blanket over everything. Even with the lights low, everything lacked color. Then the thunder started to roll. Through the darkness a single spotlight descended on the father of doom. Tony Iommi was in his element. A smile crept across his goatee-infested face confirming that he indeed belonged on a stage of this magnitude. Geezer Butler followed, hair flailing in the dense aura that surrounded all present. Rising from somewhere in the distance was the pounding of the drum, a single thud delivered by Bill Ward to back Iommi’s deep disdain."‘War Pigs" echoed throughout the hall and away they went like dogs of war.

The original night Black Sabbath was scheduled to play Philly was postponed due to the Ozzman’s health. Some even speculated this was too soon for the master of metal to make his return to the stage. But, carried by the wings of demons, Ozzy Osbourne descended the stage. His voice cracked with a rough strained screech and then was drowned as the masses jumped from their seats and devoured the singer in a single deafening roar.

Unless you’re dead, you know that Black Sabbath have returned to their original inception for another run around the world dolling out a volley of damnation to a whole new generation. What better way to do it than a fist full of metal’s finest played by the guys who started the whole damn thing. All the elements are present this time and for those who saw Ozzfest ’97 it was an extended collection of passages; N.I.B, Into The Void, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, Iron Man, Children Of The Grave, Electric Funeral, Sweet Leaf all done in fine form before the voice began to go.

You can own a bit of the nostalgia with the purchase of Reunion, a double CD set with practically a track by track list of everything Sabbath played on the US tour (including Ozzfest this summer). The disc’s gig was recorded over two sold out nights in Birmingham, a God forsaken steel town in the English Midlands where all members of the band originate. It was here Earth got their start before changing their name in 1969 to the title of a cult horror film, Black Sabbath.

It’s a testament to the quartet that they have been able to rival their hey-day some 30 years after signing to Warner Brothers and releasing their self-titled debut. It’s even a greater miracle they’re all still alive. Ozzy has come dangerously close to slipping ‘into the void’ a couple of times, while drummer Bill Ward actually did. Ward suffered a heart attack prior to the start of the band’s year-long world tour. Days before the tour was set to begin Ward’s appearance was still questionable. However this night he looked in marvelous shape perched 40 feet in the air on his drum riser.

As we all know (Tony and company included) the power of Sabbath is the four of them on stage together. The sold out Spectrum crowd reaffirmed that. When one or more members are missing from the mix the chemistry ‘just ain’t quite right.’ And the older they get the more dependable they have become on each other. Legends they are indeed. They are worshiped by millions and their songs are know by heart. Even the Christian right have an opinion of the band and its crazed frontman. What makes Sabbath last is their adroit ability to overcome. It is that fight that young and old respond to.

By the end of the night Ozzy was spent. Obvious his health hadn’t returned to top form, the band picked up and carried him through the set’s close. Iommi drove ‘Iron Man’ and ‘Paranoid’ then the seasoned veterans pulled off a ticker-tape ending complete with Black Sabbath stamped confetti. The name has come to mean more than a movie, a band or four kids from England. Black Sabbath is the definition of a genre, immortals in their game forewhich they returned the Spectrum to darkness.