photo & text by nacrowe
the narrative has long been that after OZZY OSBOURNE's firing from BLACK SABBATH for vague reasons revolving around alcohol and drug abuse, that the band began a steady decline towards cultural irrelevance while the OZZ man began one of the great solo careers in ROCK N ROLL history.
METAL fans know that is a crock because OSBOURNE's immediate replacement, the legendary RONNIE JAMES DIO of RAINBOW / ELF fame, absolutely crushed it on BLACK SABBATH debut in HEAVEN AND HELL (VERTIGO, 1980). i remember the first time i heard "NEON KNIGHTS" being absolutely floored by how powerful his operatic voice sounded with some truly inspired riffage from TONY IOMMI that i hadnt witnessed since first hearing "INTO THE VOID" off of MASTER OF REALITY (VERTIGO, 1971). that said "NEON KNIGHTS" is one of my favorite BLACK SABBATH tracks from any album and any era of the band. also noteworthy are the tracks "CHILDREN OF THE SEA," "DIE YOUNG" and "HEAVEN AND HELL" which collectively showcase the vocal, lyrical and emotional range of DIO.
its almost impossible to listen to HEAVEN AND HELL and not find yourself comparing DIO to OSBOURNE. i think where OSBOURNE channeled his everyman persona into direct hard-hitting lyrics and performances that spoke intensely to a working-class audience that viewed his vocal limitations as badges of AUTHENTICITY, in DIO you have the opposite. his operatic range allows him the opportunity to have equally outlandish and over-the-top lyrical flights of fancy, often describing dream realms and FANTASY-based morality tales. the fact that both approaches worked so well within the same band lineup just goes to prove the meddle of all musicians and singers involved during both eras. this was only further cemented decades later when the namesake band HEAVEN AND HELL reemerged later in DIO's final years.
if you are unfamiliar with HEAVEN AND HELL, definitely check it out. its a gem of an album that many look past due to it not being an OSBOURNE record. they are missing out on something special.
R.I.P. RONNIE JAMES DIO.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
sadly in recent years there has been a series of documentaries chronicling the demise of the recording studio, most notably the DAVE GROHL-directed SOUND CITY (review linked HERE). inevitably the repeated narrative is about what has been lost with the advent and rise of powerful (and mobile) digital recording technology (i.e. PROTOOLS), such being the spontaneity, feeling and magic that happens when musicians make it happen in close proximity to one another.
ROCKFIELD: THE STUDIO ON THE FARM (IE IE PRODUCTIONS, 2020) follows the story of the notable WELSH residential recording studio, ROCKFIELD STUDIOS, that has been utilized by the likes of everyone from BLACK SABBATH, QUEEN, IGGY POP, DAVID BOWIE, ADAM ANT, JUDAS PRIEST, ROBERT PLANT and HAWKWIND to THE STONE ROSES, CHRISTIAN DEATH, OASIS, BAUHAUS, MANIC STREET PREACHERS, ROYAL BLOOD and even COLDPLAY among countless others. what is interesting about the studio is its isolation. when it was created in the 1960s by two brothers, it was completely unique in that all other studios of its caliber were owned by record labels and located in LONDON. atmosphere-wise many of them were effectively sonic laboratories and had the vibe of a dental office. ROCKFIELD was located far removed in the WELSH countryside on what was effectively a pig and dairy farm. artists could rehearse and record with little to no distractions and effectively no volume restrictions. this was the setting that bands like BLACK SABBATH and HAWKWIND perfected their decibel rattling sound.
this isolation and lack of distractions also means that there is an intimacy to the experience of recording at all hours for an extended period of time. recording at ROCKFIELD came with cooked meals by the family that ran the studio and sleeping on the premises that they also maintained. apparently THE STONE ROSES famously stayed for 14 months straight during their peak creative and prolific period. it went the other way as well since some of the participants spoke of it as a prison, especially if your band was not clicking.
given that DEER GOD ran a recording studio for a period that was deliberately removed from the hustle and bustle of NEW YORK CITY (we were located in a late 19th century victorian mansion in southern STATEN ISLAND), its always interesting for me to listen to the shared experience of working with artists. in all these films it seems that one gig leads to the next. with SOUND CITY there was a long dry spell in the 1980s until NIRVANA came which begot RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, TOOL, KYUSS, MASTERS OF REALITY, SLAYER and so on. same with ROCKFIELD STUDIOS with a similar trajectory in the 1980s followed by THE STONE ROSES who begot OASIS, THE CHARLATANS, THE BOO RADLEYS and several members of BRITPOP royalty.
the recording studio as a destination is now an outmoded anachronism. which is sad. im glad documentaries such as ROCKFIELD: THE STUDIO ON THE FARM exist since it allows us to take stock in the moment of a period of transition as music and art "progress" forward with the advent of ever more powerful recording technology.
its interesting to consider what lays ahead and how music production will shift and evolve moving forward. whether or not the human element in music will survive. its an endlessly captivating topic.
photo & text by nacrowe
it is hard to downplay the cultural and historical importance of the massively influential debut BLACK SABBATH album BLACK SABBATH (WARNER BROS, 1970). it basically created METAL as a genre. in fact, BLACK SABBATH is such an important band that there are whole current sub-genres that trace their origins back to specific songs from various albums.
of course this is all in hindsight, at the time of its release this record was not a critical favorite and the band were never considered to be at the vanguard of ROCK N ROLL or anything particularly unique or special. that fascinates me. this is the type of stuff i find intriguing about art in general, how each generation rediscovers and cherry picks from the past. how the inscrutable 16th century DUTCH painter HEIRONYMOUS BOSCH was a favorite of the SURREALISTS some 400 years later. how KRAFTWERK and KRAUTROCK in general influenced early HIP HOP acts like AFRIKA BAMBAATAA. why is BLACK SABBATH arguably as celebrated as LED ZEPPELIN with modern METAL musicians? its beyond interesting.
putting that aside, what always struck me about their debut was how much a JAZZ element there was to it. if you listen to the interplay of the drums and bass on songs like "N.I.B." and "THE WIZARD" there is a definite swing element at play. in fact, it really grooves. i think that aspect of their sound is criminally overlooked. on subsequent releases they streamlined this sound which eventually became further developed with subsequent bands like JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, METALLICA, SLAYER into various beloved subgenres ranging from the extreme in GRINDCORE, BLACK METAL and DEATH METAL to the streamlined in THRASH METAL and the experimental in SLUDGE METAL, POST METAL and even DOOM METAL.
obviously the most celebrated track is the opener "BLACK SABBATH" with its iconic tritone riff and creepy atmospherics. when i envision it the adjective cinematic comes to mind. it just sets a mood long before singer OZZY OSBOURNE enters in. obviously OZZY is one of the great frontman in ROCK N ROLL history, but id argue not from his voice which is evocative but rather limited. i dont think he'd disagree with me on that. where his gift lies is in his commitment to the material and his presence as a relatable avatar for the every-man. i find OZZY immensely more relatable than contemporaries of the 1970s like ROBERT PLANT, ROGER DALTREY or even members of the then-recently disbanded BEATLES. no disrespect to any of them but they cover an altitude beyond us mere mortals. to my ears, OZZY comes off as something attainable. i think this is why he is beloved by every ROCK N ROLL iteration since, including PUNK ROCK and all its incarnations like 1980s HARDCORE and 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK. i also think lyrically OZZY is never given enough credit for the intelligence of his lyrics. in my mind the song "BLACK SABBATH" can be a substitute for your pick of any existential crisis, global or personal.
i should also mention that the riffs of guitarist TONY IOMMI are legendary and the aforementioned TRITONE PATTERNS (specifically diminished 5ths) as well as detuned guitars (to accommodate his recently disfigured right fretting hand) and ample distortion is in effect the very template for the sound of METAL for the past 50 years. its hard to downplay his impact on this and subsequent records. his riffs alone are copied by modern guitarist to this day. IOMMI basically is METAL.
i was lucky in that as a teenager i got to see a reunited BLACK SABBATH at OZZFEST numerous times and hearing specific tracks like "BLACK SABBATH" and "N.I.B." in a love context always sounded haunting and absolutely massive. even in their waning years they were a force to reckon with even after supporting acts like SLAYER, PANTERA, SYSTEM OF A DOWN, JUDAS PRIEST, SLIPKNOT or ROB ZOMBIE. never did they disappoint.
again, its hard to downplay the importance of this record. as i stated before, it is also one of those records that gets rediscovered year after year by young musicians, much like THE STOOGES or THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, and continues to influence and shape modern culture. seminal record by a seminal band. definitely worth your time to investigate.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
for the past couple months the legendary, and recently troubled, guitar manufacturer GIBSON has been publishing a series of long-form interviews on its YOUTUBE page. in keeping with recent efforts by other leading manufacturers of musical products like ERNIE BALL and FENDER, GIBSON has used legacy artists to reconnect with their core, and often overlooked, HARD ROCK / METAL audience.
it is probably a smart move of having JERRY CANTRELL, KIRK HAMMETT and TONY IOMMI out front speaking about their careers then having GIBSON themselves selling themselves, especially given the company's recent heavy-handed and notoriously misguided PLAY AUTHENTIC debacle. i also find it interesting that they chose these four players as three of them are well-known endorsees of other manufacturers, CANTRELL with G&L and HAMMETT with ESP, and DAVE MUSTAINE with just about everyone (JACKSON, ESP, DEAN and now GIBSON). IOMMI of course is synonymous with the GIBSON SG model. apparently last year CANTRELL became a brand ambassador, whatever that is, but then again live and in the studio he has been known to use LES PAULS. HAMMETT likewise is famous for his use of LES PAULS as well as FLYING V's, especially in METALLICA's early years.
whomever jumped on this trend at GIBSON of created thoughtful interviews and mini-documentaries on legendary players deserves kudos because these are great. they have only released a handful but they are well worth investigating.
parody by nacrowe
given his recent health issues and the very real likelihood that his touring days are now in the rearview mirror, i would like to revisit an early radio show i did back in JULY 2018 dedicated to the contributions of OZZY OSBOURNE, both as a solo artist and as a member of the genre-defining juggernaut that was BLACK SABBATH.
this man has brought so much joy to me and a lot of other people to such an extent that its hard to even put into words. just the butterfly effect brought about by this one musician is staggering. his influence on modern music cannot be overstated.
i have future playlists already created that highlight the myriad of sub-genres of METAL, but perhaps the show i am most looking forward to is one dedicated to the participating bands on the now-discontinued OZZFEST traveling music festival he spearheaded in the late 1990s and early 2000s. great memories from my formative years there.
much love OZZY. thank you so much.
and if you have any interest in the fight against PARKINSONS, here is a link for ways you can get involved with the AMERICAN PARKINSONS DISEASE ASSOCIATION.