We all know the story behind this album. If for some reason you don’t, here’s the abridged version: BLACK SABBATH was really good, then Ozzy left and a lot of people thought they got really not good. In 1997, he came back, and they recorded this album live and recorded two new studio tracks. Badda bing badda boom, “Reunion.” Actually, I guess that’s not really all that “abridged,” since it pretty much covers all of the details.
Anyway, these two discs are basically a live greatest hits package, featuring the band’s best and most popular material. You get it all, from “Behind The Wall Of Sleep” to “Spiral Architect,” with the only real surprise being “Dirty Women.” The band sounds surprisingly tight and extra heavy, giving these songs a lot more punch than was originally captured on record. Of course, most people will probably be bothered by one of three things, and I know that I personally was pretty annoyed at all three. First, Ozzy’s vocals on “Spiral Architect” are absolutely terrible. Of all of the BLACK SABBATH songs, that song was not always one of my favourites, but this version just sounds bad. Second, Ozzy completely skips his high-pitched vocals during the sludgy part at the end of “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath!” I couldn’t believe it – I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for it, since that part is one of the highlights of BLACK SABBATH’s entire career, and he just doesn’t do it. Lame! The third thing, probably the biggest offender, is Ozzy’s need to swear constantly over the instrumental portions of the songs. It seems that whenever he isn’t singing, Ozzy entertains himself by blurting out something along the lines of “come on you fuckers!” or “clap your fucking hands!” or “fuck fuck fuck fucky fuck fuck,” which not only comes across as sophomoric but also takes a lot away from the music.
Aside from the awesome-sounding but somewhat disappointing (emphasis on somewhat) live part of the album, we also get the first new material by the original BLACK SABBATH that had been recorded in 20 years! There are two new songs by the boys – well, one featuring all of them (“Psycho Man”) and one featuring a drum machine in place of Bill Ward (“Selling My Soul”). The new material is great, retaining the classic Doomy BLACK SABBATH sound yet not sounding dated at all. “Psycho Man,” despite it’s overly cheesy chorus and lyrics, features a lumbering Iommi riff and even has the sped-up section at the end, akin to “Black Sabbath,” “Iron Man,” and “War Pigs.” The main riff of “Selling My Soul” is monolithic and the lyrics are actually pretty good, though the music during the chorus sounds somewhat out of place in a SABBATH song. Ozzy sounds deeper than usual, and you can tell that his solo work has influenced these songs a good bit. Either way, they’re good, and if the band decides to release another album full of songs like this, I’d consider it a respectable come-back, and if not a great BLACK SABBATH album, at least a solid Doom Metal release.
This album belongs in the collection of any BLACK SABBATH fan, and if you’re one of those folks that swear by the Ozzy-era, there is no excuse to not have “Reunion.” (Online September 10, 2005)