Past Lives

Black Sabbath

Sanctuary Records, 2002

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In a sense, it's a shame that the Ozzy Osbourne era of Black Sabbath was originally closed with a live album, Live At Last, which was so poorly made that the band all but disowned the release, claiming it was not an official release. Yet, prior to Reunion in 1998, it was the only document of Black Sabbath in concert with Osbourne you could find without resorting to bootlegs.

Ah, but time marches on, and so does technology. Taking the original Live At Last, sonically cleaning it up, and adding another disc's worth of live material never heard elsewhere, Past Lives tries to become the official document of Black Sabbath Mk I. And while there are still many weak points with these performances, it is a marked improvement over the original product.

Admittedly under the influence, Osbourne often finds himself struggling to stay in tune with the rest of the band -- and when he's off-key, it can be quite painful to listen to. But Osbourne does try to balance things out in the sheer urgency of his delivery, paired with the performances of his bandmates, and often that energy is enough to keep things rolling along well. Tracks like "Tomorrow's Dream," "Snowblind" and "War Pigs" try very hard to capture the power of the original performances, and they come respectably close, thanks often to the guitar work of Tony Iommi. In contrast, "Sweet Leaf" is a song which has just never worked in concert, and this version, while admirable for its full-throttle solo section, doesn't quite cut the mustard.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One also has to question the medley which is labeled "Wicked World" -- the tracks on the first disc were recorded in 1974, while Sabbath was touring to promote Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, so they had five albums' worth of material to draw from. They couldn't have chosen some full tracks to take the place of this cluttered, albeit interesting, mishmash?

This is where the second disc of Past Lives comes into play. Adding material from Sabotage to the musical stew, Iommi and crew do offer up more of the more familiar nuggets recorded over a span of five years, including a nice assortment of tracks from Paris in 1970. (This particular boot has been making the rounds on KaZaA, and I believe I have it somewhere in my MP3 collection - guess I'll have to dig it out for my own enjoyment.) There are still some skittish moments, such as Osbourne blowing a verse on "Fairies Wear Boots" (though he did the same on "War Pigs" off disc one), but these tracks seem to fill any cracks left by the track selection of the original Live At Last, including some real tasty treats like "Hand Of Doom" and "Hole In The Sky".

Sure, one can argue that Past Lives is still the definitive live album of Black Sabbath's first incarnation because it's still the only recording from that time, and they'd be right. But warts and all, this disc does seem to capture the essence of what Osbourne and crew were offering up: raw, unpolished rock played more from the gut than the brain. It's occasionally difficult to listen to, but it's never boring, and does beling in any Black Sabbath fan's collection.

Rating: B-

User Rating: C+



© 2004 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sanctuary Records, and is used for informational purposes only.