Black Sabbath comes to town as Heaven and Hell



When Black Sabbath came to town last Sunday—calling itself Heaven and Hell, I guess, to make sure no one expected Ozzy Osbourne to dodder onto the stage—it was the quartet’s first public performance in 14 years. More importantly, it was the group’s first Vancouver show in a quarter-century.

I know because I was at the Coliseum back in ’82 when the post-Ozzy lineup of vocalist Ronnie James Dio, guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, and drummer Vinny Appice toured behind its Mob Rules album. I remember the gig so well because the openers were my fave southern-rock act at the time, the Outlaws, aka “the Florida Guitar Army”. Skynyrd had crash-landed five years prior, and “Free Bird” had been replaced by “Green Grass and High Tides” as the ultimate shit-kicker guitar opus. What an unusual pairing that was, Black Sabbath and the Outlaws. But I loved it. I was drawn as much by the warm-up act as the headliner.

That wasn’t the case last weekend, though. After 25 years, I yearned to hear Dio’s superhuman vocals alongside Iommi’s buzzsaw riffs. It didn’t matter much that Megadeth was on the bill, even though they’re one of the few ’80s metal bands I like. So I was pretty shocked when Dave Mustaine and company stole the show from the ’70s hard-rock pioneers.

Don’t get me wrong: Sabbath played well, and Dio’s vocals rarely faltered. But their presentation delivered few thrills. For one thing, they made the crucial error of opening with a plodding number when it would have been so fine to blow the crowd away with a scorcher like “Neon Knights” (which they ended up saving for the encore). And while he may have a wicked heavy-metal voice, Dio’s got to be one of the least enthralling frontmen in rock.

The guy’s just too gentle and polite, graciously thanking the crowd after every song, eloquently introducing songs like “Die Young” and “Lady Evil”. And would it have killed Iommi to take an extended solo and offer a medley of classic Ozzy-era riffs? I’m sure I wasn’t the only fan to exit the old hockey rink disappointed that the monumental lick from “Supernaut” never materialized. Then again, maybe I was.

Sabbath had all the theatrical HM trappings befitting a main attraction—the faux brick church with iron fence and fake stained-glass windows—but Megadeth brought the unbridled energy. Focusing on tunes from its upcoming CD, United Abominations, the quartet played it fast and hard, never forgetting those tasty Iron Maiden twin-guitar melodies. Its biggest hit, “Symphony of Destruction”, got the butt-ugly mosh pit churning out its own paean to violence, while “A Tout le Monde” revealed the elegant beauty behind Mustaine’s ear-busting beast. Megadeth concluded on a high note with the timely title track of its 1986 album, Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying?

Openers Down were the least impressive of the three acts music-wise but also the most fun to watch. Former Pantera vocalist Phil Anselmo pulled no punches when it came to inciting the easily led crowd. “I want to see the headbangers break their necks,” he bellowed, “and I want to see these motherfuckers [in the mosh pit] lose their minds!” Ex–Corrosion of Conformity guitarist Pepper Keenan provided a brief respite from the furious thrash with some Iommi-inspired SG action, and mountain-man axe-wielder Kirk Windstein scored Brownie points for his UFO T-shirt.

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