Review: Despite Osbourne, Black Sabbath puts on good show

Has Satan stopped taking Ozzy Osbourne's calls?

Consider: the title of Black Sabbath's 1976 "We Sold Our Souls for Rock 'n' Roll" compilation suggests the band entered into a Faustian bargain with the Dark Prince in exchange for musical immortality and well-being.

Based on Osbourne's performance during their capacity-crowd show Thursday in the Mohegan Sun Arena, though, I'm wondering if the iconic vocalist opted for some sort of payment plan - and defaulted.

Indeed, while his tremendous bandmates - guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler and, in replacement of original drummer Bill Ward, Tommy Clufetos - performed their proto-dark metal with doom-cloaked virtuosity, Osbourne definitely had some issues.

Most important, his voice was flat for much of the two-hour set. Granted, it wasn't toothache-inducingly flat, but rather at a steady level of annoyance that was the musical equivalent of a fly buzzing around your ear.

Osbourne's limited stage patter consisted mostly of dropped F-bombs and the old crowd-exhorting standby: "I can't hear you!" And while he seemed to be in good physical shape - repeatedly dousing his head in water to keep cool - his stage moves relied on a sort of bunny-hop maneuver most devil-metallers would not find menacing.

At the same time, he IS Ozzy - and that alone earns considerable goodwill and cachet. In that spirit, the crowd seemed of a mindset that they would follow him - bunny-hopping all the way - into the roasting barbecue pits of hell he so frequently sings about.

Osbourne-quibbles out of the way, Black Sabbath was very, very good, and the crowd - with seemingly each of the 10,000 fans sporting a different Sab T-shirt from what must be the most extensive merch catalog in music history - roared with delight throughout the 17-song performance. Against a black backdrop and a faux cave wall construct separating video screens, Iommi, Butler and Osbourne seemed happy to be on stage together for the first time since their '99 reunion tour.

The set list was loaded with the expected faves, including "War Pigs," "Snowblind," "Black Sabbath," "Iron Man," "Children of the Grave" and "Paranoid" (with its teasing allusion to "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath," arguably their best record - and one which was otherwise absent from the presentation).

The band is on tour in support of their Rick Rubin-produced "13" album, which has grown on me quite a bit. Two songs from the CD, "End of the Beginning" and "God is Dead?," fared very competitively with the more familiar material.

Iommi and Butler were magnificent all night, throwing down those fierce, interlocking parts and their bells-of-hell tones, and Clufetos - a veteran of Osbourne's solo band - is a monster. His solo on "Rat Salad" exploded the "the other musicians need a break, go play triplets" cliche.

All in all, it was a fine night.

Oh, and Ozzy? Even if you don't pay up with the Dark Lord and get your range back, and even if you bunny-hop, it's still good to see you back where you belong.

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