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Black Sabbath - Never Say Die! CD (album) cover


Black Sabbath


Prog Related

2.95 | 356 ratings

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Jeff Carney
5 stars This is the first Sabbath album I ever heard and there are days when, in some ways, I still find it the most impressive piece of work they ever did. The hours I spent with that old cassette tape never fails to make sense when I revisit this highly complex, truly underrated piece of rock mastery. A track by track breakdown seems the only appropriate approach to tackling what has been such a strangely misunderstood and often ignored album in the arsenal of albums from the original Black Sabbath:

Never Say Die - The title track hits you right in the gut. This is Sabbath combining heavy guitar riffing with the jazzy, busy drumming that Ward had such a knack for. Butler's bass work is simply sensational here. Extremely busy, but mixed so that it adds to the overall sonic goals instead of taking over. Ozzy's vocals are high in both tone and clarity. There's a certain charm in this album right from the start because while it is clear that the band are beginning to fall apart, they are still so good that it is ridiculous. The guitar solo at the end is not to be believed. I've seen one transcription of it where the writer explained that he was truly amazed after slowing it way down to find all the notes. It is so fast that you would think there were "ghost" notes all over the place, but it's all there.

Johnny Blade - Don Airey makes his debut with Sabbath here and it is brilliant. Polyphonic synths abound, and it just goes to show that Sabbath had a knack for finding an original sound no matter what they did. Even when bringing in other musicians, they somehow manage to never sound like anybody else! Airey's intro is astoundingly original, dark and sets the tone for the jazzy, marching band groove perfectly. Bill Ward is so good on this track that it leaves my jaw on the floor every time I hear it. This is Keith Moon meets Bill Bruford if that was ever possible. Busier than all hell, but tight and locked like a metronome. Ozzy's multitracked vocals really help to bring out the unique melodies that are going on here, but the effect is not overused, as the bridges seem to more content in letting Ozzy's natural, wailing, almost whining cry just be cut loose. "Been alone all through his life, his only friend is a switchblade knife" is sung with a clarity and passion that is almost surreal in nature. You can feel the pain here, folks. It is *that* emotional.

The guitar solo at the end is outstanding. Iommi's guitar tones here are like scientific experiments in fuzz. Truly fascinating. I think many of the CD versions have suffered from having too much treble, which is something this album did not need. It already had plenty and for these guitar tones to work, you really need to hear this album on vinyl or at least track down the somewhat rare CD released on the German 'Spectrum' label, which is the closest I've head this album sound to vinyl in terms of tonality.

Junior's Eyes - If ever one wants to understand why Ozzy Osbourne is a flat out genius when it comes to vocal melodies, do some googling or Youtubing and hear the original version of this song with (ex- Savoy Brown vocalist) Dave Walker. The chorus added here by Osbourne is easily one of the most haunting in rock history. Criminally underrated because this album has often been written off by lazy rock historians who probably never even listened to it and bought into the cliched theory that Sabbath's last two albums weren't that important. This is pure nonsense, and this track goes a long way towards making that abundantly clear. Sure, this isn't Supernaut' or 'Iron Man' in terms of having the immediate impact those types of riffs had, but for the dedicated music listener, there is stuff going on here that is mind boggling.

The main guitar riff is a twisting, turning wah wah pedaled piece of brilliance, but it's when Iommi hits the chord that bridges this piece into the chorus that you know you've got a gem of the highest order. Power chord riffing with intensity only Iommi can manage then ensues, as Ozzy's voice simply soars on top of it all. "You're coming home again tomorrow, I'm sorry it won't be for long." This stuff is so good it hurts. The guitar solo is easily one of the most brilliant I have ever heard in rock music. Soaring, singing, crying and beautifully executed with simply amazing vibrato technique at every turn, this is a gem amongst Iommi's gems. Not a hint of overplaying, he modulates through every key change with so much feeling and accuracy that it would make most prog guitarists quit their job and take an accounting gig if they ever had to come up with stuff like this.

A Hard Road - Turn it up, and "sing along." Man oh man oh MAN what a catchy chorus this one has! Iommi is really exploring more and more complex chordal structures underneath the melodic content on this album, but somehow, they manage to still make a rock and roll song out of this one. Frankly, I think somebody could cover this tune (and a couple of others here for that matter) today and have a megahit if it was done properly. The band get a chance to do backup vocals here as the song fades with a chorus that is such a great hook it could catch a two ton fish! And you can really sense that despite the problems they had been going through, they enjoy each other and the music that they are able to produce together.

Shock Wave - Okay, all bets are off. This is rock music with twists and turns that flow so effortlessly that it continues to elude me how this album is not looked at with more reverence. But maybe this stuff is just too complex for the average rock music listener? Minor to major chord changes that are so smooth they would go unnoticed if you weren't so engaged in it. Fantastic, heavy riffing juxtaposed with abrupt changes in mood and chord developments, acoustic guitars being added in bridges just for a softening of the texture. This stuff is ridiculously impressive! Iommi's guitar solo is so sick, so twisted and so damn astonishing that you almost need to rewind and play it twice just to make sure it actually transpired. The changes he works through as the solo makes its was back into the bridge are flat out amazing. Incredible modulations, perfect intonation. The guy is just so damn good here. I was never totally nuts about the final change into the riff at the end at the end as the song fades, but it's a minor complaint.

Air Dance - Prog nuts who are also Sabs nuts will often cite this as proof that Sabbath could compete with most anybody in prog when they wanted to write more involved material, and it's easy to see why when listening to this fantastic piece of dreamy, jazz-influenced brilliance. When the song takes a turn and goes heavy for a moment, you aren't sure where they are headed, but you know it's going to be good. Then, out of nowhere yet somehow not surprising, the band lock down into some kind of rock meets bebop jazz groove and Iommi takes off in flight. This is a solo that has been discussed ad nauseam by many, and that's because it deserves to be. The leads here are better than anything you will ever here by most anybody in rock. Effortless, sizzling fast and nailing every change beautifully. Don Airey actually doubles some of this stuff as you hear his moog wailing away on top of Iommi. A more amazing display in rock dexterity I am not sure I have ever heard. If you like guitar/moog interplay this will leave you speechless and this from a band who probably couldn't care less about such endeavors as a habit. PFM pulled off some stuff like this, and Mahavishnu Orchestra and Colosseum II, but this sounds like none of that because the leads are so unique! This is something that always amazes me about Sabbath. No matter how much they experiment and dabble in other forms of music, they somehow manage to always bring an original sound to that experimentation. I'm not sure some of their peers can claim to have been that creative in approaching other forms of music.

Over To You - Man, this song is 'melancholy rock' defined. You can almost hear the pain of 10 years in Sabbath and the frustrations of trying to keep it going by this stage in Ozzy's voice. A really gorgeous song, and another one that I always felt could be covered by somebody and sound almost in the Stone Temple Pilots vein. Don Airey is back here and his piano work is gorgeous; playing incredible runs as Ozzy sings "Traveling endlessly, I'm searching my mind. I'm almost afraid of what I will find." Iommi's chord changes behind this are simply beautiful, and the song comes off as flat out celestial. Even though you can almost sense the band is sort of falling apart at this point, there is a surreal feeling about it that draws you in like hearing the greatest artists even when they are in a slight decline and realizing just how brilliant they are. Think Billie Holiday during her periods when the drugs had taken over and how hearing her sing even when it sounds like she might fall out of her chair is so compelling. That's what I hear on "Over To You." Consider that this was the last studio track that Ozzy ever sang on until the 'Reunion' album 20 years later and it becomes even more fascinating to hear the mood running through this one. A classic ending to a sound that changed music forever.

Breakout - Well, some might argue that by this point Iommi was just trying to prove that he could take his unique style of riffing, add anything to it and still sound like Sabbath. But guess what? If that's what he was trying to prove, he proved it! Here we find a brass section arranged by Will Malone turning Sabbath into some type of heavy metal big band. The sax solo that takes over is absolutely blistering, and I've always been curious as to who played it!? How could such an amazing sax solo go uncredited!? Experimental, indeed, this track, but what a great arrangement, and what great fun for those of us who are fascinated by the possibilities of merging rock and jazz in addition to and outside of what is commonly known as "jazzrock." This is Sabsjazz. There is no other way to describe it.

Swinging the Chain - Oh man, these riffs. These RIFFS! How does he come up with them? This is Sabbath back to their bluesy beginnings with great added harmonica from John Elstar. But this is no standard 1/5/4 boogie blues. This is Sabbath, and with Bill Ward singing the lead on this one, the band really kick it into full metal-blues throttle. And as usual, the lyrical content is no boy wants to hump girl jerk off ala more common British attempts at covering this territory, but instead appears to be a dim view of the state of some of Britain's judgment passing. The closing riff is angry! It rocks hard in an organic way that it sometimes really seems only Iommi can truly pull off, and fades as the masterpiece that is 'Never Say Die' concludes.

Never buy what I suspect is the lazy journalism that has left this album in the dustbin of rock history. It's a monster. 5 stars, firm.

Jeff Carney | 5/5 |


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