BLACK SABBATH- Past Lives (Rhino) LP

One of my favorite things ever said about Plan 9 From Outer Space was whenever it’s on it feels like it’s four in the morning. Some things are like that. Sabbath is often better as a night thing. Past Lives tends the fields of fuzzy English moss growing on the North side of their iconic root-riff rocking. It takes you to a time where a late-night session with Sabbath on the headphones might cause you to believe they were hiding in the curtains. The band is remembered primarily for furious riffs that became seeds of an emerging style of hard rock. This live album offers an intimate experience with the point of view no heavy darkness exists without the sun.

For such an important and influential band, Sabbath was not well documented as a live act during their heyday. The most focused effort to release a live album was the war of the hits between Dio-era Sabbath on Live Evil and Ozzy’s Speak of the Devil. Before the war of the double live albums, there was Live at Last, an unsanctioned cash grab by their ex-management crediting vocals duties to “Ossie” Osbourne. The band didn’t approve of the record and critical complaints ranged from lack of “Iron Man” to slowed down performances. They definitely weren’t a “just play the hits” outfit. Unfortunately for Sabbath, the mid to late seventies found them becoming the milestone by which live bands were measured; most often it was because a band blowing Sabbath away in the stadium was on their way to becoming the biggest band in the world. Van Halen fans were among those who didn’t hang around to see Sabbath. Kiss also became hard for Sabbath to follow. There’s no accounting for taste.

To be fair, it’s easy to see how a party stadium crowd might not be able to transfer into the Sabbath mindset. Sabbath live was a more cerebral experience, and Live at Last is a raw slab of Sab during the early days. Listening to Sabbath live brings out the unmistakable sparkle of evil inherent in the music. Beyond the record companies posturing of a devilish image the band claims no responsibility for, nothing sounds as if it has risen from smoke like Sabbath on stage. Even when the performances sound a bit lumbering, the band pulls out non-album fills and improv forming a machine around the songs you know: a machine that belches but never dies. Along with the songs on Past Lives comes no-party-attitude solos, Ozzie’s working class rapport with the audience, and decisively English guitar intervals.

Past Lives was originally released on CD in 2002. It contains the Live at Last LP plus a second disc of live performances from 1970 and 1975. The LP reissue arrives at a time when the band is on their latest final tour and the early albums are being pressed with bonus tracks and more remastering. So far the bonus tracks on the studio albums have been largely nominal instrumental takes fit only to serve the fan’s curiosity. Past Lives has no extra tracks from its original release. But the live album is an encompassing package in itself. And the remastering? Black Sabbath is remastered every time you turn up the volume. How much more of a punch in the face is there besides a round of “Sweet Leaf.” Past Lives passes the most important test: it sounds good loud.

So with no extra tracks, the obvious consumer consideration for buying Past Lives is if you’re happy with your copy of Live at Last, you have the entire first LP in this two record set. Past Lives is more of what you want. I never got a copy of Live at Last, so it’s a nice late night listen for my money. As a fan, it won’t disappoint. As a consumer, you have to weigh that factor for yourself. But, for the record, the second disc has fucking “Iron Man” on it.

(Billups Allen)



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