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Black Sabbath @ Manchester Arena (22/01/17)

Over the course of rock history many bands have claimed to be on the verge of retirement, deciding to embark on a so-called “Farewell” tour before taking a bow and saying goodbye to the road. However, music fans worldwide can be forgiven for having doubts about the sincerity of any major band’s retirement claims, given the tendency of the likes of the Rolling Stones and Kiss to conclude a ‘final’ tour, only to be back on the road a few years later. Yet as many of the original giants of rock enter their twilight years, the road takes more of a toll on band members, while the deaths and illnesses of some can suddenly make the ‘never again’ concept all the believable. Of course, even rock gods are mere mortals after all and there eventually comes a time for them to say goodbye for real. For Black Sabbath, the godfathers of heavy metal, that time is now.

After a career spanning almost a full five decades, the band widely credited with being the single most important band in the development of the metal genre have decided to cap off their legendary career with one last globe-spanning tour, concluding with a series of shows in their native United Kingdom. I attended the Manchester gig on 22 January, and since this was my first time seeing the band after being a fan for several years, I was feverous with the anticipation of seeing one of the last performances of their storied career.

The entire band thankfully delivered on all fronts, living up to their reputation with aplomb. Frontman Ozzy Osbourne quickly put down any whispers that he was no longer able to deliver on the vocal front, sounding in fine form from start to finish. Bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi each sounded absolutely thunderous throughout, with the sheer power of the latter’s iconic riffs repeatedly sending the audience into a frenzy. Original drummer Bill Ward is sadly absent from this final run of shows, being estranged from the band since 2012, seemingly following a contract dispute. While the news of Ward not being behind the kit certainly came as a disappointment to Sabbath’s fanbase, the good news is that fill-in sticksman Tommy Clufetos does an exceptional job of measuring up to his predecessor’s legacy, particularly impressing during a lengthy drum solo.

As one would expect, the setlist is mainly a ‘greatest hits’ affair, drawing exclusively from the band’s genre-defining 70s albums. While the omission of the classic Sweet Leaf causes minor disappointment, the likes of Snowblind, N.I.B and the immortal anti-war anthem War Pigs all sound amazingly fresh for songs written four decades ago and serve as constant reminders of why Sabbath are fully deserving of their status as rock icons. The inclusion of a deeper cut in Hand of Doom provides an unexpected surprise, and by the time the show concludes with the enduring classic Paranoid, the entirety of the fans in attendance at Manchester Arena are left exhausted and euphoric.

As the band bow out for one of the last times of their career, the words ‘The End’ appear across the screen behind the stage. It may be a cliché that bands are never quite telling the truth when they claim to be retiring, but given the respective ages of the original members, no-one here tonight is in any doubt that ‘The End’ really is approaching for this heavy metal institution. Despite this, I am left in no doubt that this has perhaps been the best gig I have ever experienced.

Picture Credit: Daniel Moore

Daniel Moore

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