Lollapalooza 2012: Black Sabbath / by Doyle Armbrust

Chicago, all hail! The Prince of Darkness has arisen to reclaim his devilish throne!

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Look, all of us Sabbath-worshipping, first four album-clinging fans knew what we were getting into. We've seen the black-clad figure shuffling and muddling around his estate before exploitive cameras, chipping away at our memories of this forerunner of the heaviest of metals. It didn't, though, dissuade us from posting up early at the Bud Light stage, hungry to see three of the original four—Osbourne, Iommi and Butler—on stage together, at long last, for a full concert.

Yes, it was disappointing to see Ozzy shakily singing karaoke to the prompter, and indeed, we cringed as another "I can't fucking hear you!" intersected every number ad infinitum, but this was a historic event nonetheless. The band was another story altogether, and, in the words of my grandfather: Let's focus on the positive. 

Following a ’70s highlight reel of the foursome at the crux of Black Sabbath savagery, the crackling intro to the eponymous track one, side one of Black Sabbath brought a roar from the assembled as bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi rung in the dirge. Iommi's revelatory SG-shredding was soon unleashed with the ubiquitous pitch-bending, vibrato and muscular fuzz responsible for the inspiration of innumerable metal bands throughout the years.

With the siren call of Ozzy's blues harp (an instrument later tossed to an ecstatic, sweaty fan), we were into "The Wizard." The sheer mass of the Iommi/Butler leviathan was a gut-punch well past the sound tent, and here, guest drummer Tommy Clufetos (Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Rob Zombie) disappeared any lingering wonders about an absent Bill Ward's contract kerfuffles. 

To call Iommi's solo on "Behind the Wall of Sleep" blistering would be a grand understatement. Recently diagnosed with and treated for cancer, the legendary guitarist showed no signs of fatigue on stage amidst a flurry of characteristically incendiary riffs. Butler is equally undeterred by the passing of years, trouncing the bass jam that concludes "Wall of Sleep" and transitioning into the indomitable badassery of "N.I.B." A charmingly giddy Osbourne settled into the vocal line by the second verse, but similarly with "Into the Void," occasionally struggled to find the pocket.

The small exodus toward the Black Keys-end of the park missed out on one of the highlights of the night, a thunderous, exacting solo by a seemingly possessed Clufetos. His forearms literally a visual blur, the braided drummer became Velociraptor of the Skins, aurally eviscerating the audience in successive builds before transforming into the opening of "Iron Man." "Children of the Grave" re-animated any late-night Lolla lag, its Gustav Holst-ian military march drawing throaty exaltations from the crowd, and as with the reunited Sabbath's two previous UK shows in Birmingham and Donington Park, "Paranoid" (with a "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" intro) satisfyingly anchored the headlining set.

It may have not been the black mass we'd longed for, vocally-speaking, but the searing virtuosity of Iommi, Butler and Clufetos made a few of us consider painting our nails black once again.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in the Time Out Chicago Audio File Blog on August 4th, 2012