Black Sabbath Turns Back the Clock at the Gorge Saturday

As the sun slowly descended behind the hills ringing the steep Columbia River valley Saturday night, the stillness of the warm August evening was sharply interrupted by the blaring sound of sirens causing the thousands in attendance to erupt in a giant cheer. One by one the members of Black Sabbath made their way onto the stage, led by iconic front man Ozzy Osbourne, who immediately set out to whip the audience into an absolute frenzy.

The rest of the group, including original members Tony Iommi on guitar and bassist Geezer Butler as well as touring drummer Tommy Clufetos, were all close behind and wasted little time in launching into “War Pigs,” the opening track off the band’s second album, Paranoid. Black Sabbath have always been noted for their extreme “heaviness,” and that facet of their sound was gloriously on display as soon as Iommi dug into the initial chord of the song. The sheer weight of Iommi and Butler’s playing hit like a ton of bricks and didn’t relent throughout the entirety of the group’s two-hour set.

The set list was skewed heavily toward Sabbath’s earlier material and featured such standout numbers as “N.I.B,” “Into the Void,” “Faeries Wear Boots,” “Children of the Grave,” and “Iron Man.” In addition the band also threw in three numbers from their latest number one record, 13, including “Age of Reason,” “The End of the Beginning,” and “God is Dead?” The band, and Osbourne in particular, seemed a bit less comfortable with the newer songs, but each one was performed ably and served the singer’s current lower vocal register quite well.

The big question before the evening began was what sort of shape Osbourne’s voice would be in once he got going. While there were a few croaks and coughs here and there, Ozzy seemed to really be on top of his game throughout the show. Yes, the range isn’t quite what it used to be, but one really got the sense that the “Godfather of Heavy Metal” was not only more than happy to be playing in this group again, he also seemed to have a hell of a time doing it.

As much as it is a front man’s job to invite and bring attention upon himself–in this regard, Ozzy Osbourne is a true master–the real star and hero of the evening was Iommi, who played the band’s iconic collection of riffs and solos with a bombast that belied the state of his health (the guitar man is fighting an ongoing battle with cancer). What’s more, he did it all while sporting a broad grin which almost betrayed the dark and demonic tones he was conjuring from his axe.

While the future of Black Sabbath remains up in the air due to Iommi’s health struggles--not to mention the aging Osbourne’s--it can be fairly said that if this were to be the last go around for the black metal rockers, they went out with a bang.

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