The one thing fans will immediately notice about Ozzy Osbourne's forthcoming LP Black Rain is that it's drenched in some of the heaviest riffage to grace one of the Prince of Darkness' solo outings — thanks, in large part, to Ozzy's longtime guitarist, the Jack Daniel's-chugging Zakk Wylde. According to Osbourne, there were times during the tracking of the album when he wondered whether the songs were too abrasive. But you see, Ozzy's got this personal rule about making music.
"If you're heavy, don't try to be f---ing light," he explained.
Wise words from a man whose stamp on the world of heavy metal will never be challenged. Ozzy said his friends who had heard the new material assured him that heavier was better and that it was the direction he needed to go in.
But don't think for a second that Ozzy is merely trying to keep pace with the younger metal acts that play his namesake festival each summer. (This year's Ozzfest will be free to the public and kicks off July 12 in Seattle; see "Osbournes Hype 'Groundbreaking' Ozzfest: 'Why Not Go To A Show For Free?' ").
"The bottom line is, these younger bands, there's no structure to the songs," Ozzy said. "They just play angry, which is fine. But there are so many people who come from my era, who try to sound like one of these young bands, and the press just tears 'em a new butt."
And to think that Osbourne nearly ditched Wylde a couple of years back, announcing on his Web site that he'd be hosting auditions for a new guitarist to work with him on what eventually became Black Rain.
"I don't know how the guy does it," Ozzy marveled. "He does Black Label Society, and he's never off the road. He had just come home for a week, and he came into the studio, and we worked on some stuff together. I'm just blessed to have him. I was going to get a new guitar player a few years back, but there's no one better. I defy anybody to say they're better than him. He's got a style of his own."
Black Rain, Ozzy's first new studio album of original material in almost six years, will hit stores May 22. The disc follows 2001's Down to Earth and was recorded in Los Angeles in Osbourne's home studio along with Wylde, bassist Blasko, drummer Mike Bordin and co-producer Kevin Churko, who worked on Ozzy's 2005 covers album, Under Cover. The set will feature 10 tracks, including the first single, "I Don't Wanna Stop," "Civilize the Universe" and "Lay Your World on Me," a touching ballad he penned in part for his wife Sharon after her much-publicized bout with colon cancer (see "Sharon Osbourne Declared Cancer-Free; Bat-Biting Biopic Discussed").
"I always like to do a good ballad on an album, to take the steam out of it, and then you come right back with another heavy one," Ozzy explained, pointing out — as he has — that Black Rain is the first album he's finished without using drugs or alcohol.
"I thought I couldn't do it," he explained. "I made the decision that, if I thought I couldn't do it [without] getting f---ed up, I wouldn't do an album. If that was what it was about for me, to make a record, I don't want to go there any more. I don't want it in my life. I don't smoke. I don't drink. I don't do drugs anymore. It takes a lot of getting used to, but it was definitely a different experience for me."
This summer, Osbourne said he'll be playing several songs from Black Rain but will of course dip into the archives to play some of his older solo material, as well as some Black Sabbath classics. But he can't take credit for this summer's gratis tickets.
"I'm the entertainer — my wife's the manager," he said. "I may be talking out of my ass, but what happened was, we always try to do a reasonable ticket. We have to alter it and ultimately put more on the ticket [as tour-related costs increase]. So last year, Sharon was getting pissed off at the bands who wanted more and more [money to play], so she goes, 'F--- this, I'm going to do it for nothing,' and bring it back down to earth. And people thought it would be a washout, that it wouldn't work.
"It's our way of saying, 'Eh, come along, have some fun,' " he continued. "The ticket prices don't ever go down. ... We're in hard times now. I'm just trying to bring a bit of fairness to the game, and Sharon is also, and keep people happy. If it wasn't for them — I'm [turning] 59 this year — I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am now. I wouldn't be living in these houses I have."
Before his headlining stint on this summer's free Ozzfest, Osbourne will play a series of international dates beginning May 27 in Moscow. He is also one of the subjects of VH1's "Rock Honors," to be taped May 12 in Las Vegas for a May 24 airing.
As for the reunion of Black Sabbath's 1980s lineup — guitarist Tony Iommi, bassist Geezer Butler, singer Ronnie James Dio and drummer Vinny Appice — which will be touring this year under the moniker Heaven and Hell, Ozzy wishes them all the best but maintains the only true Black Sabbath is the band he fronts. And while he's not sure what Heaven and Hell's future plans might be, his next order of business, so long as the rest of the guys are still up for it, is to record with Sabbath once again.
"I'm still on for an album and a tour with them, but we have no [new material written]," he said. "It would be so easy for us to get in and out of a studio and make an album. But if it's not up to the par of when I left, why do it? It will destroy the f---ing legacy of Black Sabbath, and the legend of Black Sabbath. I haven't dropped the idea, because Tony and I are talking alright about it. I haven't abandoned the idea — like, 'If my album does well, f--- Black Sabbath.' It's what I want to do. We have repaired some of the damage between each other, and now, I'd like to do a really good f---ing Black Sabbath album."