Even after years of live performances, Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi said he felt jitters aplenty at the prospect of playing a show in the seminal heavy-metal band's hometown of Birmingham, England.
Tack on that the December 1997 show was the pioneering dark-metal group's first with its original lineup in almost 20 years and that the two-night stand was being recorded for a live album -- the double-disc Reunion that was released Tuesday -- and his feeling of uneasiness begins to make sense.
"We were talking of doing [two] shows in Birmingham ... and then they said, 'What about recording the shows?' " recalled Iommi, 50. "I thought 'Oh dear, that's going to be a bit frightening,' because we haven't played with Bill Ward for 20 years as this lineup. It was a bit nerve-wracking, really. But, as luck would have it, they came out OK, and we used the second night" (interview excerpt).
Taken from that Dec. 5 show, the recording features the band's charter members -- Iommi, infamous lead-singer Ozzy Osbourne, bassist Terry "Geezer" Butler and drummer Bill Ward. The foursome, which released eight albums with Osbourne, originally gained acclaim in the early '70s on the strength of sludgy-metal hits such as "Paranoid" and "Iron Man" before fragmenting into various other incarnations after the singer's 1979 departure to pursue a highly successful solo career.
Reflecting on the atmosphere during the two shows, Butler was struck by the crowd's response to the restored lineup.
"The reception that we got from the audience was amazing," Butler said. "I've stood [on stages] over the past few years, playing various Sabbath songs with ... different lineups, with different people singing or playing guitar or drums. It was almost magical to hear it the way it should be. It was like coming home."
Included among the 18 songs on the album are Sabbath favorites such as "War Pigs" (RealAudio excerpt of live version), featuring the crowd trading verses with Osbourne, "Paranoid" (RealAudio excerpt of live version) and "Iron Man" (RealAudio excerpt of live version), which is preceded by Osbourne egging the crowd on as Ward lays down a steady single drum-beat.
Iommi teamed with Osbourne to pen two new studio tracks, "Psycho Man" and "Selling Your Soul," after the label requested additional material for the album.
According to Iommi, "We were mixing the live album, and the record company said, 'You wouldn't happen to have some tracks tucked away, would you?' and I said, 'Not really, no,' and they said, 'Could you possibly write a couple tracks?'
"I came up with a riff, played it for Ozzy ... just as a basic thing to start working on, and he liked it. [Then] I put a song together, and Ozzy sang it, and it was as simple as that, because the chemistry [was there]."
Registering the least excitement about the live album was Osbourne, who mostly was pleased just to have the band back together and touring. A spate of North American shows will begin New Year's Eve in Phoenix. Helping the group bring in 1999 will be a host of heavy-metal acts -- such as Pantera, Slayer, Megadeth and Soulfly -- inspired by Sabbath's head-banging riffs.
"I'm not a live-album buff," said Osbourne, 49. "I don't buy them. I don't see the point. But it's not my album, it's a Black Sabbath album. I just sing on the f---ing thing.
"Most live albums are recorded, and the only thing live is the audience. We kept the mistakes and everything. It really sounds good ... It's good fun after all this time. It's good to be, if nothing else, friendly with those guys."
The complete track-listing for Reunion is:
Disc One: "War Pigs," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," "N.I.B.," "Fairies Wear Boots," "Electric Funeral," "Sweet Leaf," "Spiral Architect," "Into the Void" and "Snow Blind."
Disc Two: "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath,"
"Orchid/Lord of this World," "Dirty Women,"
"Black Sabbath," "Iron Man," "Children of the
Grave," "Paranoid," "Psycho Man" and
"Selling My Soul."