Black Sabbath, the original four horsemen of the metal apocalypse, charged their reunited forces across foreign soil earlier this year, saving their triumphant return to America for a winter tour kicking off in Phoenix on New Year's Eve. Working up to the live run, bassist Geezer Butler, guitarist Tony Iommi, fabled frontman Ozzy Osbourne, and drummer Bill Ward issued Reunion, a double live CD that smokes with the haunting Sabbath dirges and staunch, dark music of heavy metal's most influential outfit. As Butler and Iommi indicated in a late October interview while doing press in New York City, the CD is just the tip of the iceberg.
Maximum Ink: Reunion sounds fantastic. Was there a lot of remastering?
Geezer Butler: Not at all.
Tony Iommi: The whole thing was put together very quickly-the shows, finding out we were recording it. There was a bit of remixing.
MI: So there wasn't a lot of studio doctoring, to make anyone sound better?.
GB: None at all. There are a few mistakes on there, but that's live. There are so many bootlegs out from over the years, that to make it perfect would be a joke.
TI: To go in and redo two guitars and vocals, we might as well do another studio album.
MI: How long had you guys rehearsed for those shows?
GB: About five weeks, every day.
MI: So you were as ready as you'd ever be for those shows. How about this tour?
TI: A lot of it was just getting back together, talking together, getting to know each other again, and working through ideas.
MI: Was that exceptionally difficult? There have been a lot of variations of Black Sabbath since the four of you last played together.
GB: It was surprisingly easy this time, because none of us expected it to ever happen again. It was so out of the blue that it made it a lot easier. There was a definite starting point. Sharon Osbourne called and asked if we wanted to do it, yes or no, not maybe, and our answers were yes. From the time we said yes, to the time we hit the stage was only about two months.
TI: All the times we've talked about it in the past, nothing ever came of it.
MI: What about the two studio tracks? Did you sit down as a band and write those?
TI: We were doing the mix for the album, and they asked us if we could come up with a couple of bonus tracks for the album. We didn't have anything to put on the album, we hadn't been together in ages, so we just went into another room and started jamming with a few ideas. Bob Marlette was there, the producer, and he taped them, brought them to Ozzy, and put the vocals together with the music for the song.
MI: So Ozzy did the lyrics?
MI: So it wasn't written together as a band?
TI: Not originally when we were just putting the ideas down, but we got the groove of the band on the record.
MI: With all of the new bands that are so directly influenced by Black Sabbath, it's not surprising how many younger fans have embraced you. Are you surprised at how timeless your sound has been, though? Black Sabbath is more than just nostalgia.
GB: It's brilliant! I think it's better than ever, and we're all better than ever. The scene for us is better than ever. It's very surprising to us, because when we were growing up, there was no way we would listen to our parents' generation's music. It's very strange for us to look out and see that the crowd hasn't grown older, but we have! It's like a time machine or something! (laughing) It's good to see the parents bringing the kids and staying to watch the band themselves!
TI: The funny thing is, there are as many fans on the side of the stage, from the other bands! That's really nice.
MI: A lot of bands have made an impact, but I don't think anyone would argue that musically, you guys have had the greatest influence on metal. Do you ever listen to today's bands and say, "Wow, that sounds like Sabbath!"
TI: You can hear the influence in a lot of bands, but you really don't think about it.
MI: What was some of the stuff that inspired Sabbath? You were unlike everything else at the time.
GB: As a band, when we all got together, we all liked blues music. That was the first thing that we were started by. Cream, John Mayall, The Yardbirds, Hendrix.
MI: Have your tastes changed enough today, where you think your sound would be radically different if you entered the studio?
GB: It couldn't be too different because it needs to stay in the realm of that Sabbath sound. If we started doing ultra-heavy stuff, like my solo stuff, that's not Sabbath. It needs to maintain some of the Sabbath feeling from the past.
MI: Do you have any intentions of recording a new album as a band?
GB: If we come up with enough stuff, but it's really early. The one thing we can't do is force it. If there's no passion, why do it? There needs to be very good music, otherwise we wouldn't do it.
MI: I think it would be fascinating to hear new Sabbath in today's environment. Your sound isn't dated.
GB: I think a lot of that is recording technique. The way you record at the time and date stuff.
MI: Ozzy's voice is so much more tailored for Sabbath material. Maybe it's because you weren't applying vocal effects to the records, so it's more authentic-sounding when he sings it today.
TI: I think the good thing about Sabbath is that we didn't really rely on the technology of the time. We were a live band in the studio recording, and that was all we needed. We didn't need any gimmicks. That's why it still stands up now. It isn't dated because it wasn't reliant on what was new at the time. When we first went in to mix Reunion, it just didn't sound right on tape. When Bob Marlette took it over, he just took it as it was. He didn't want it to sound polished. He wanted it to sound the same way as it did to us on tour.
MI: Are you going to be building on the existing Sabbath songs live, with new solos and the such, or will they be played as they were written?
GB: No, we're doing them as exact as we can. [Though] I've played bass differently over the years, and Tony has played different solos, we're going back.
MI: Is that going to be difficult, breaking new habits?
GB: A lot of it... The big thing for me is playing again with Bill. I've noticed that other drummers will skip bits, and every drummer has their own approach. Bill is like no other drummer that I've ever played with. With other drummers, you tend to insert bass riffs where you really don't need them. Once you click in with Bill, it's great.
MI: I was really impressed by how he sounded on the album.
TI: We were, too! (laughing) Don't forget, he hasn't played on a big stage since Heaven and Hell, and he hadn't played with us since we last played with Ozzy.
GB: There's a definite feel when the four of us get together. No one else can play it that way. You feel at home.
MI: How's Bill's health? There's talk of Vinny Appice being on tour to play drums if Bill isn't able at any show.
GB: If anything does happen to Bill, then Vinny will be the first person we call, but we want Bill to do it.
TI: We don't want to put too much strain on Bill, but he really wants to do it.
MI: So as of right now, Bill is the drummer.
MI: What can we expect visually from the tour?
GB: We don't know yet! (laughter)
TI: We were talking about that this morning, trying to come up with ideas.
MI: Other than the obvious hits, are there any songs that you know you're adding?
GB: We're still coming up with lists, but we'll probably do at least five or six songs that aren't on the live album. We're also thinking of medleys. Every time we do an interview people ask why we did this or didn't do that, so the medleys can satisfy more fans. It'll probably be about 1:50, any more than that and it gets boring. There won't be any solos.
TI: A lot of the songs are very instrument alanyway.
MI: How about the decision to have Pantera open?
TI: We've had no trouble with Pantera. They're great guys, a great opening band, and just a great band.
GB: Plus, a lot of the Sabbath fans can relate to them.
MI: Soulfly, Megadeth and Slayer are just doing the opening night, New Year's Eve, right?
GB: Yes, for other dates we were thinking of maybe Oasis and the Smashing Pumpkins (laughter).
MI: After all the years, why now for the reunion?
GB: For me, it's probably the last chance I'll have of someone asking! Then, with my solo stuff, as well, people are always asking when Sabbath is getting back together. You realize that everyone is dying for the original band to get back together. Even when I did the tour with Ozzy. You just get fed up with saying no! (laughing)
TI: It was a constant question.
GB: When the chance came up, I didn't realize how up for it I really was. All these people haven't seen the original lineup, and it was a good chance to get everybody together on a good note. When we started rehearsing-we wouldn't have done it if it didn't feel right-it felt like it would be such a waste if we didn't do it.
TI: It was fantastic.
GB: We're just taking it one step at a time so that it stays fresh and we are 100% into what we're doing.