Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Darkest Before the Light—Nativity in Black (A Tribute to Black Sabbath)

As I've written in earlier blogs, tribute albums have had a nice run for the last couple of decades. One of the albums that may have had a hand in starting the whole phenomenon is “Nativity in Black: A Tribute to Black Sabbath” (1994). Twelve selections are on “Nativity” from some of the leading heavy metal acts of the early 1990s and also from what were perceived to be up and comers and a couple of groups specially assembled just for this occasion.

Heavy metal veterans Megadeth and Bruce Dickinson (from Iron Maiden) turned in the most stalwart interpretations of Sabbath songs. Dave Mustaine lead singer/lead guitarist of Megadeth really brings it on “Paranoid,” taking the tempo of the original up a notch and giving it his patented machine-gun-style speed metal treatment. He does the vocals homage as well with that menacing growl that is so beloved by fans near and far. The funny part at the end is classic with the song ending and the drummer continuing as Dave yells out “Nick. Nick! Nick!!” before he stops. Bruce Dickinson (w/ Godspeed) takes up “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” in his own operatic style, paying the most tribute to Ozzy by not trying to ape him. When Bruce sings “When you ask the reasons why | They just tell you that you’re on your own | Fill your head all full of lies |You bastard!” drawing out the last line to a full soprano crescendo, you want to pump your fist and holler “Yeah!”

What’s interesting is that Ozzy and two other members of Black Sabbath put together separate appearances on their own tribute album. Ozzy w/Therapy? gives a standup sendup of “Iron Man” pretty comparable to the original, though there is no reproducing the licks the way Tony Iommi plays them. Meanwhile, bassist Geezer Butler and drummer Bill Ward joined up with Rob Halford from Judas Priest to form Bullring Brummies to perform their magic on “The Wizard.” Halford shows great restraint and contains himself to enunciate each word clearly and paint the picture of a beneficial magician spreading good tidings.

The CD closes out with Type O Negative offering an interesting tone poem cut of the band’s eponymous “Black Sabbath.” You won’t be uttering, “What is this that stands before me?” as your ears will be mesmerized being drawn in deeper and deeper. The sinister and slow drumming intro harkens back to something a coven of witches may have been casting as an incantation around a pyre.

All in all, this disc does justice to the mighty Sabs. This tribute album may have been the first salvo in resurrecting the band’s image and putting them on the track to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The dark poetry of four lads from the industrial north of England has a message for us all: Don’t fear the dark. Embrace it and make it your friend.

-Derek Handova
Appreciative Listener

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