10 Reasons To Get Excited About Seeing Sabbath At Download

(Image credit: Kevin Mazur \/ WireImage)

Last night (June 8), Black Sabbath played their final gig before their June 11 return to Download festival, with a thrilling performance in front of 22,000 fans at Berlin’s beautiful Waldbühne amphitheatre. Here are ten reasons * you can start getting unfeasibly excited if you’re planning upon seeing the men in black on Saturday evening.

*Contains spoilers, obviously

With this being Sabbath’s farewell tour, each show on The End should feel like a genuine event. Old pros that they are, Sabbath understand this, and ramp up the atmosphere ahead of Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Tommy Clufetos stepping on stage each night via a dramatic intro film featuring a terrifying, fire-breathing winged demon unleashing apocalyptic devastation upon mankind. The subliminal message here seems to be: we’re about to unleash Hell people, strap in…

In Berlin, as elsewhere on The End tour, Sabbath’s setlist features no fewer than nine of the 15 tracks the Birmingham band released 46 years ago on their opening brace of albums, their self-titled debut and Paranoid. These are not mere ‘songs’, but the fundamental cornerstones upon which our whole world was created. If aliens invade the East Midlands on Saturday on a mission to find the true meaning of ‘Heavy Metal’ - and who among us can honestly rule out that possibility? - here, in the most crushing fashion, is their answer.

We’re not saying that Ozzy sold his soul to the Devil in return for immortal life – that’d be silly – but there must be some explanation as to how, at the age of 67, the Prince of Darkness is looking and sounding so damn fine. In the past, with the greatest respect, Ozzy’s voice has on occasion been Sabbath’s weakest link, but no longer, and tonight the frontman is in spectacular form, rolling back the years with a performance of genuine power and class.

What happened to that shuffling, awkward, painfully self-aware guy who used to front Sabbath? There have been times in the past where it’s looked as if Ozzy was simply going through the motions onstage, but in 2016, he’s truly a man reborn, dominating the stage, animated and hugely engaging, whether serving up jokes (keyboard player Adam Wakeman is apparently kept in the wings simply because he’s “too ugly” to appear in person, while drummer Clufetos was discovered “playing drums in the car park”, if we’re to believe the Double O) or exhorting the crowd to greater participation. It really is a joy to witness.

That Tony Iommi is the single most influential guitarist in heavy metal history is inarguable: one could no more imagine heavy metal without Iommi than one could conceive of a world without oxygen. But as familiar as that doom-laden, monolithic guitar sound is, from the moment that the 68-year-old guitarist peels off his first imperious riffs of the evening, the impact is as mesmerising and over-powering as if you were hearing the Devil’s Tritone for the very first time. Here, ladies and gentleman, is a true master at work.

Look, we wish Bill Ward was up there. There’s probably not a single person listening to Sabbath tonight, including the four men onstage, who doesn’t wish Bill Ward was up there. But in the here and now, enormous respect is due to Tommy Clufetos for what is a tour-de-force performance behind the kit. Such is his skill and power, that the sticksman is able to turn what could in theory be an indulgent time-filler – his spotlight solo spot during Rat Salad – into a genuinely riveting piece of theatre, which holds this capacity crowd utterly enrapt. Honestly, just wait and see.

There are better known songs in Sabbath’s set, but few sound more likely to level this gorgeous open air bowl as the centre-piece of 1971’s Master Of Reality album. Geezer Butler’s rolling bass is louder than thunder, and from the moment Ozzy wails ‘Revolution in their minds, the children start to march…’ Sabbath sound genuinely menacing, a bona-fide threat to ‘civilised’ society. It’s during empowering moments like this where one understands exactly why authoritarian regimes worldwide have sought to suppress rock music.

There’s an old cliché over-employed by football commentators which contends that the backing of a passionate, vocal terrace support acts as a ‘twelfth man’ for football teams: every musician also knows that the circular flow of energy between audience and performer can bestow a truly transcendent quality to the most special gigs. Tonight, with 22,000 Sabbath fans engaged and roaring encouragement from the off, singing the riffs to War Pigs and Iron Man at ear-splitting volume, there’s a genuinely spine-tingling synergy between those onstage and in the stands which cannot help but make one proud of the heavy metal ‘family’. And if it’s this intense in Berlin, just imagine how overwhelming this fusion will be when 90,000 fans converge to cheer on Sabbath at metal’s spiritual home…

Yes, you’ve heard it one thousand times. But there’s something about the knowledge that you might never hear these men perform this most singular heavy metal anthem together again which will reduce you to jelly on Saturday evening, we promise you. Although, then again, there’s also…

We don’t imagine that Download promoter Andy Copping was exactly over-joyed that photos of a flyer purporting to list 2017 UK arena shows for Sabbath began appearing on social media last night, but perhaps some good might yet come from this unfortunate leak. To be honest, the knowledge that you might never see these heavy metal legends onstage together again could have proved just too emotional: now we get to honour the kings with hope in our hearts that this isn’t quite The End just yet.

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.