It’s a rare thing to know that you’re bearing witness to history in the making. It’s even more unusual to see it happen on a buttfuck-freezing Tuesday night in Glasgow. And yet here we are, locked away backstage in the labyrinthine Hydro Arena, in a curtained-off dressing room sitting across from two iron-clad icons of our world. In one corner, Ozzy Osbourne: frontman of Black Sabbath, the band that started it all and without whom this very magazine – hell, every single facet of this scene – wouldn’t exist. The single biggest personality heavy metal has ever produced, and a man who has now clocked up almost five decades at the top of our game. In the other corner, M. Shadows: singer of Avenged Sevenfold, the band who have attempted to pick up the baton and take heavy music striding into its next chapter, fighting their way up the ranks over a decade-plus to stand as one of our biggest 21st-century names. When Shadows – a huge Sabbath fanboy himself – agreed to help chair what will serve as Ozzy’s final interview under the Sabbs moniker, we knew we had something very special on our hands. Put plainly: moments like these just don’t tend to come along very fucking often.
That said, there is something of the stars aligning in this meeting of heavyweights. As we chat today, Black Sabbath are midway through their last ever tour – a definitive full stop on a career that has defined metal as we know it. They are the godfathers. The OGs. The start and endgame for alternative culture. Their exit from this world will be felt keenly and immediately. Avenged, meanwhile, are two days removed from wrapping up their biggest UK tour to date: an arena-juggling monster that saw them take down two packed London O2 arenas and debut their awe-inspiring new live show. That makes this not only a true clash of generations, but a symbolic passing of the torch – a first and final opportunity to hold an exclusive audience with these two cornerstones of everything our magazine has been built on. With only Hammer and our photographer John McMurtrie also present, it’s time to sit back and find out what happens when eras unite.
SHADOWS: “So, Metal Hammer asked me to interview you!”
OZZY: “That’s cool, mate!”
S: “Yeah, it really is! I guess it’s because my band are like the younger generation coming up, and you guys are now on your last ever tour, so it’s come together. How’s the tour all going so far?”
O: “Well, today I’ve got a fucking perforated ear drum. It’s like my head’s in a box.”
S: “Oh, man. That sounds bad.”
O: “Yeah, it feels like my ears are underwater, you know? But I’m ready! Let’s do it!”
S: “Well, since this is the last Black Sabbath tour, what tours stand out in particular for you from the early days?”
O: “Every tour has its moments. A tour’s a tour, you know? We’ve been doing this for 47 years, but it’s like anything in life; you have a good day, you have a bad day, you have a good gig, you have a bad gig. Sometimes you go up there and it’s fucking dreadful, ha ha! Every stage has a different sound. But that’s just rock’n’roll!”
S: “Were there any bands in particular that you remember from the early days that you enjoyed touring with?”
O: “Well, the most dangerous one I ever did personally was my solo tour with Mötley Crüe in the 80s. Fucking hell, it was nuts. We were like pirates. I said to my tour manager, ‘Fucking hell, one of us is gonna die on this tour.’ And sure enough, shortly after, Vince Neil killed someone in a car. But for every tour, even now, I’m not one of these guys that reads the riot act to support bands. I don’t say, ‘You can’t be there, you can’t do that.’ I look at it like, it’s a show, it’s not about being on the ‘A Stage’ or ‘B Stage’, it’s just a fucking show. It’s best to be nice rather than be an asshole. To be an asshole you’ve got to have a good memory!”
S: “Ha ha ha! Very true!”
O: “The band we’ve got on this last tour, Rival Sons, they’re a good bunch of guys. I always greet them and tell them that if there’s anything they need, just ask us. They don’t know what we’re gonna be like. In the old days, headline bands would have the lights turned right up for their supports [to try to sabotage them] and all that kind of shit. I didn’t like that. If you can’t stand the heat, get off the fucking stage, you know?”
S: “Absolutely. So you look after your support bands?”
O: “You just treat them like people! Otherwise you end up with war, and touring’s a battle enough without that. Just because you’re the opening act, it doesn’t mean you’re not important. I remember when we toured with Kiss, and it was dead for us! All the audience were dressed up in makeup! But it was fun, and if it’s not fun, don’t do it. If you don’t like this gig, get a day job! My mum used to say to me, ‘When are you gonna stop fucking around with this band? Get a real job!’ That’s what she thought, you know, but I just don’t fancy a job at McDonalds, flipping burgers, ha ha ha! I couldn’t hold down a real job anyway…”
S: “Me either. Back to Sabbath: why exactly do you think this band got so big?”
O: “You know what? That’s a mystery that I’ll never understand. I used to think bands were pulling my leg when they told me they loved Black Sabbath. I remember when I had Metallica opening up for me [in ’86], and I went past their dressing room and I could hear Sabbath’s music coming out! I was so oblivious, I said to my assistant, ‘Are they taking the piss?!’ When you’re in the eye of the storm, you don’t know how big the storm is. So I don’t know the answer to that. But I am glad. And now Black Sabbath’s nearly 50 fucking years old…”
S: “What do you think Sabbath’s most important contribution to metal is?”
O: “I don’t know. People always say we invented heavy metal. But I like The Kinks, Zeppelin, The Who, and I think we just spawned from that. But I do think that Tony Iommi, for what it’s worth, is the king of all demonic riffs. There’s just no one to fucking touch him. Considering he had his fretboard fingers chopped off… to this day I’m still amazed he knows he’s touching the strings. He’s amazing. He’s one of these guys that you can give any instrument to and he’ll come out of his dressing room playing something on it. It could be the bagpipes, or anything really.”
S: “Ha! Yeah, no one can touch Tony.”
Dressed in a baggy black t-shirt, jewellery, black jeans and a (you guessed it) black beanie, Shadows looked every inch the modern-day rock star while he was snarling, screaming and horn-throwing his way through his shoot with the Prince Of Darkness less than 10 minutes before this interview. Right now, though, it’s very much Matt Sanders the heavy metal fan who is present and correct, evidently as stoked as we are to be sitting centimetres away from the man whos tarted it all, and listening attentively to the answers his interviewee offers (and, to be fair to the Avenged frontman, he makes a solid music journalist. The fucker).
Ozzy, meanwhile, despite his fame and stature, remains as real as it gets, waving away any superlatives thrown his way and giving the air of a boy from Birmingham genuinely humbled to have been able to do what he does. Despite being savvy enough to click into ‘Ozzy mode’ for the shoot moments ago (honestly, it’s a sight to behold to witness him go Full Vogue and throw about 80 poses in two minutes), he appears bemused to be treated as anything other than a rock’n’roll fan putting on rock’n’roll shows. And, despite his 68 years and shuffling ways (and Jesus, can the man shuffle at speed), he’s chatty, alert and quick to answer everything Shadows throws at him, whether it’s discussing Sabbath’s career, his solo ventures or the next generation of metal heavyweights…
S: “For me, as someone in a band, you guys really did start all this for all of us.”
O: “On Ozzfest, younger bands would come up to me and go, ‘Ooooh, we are not worthy!’ [does bowing motion]. I get embarrassed by all that. And some of it, when bands say, ‘You’re our biggest influence’, I can see it, but with some of them I just think, ‘Where the fuck does that come from?!’ What I think we did, is that we handed the torch on. Why we did Ozzfest is because when Sharon phoned up Lollapalooza to see if they’d book me, they said I was a dinosaur. So she said, ‘Fuck you, we’ll do our own festival’ and that’s what happened!”
S: “And we played Ozzfest! Do you think it’s possible for a band nowadays to have the same sort of impact as bands like Sabbath? What advice would you give to the next generation?”
O: “Well, Metallica weren’t always the Metallica you see now. They were just an opening band, and they’re a fucking monster now. But they’re good guys, good people. A guy said to me a long time ago: ‘You’re gonna meet a lot of people. Don’t fuck with them on the way up, ’cause you gotta meet the same people on the way down.’ Everybody has their five minutes of ego, it’s part of the job, you just have to get over yourself. Look, I’m on the inside looking out, and I’m really humbled that people look up to us, but I’m not very good in the giving advice section. Just have fun! “
S: “Right! So when you got fired in ’79 and you went on and found Randy Rhoads and had a successful solo career, did you keep tabs on the other Sabbath guys?”
O: “What happened there is that they got Dio, and it spurred them on and it spurred me on. You wanna outdo each other, and it’s healthy. Now I couldn’t give a shit, ha ha ha!”
S: “Ah, you have had some classic albums yourself, though!”
O: “Well that’s just what happens. It’s like when McCartney left The Beatles.”
S: “I can actually hear tons of Beatles influence in the Ozzy stuff.”
O: “Oh yeah. The Beatles were my Black Sabbath, if you like. I met Paul McCartney, and he’s very honest. He said the trouble with The Beatles was that they were lacking musicianship. I said, ‘But fucking hell, they had the best top lines ever.’ I just like melody. Some of this growly stuff gets a bit over the top for me. And I fucking hate hip hop, ha ha ha! But some of the lyrics are fucking great!”
S: “How have you been able to make meaningful music throughout generations?”
O: “It’s an impossible question. My solo music and Sabbath music is a bit different, and it’s all different styles. Ronnie James Dio did a great job with the Sabbath stuff as well, because you go to any metal festival in Europe now, and they all want to be him! He’s dearly missed.”
S: “Is there anything left that you wish you’d achieved with Sabbath?”
O: “Doing Sabbath again was like putting a pair of old boots on. I went to school with Tony, I lived near Geezer, so we’re all like brothers, really. The sad thing was that Bill never got it together. I don’t know what the deal is there, because the one thing I don’t do is negotiating or contracts. I don’t want to be involved in any of that.”
S: “That’s probably wise. I know you should probably rest your voice for the show, so the one last thing I wanted to ask you wa
S: how do you hope Black Sabbath will be remembered?”
O: “Just the fact that we’re remembered is good enough. One of my proudest things is the fact that we weren’t created by some business guys. We were four guys, we had an idea, and it worked. Don’t give up on your dreams. Dreams are what this is all about!” And with that, the Prince Of Darkness jolts up, offers both Shadows and Hammer a warm handshake and speed-shuffles his way out of his dressing room to get ready for the show. In less than an hour, he’ll make his way onstage to belt out some of the most influential songs ever written in front of a Scottish crowd for the very last time with Sabbath. After this, he’ll do the same for Leeds, London and, finally, Birmingham, the place where it all started. We certainly won’t see his or Sabbath’s like again, and while rumours of more Ozzy solo action after this run means the Double O is unlikely done with us quite yet, the finality of this Sabbath tour is impossible to shake.
“Man, that was fucking crazy,” beams Shadows as he looks back over a few select shots from today’s shoot. “Did you see all his poses? I need to work on my moves!” Quite where metal will go once its architects have all bowed out for good is anyone’s guess, but witnessing these two men shoot the shit today, it’s hard not to believe that as long as there is passion, belief and, above all else, realness, heavy will always find a way.
BLACK SABBATH: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION IS OUT NOW VIA SANCTUARY. AVENGED’S LATEST ALBUM, THE STAGE, IS OUT NOW VIA CAPITOL
Black Sabbath - Glasgow SSE Hydro
How did the masters fare on their final Scottish bow?
With Sabbath having become such a solid, reliable cornerstone of our world once again over the five-plus years since their 2012 reunion, it’s easy to take seeing gamechanging anthems like Fairies Wear Boots, Into The Void and N.I.B. played live again for granted. But, even as the titanic trio of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler take to the stage (backed once again by the solid Tommy Clufetos), there is a looming sense of dread hanging over the SSE tonight – the realisation that soon we really will never see these three men share a stage together becoming sharper by the minute. Even despite such forebodings, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the sheer, unadulterated heaviness of the opening notes of Black Sabbath. This right here is the moment that birthed the reason everyone in this building is here today; the reason any of us have ever spent money on an album adorned with gory artwork, spanked a few coins on a grubby old jukebox to hear some heavy riffage or covered our walls in posters packed with ugly, snarling blokes in leather. This is the inception of heavy metal, and with Ozzy sounding on form and Messrs Iommi and Butler sounding as in sync and thunderous as ever, it still sounds utterly fucking glorious.
“I’ve burst a fucking ear drum!” shouts Ozzy after the first song ends, confirming some temporary hearing difficulties that he revealed to us earlier. “But I wanted to play for you guys,” he adds to cheers. While his affliction doesn’t initially trip him up, Fairies Wear Boots and Under The Sun both sounding ace, there are a couple of times tonight where it’s clearly giving him some bother. The Double O never goes fully out of tune, but he does occasionally come in a pitch too low, most noticeably on a misfiring War Pigs as he frantically signals to the sound desk to turn his mic up. When things do click, however, they really are spectacular. The ever-reliable Iron Man sounds colossal – given symbolic new meaning since Tony Iommi’s lymphoma recovery – and Children Of The Grave is a rumbling, firebreathing monster, while a genuinely spinetingling Snowblind steals the show completely, reminding everyone once again of the pure, unbridled power of this most vital of bands. The ‘show’ part of the show is kept to a minimum, a few tokenistic effects peppered around the giant screens providing more occasional distraction than enhanced experience, but it’s all about the songs. And, as the final, crushing few notes of Paranoid finish this particular page of Sabbath’s final chapter, it’s hard to not feel that we have lost something truly fundamental, something very primal to everything we hold dear. Hold on, we’ve just got something in our eye…