It’s in some ways remarkable that Black Sabbath’s career ended on such a high, given that they spent fifteen tumultuous years as a bit of a joke. Their early albums helped define a genre, and though they survived one hell of an upheaval through the addition of Ronnie James Dio, post-Dio albums proved less and less successful as sole remaining founding member Tony Iommi was forced to release what were meant to be solo albums under the Sabbath moniker. The fifteen years between Dio leaving and original vocalist Ozzy Osbourne returning are the most disorderly and inconsistent years of Black Sabbath’s storied past, but after things hit rock bottom with 1995’s Forbidden, a reunion began to stir and Sabbath crawled back from the depths to take their place as the Godfathers Of Metal once again. 2013’s 13 proved largely successful despite the lack of original drummer Bill Ward, and after a string of tours and festival appearances, The End tour was the band’s way of ensuring they left with their legacy intact.
Despite being called The End, though, you’d be foolish to think the tour was the last we’d hear from the rock giants. Coming soon is the much-anticipated Ten Year War box set, and on Thursday 28th September, cinemagoers were treated to a recording of their final ever gig, which took place in their hometown of Birmingham. Heralded as the only chance to see it in cinemas before the DVD releases in November, the film sees Eagle Rock once again stake their claim as the masters of capturing live performances.
Throughout, the cinema setting allows the band’s metallic prowess to roar, with the most delightfully doomy tracks (‘Into The Void’, ‘Black Sabbath’) proving exceptionally well-suited to the big-screen audio. Geezer Butler’s bass is left high in the mix, aiding in capturing the energy of the show, whilst Ozzy’s vocals are as good as they’ve been in years. The film doesn’t ignore the fact that he is never quite perfect, but for one last show, it seems he’s determined to be at the top of his game. Meanwhile, Tony Iommi is as masterful as ever, and there are enough close-up shots of his prosthetic fingertips to make any would-be guitarist ecstatic.
A rich picture allows the scorching pyrotechnics and moody lighting to ensure the film feels suitably macabre for a Black Sabbath performance, but Eagle Rock has done much more than create a high-quality film of a gig. The End Of The End captures the high-running emotions of the final Black Sabbath gig flawlessly – the band’s nerves beforehand, their jubilance during and the indescribable feeling of sadness after, are all palpable whilst watching. Indeed, it explores the band’s relationship in a way not seen in previous documentaries or films, with interview snippets infusing the live shots with context. Tommy Clufetos’ role as drummer is subdued and his drum solo edited out, with the spotlight left solely on the three remaining founding members, though Bill Ward’s absence is not entirely swept under the rug.
The End Of The End is a brilliantly captured live film, but its real treat comes in the addition of studio footage. As the band note in the film, they’ve rarely, if ever, recorded themselves at work in the studio, and as we see the band come together three days after the final gig, fans are treated to live recordings of tracks that have long been absent from their setlist, including ‘The Wizard’, ‘Wicked World’ and a poignant rendition of ‘Changes’, which closes out the feature.
The desire to edit the film into a feature-length film leads to the unfortunate loss of some classic tracks (‘N.I.B.’, ‘Beyond The Wall Of Sleep’, ‘Dirty Woman’) despite deeper cuts like ‘Under The Sun’ and ‘Hand Of Doom’ being left in. Nevertheless, recordings of the omitted tracks, alongside additional interview offcuts, are shown post-film and are thus likely to be included on the upcoming DVD as special features.
Black Sabbath’s back catalogue is sorely lacking a truly brilliant live release, and as such, The End Of The End is likely to be remembered as their best. It transcends the admittedly mundane nature of the standard live DVD format to provide not just a brilliantly recorded concert film, but an emotional, and at times heart-warmingly funny, release that captures Black Sabbath, and three-quarters of the characters behind it, in a way that has never been done before.
Black Sabbath – The End (Live In Birmingham) is out November 17th.
Words: George Parr