Black Sabbath; LG Arena, Birmingham, 20/12/13

Black Sabbath; LG Arena, Birmingham, 20/12/13

Ozzy Osbourne is a much calmer soul these days. Other than throwing two buckets of water on one particular security guard and lamenting that he won’t be drinking this Christmas because he ‘got busted earlier this year’ his latest live performance was almost entirely incident free. Which is a shame, frankly.

Returning home for two special Christmas shows, the talismanic lead singer spent most the evening reminding the crowd that he loves us all. Touching, I know. Fortunately for the former star of The Osbournes, the night was made memorable by the astounding resurgence of guitarist Tony Iommi. Diagnosed with lymphoma early last year, Iommi has since had successful treatment and looked remarkably healthy. His virtuoso mastery of the guitar had clearly not been affected by his experience with the illness as he powered through a set that leaned heavily on older material and was all the better for it.

Opener ‘War Pigs’ set the tone. Throughout Iommi’s guitar was as frenetic and unapologetically heavy as it gets. Ably accompanied by the man with the best name in the history of rock music, Geezer Butler, Black Sabbath sounded every bit as good as they did 45 years ago. So I’m told. I wasn’t there. But anyway, this is no small feat considering they are without original drummer Paul Ward, due to legal fallout (as it often is), and because Ozzy’s voice is gradually beginning to sound like a dying whale. Regardless, he sang with typically intensity and any off-key moments were rendered unimportant thanks to the wall of noise thundering out of the two amps either side of him. Black Sabbath staples ‘Iron Man’, ‘Fairies Wear Boots’ and ‘Children of the Grave’ were also played with enough charisma and vigour to suggest that the band can keep touring for a few more years yet. Closer ‘Paranoid’, met by an extraordinary response by the 10,000 strong crowd (who resembled Saruman’s army in the Helm’s Deep scene from Lord of the Rings), was even accompanied by confetti canons and black balloons – Merry Christmas indeed, Ozzy.

Surprisingly, even this was outdone by ‘Dirty Women’, the self-confessed favourite of Mr. Osbourne’s (no-one can work out why) unleashed two songs before the end. Live, the song was performed with two huge projections of old art house footage, much like the rest of the set. The difference was the kaleidoscopic lighting and the increasingly provocative imagery. This, combined with Tony Iommi’s mercurial soloing, meant then end result was almost hallucinogenic – an utterly spellbinding spectacle of light, picture and sound. The 7 minute cut from album Technical Ecstasy ended up being precisely that, and was worth the price of admission alone. Welcome home boys.

Kyle Picknell