Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It brought three of the founding members of the “greatest metal band of all time” together on “one final tour” — or so the band insists. It also brought herds of black-clad fans to Target Center on Monday night for one last chance to experience Geezer Butler’s sludgy bass, Tony Iommi’s command of epic guitar riffs, and Ozzy Osbourne’s larger-than-life persona as the Prince of Darkness. Luckily, those millennials walking in with fake nostalgia didn’t need to worry: the 2016 incarnation of Black Sabbath still manage to absolutely shred during this supposedly final chapter of the band.
On this tour, the remaining three members of the iconic heavy metal pioneers are joined by Tommy Clufetos, the drummer in Ozzy’s solo touring band, instead of founding drummer Bill Ward — due to contractual and other contentions.
The band came onstage to “Black Sabbath,” from their eponymous 1970 debut, after a short video promo featuring some of Sabbath’s hallmarks: death, destruction, demons. It’s a near impossible task to discuss the band or their long-haired, mad-eyed ringleader without using any pseudo-religious imagery. (That fact has caused Black Sabbath to be the frequent target of protests, right up to the present day — outside the venue last night, men stood on milk crates with signs hoisted up for all to see declaring the many ways you could find yourself on the actual highway to hell.) The band revels in their theatrical blasphemy, with crosses on long silver chains hanging from the musicians’ necks and Ozzy screaming about how “God is dead” — still playing the mad, dark priest, there to preach the gospel of the Black Sabbath.
With each founding member closer to 70 than 60 now, black magic seems to have preserved their menace. Iommi and Butler sound as clear and as rocking as they ever have; though Ozzy’s movements are a bit more restrained and his screech a bit more slurred than they were during the Nixon Administration, it’s clear that the mania is still there. Ozzy thirsts for audience interaction, spending the entire concert hurrying from center stage to both sides, demanding hands all the way in the air. Near the drum set sat a bucket of water and a sponge available for the sole purpose of allowing Ozzy to have something to dunk his head into — his stringy, wet hair making him look even more crazed.
The majority of the band’s set focused on their first three albums, reveling in their Ozzy years during their last hurrah (Osbourne was out of the band from 1979 to 1997) and playing relentless hits to keep the audience constantly on their feet. “After Forever” and “Into the Void” from Master of Reality (1971) were early hits on the setlist, before the always-rocking “War Pigs” brought everyone to their feet in an incredible highlight of a performance, with sirens blasting and fog creeping over a blood-red stage.
A little later I was treated to the first bass solo I’ve ever seen at a major concert thanks to Butler, who performed the “Bassically” medley from their debut album’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep/NIB” track. Following that came an elongated drum solo during “Rat Salad” featuring Clufetos; it seemed out of place at a celebration of the classic Black Sabbath lineup, but it did provide a chance for the rockers to regain their breath before the steady staccato drum introduction to “Iron Man” came crashing down.
They wrapped up their set with a performance of “God Is Dead?” from 2013’s 13 before ripping into “Dirty Woman” and “Paranoid.” Ozzy insisted that if the crowd was fired up enough, they would perform more songs — and he must have felt pretty satisfied, as the crowd had only chanted “One more song!” a handful of times before the band trudged back onstage for “Children of the Grave,” complete with syncopated pyrotechnics for extra metalness.
Openers Rival Songs had a bit more of a bluesy, outlaw element inserted into their rock instead of the devilish factor that makes Sabbath compelling. Only about 60% of their members were wearing black — almost a faux pas at this particular show. However, they kept the audience amused and satisfied with their solid, plowing rock. They may have earned their opening slot due to lead singer Jay Buchanan’s ear-splitting, throat-tearing screams and screeches — similar to a certain Prince of Darkness’s back in the day.
The last image of the night, burned into the skulls of all attendees, was the band standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of a video projection of a fiery finale: “The End,” spelled in traditional Black Sabbath purple, in front of a burning world. These guys obviously wanted to go out on a high note, a flame of celebration and jubilation. The audience followed suit, rocking out and showing their respect for the heavy metal icons. Though the average age of the audience reflected the growing age of the band, 20-somethings in patched-up jean jackets holding red Solo cups embraced the gospel of the Sabbath as enthusiastically as anyone who caught the band during their ‘70’s prime would.
The blazing announcement of their retirement contrasted with footage that had been screened behind the band earlier in the show — showing Ozzy in a white, fringed suit like a superstar reincarnate, the other guys in the band with long heads of hair headbanging in ecstasy. It was a wonderful reminder of what had brought us all to this almost-sold-out show at the Target Center on a Monday night during heavy snow: the spectacle of the darkness is too good to look away from.
Fairies Wear Boots
Into the Void
Behind the Wall of Sleep
Hand of Doom
God Is Dead?
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes
Children of the Grave
Hannah Marie Hron is a junior at Hamline University who hopes to continue a career in music journalism after college. Besides Sabbath, she listens to Deafheaven, Simon & Garfunkel, and Pusha T, among others.