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1. Never Say Die 2. Johnny Blade 3. Juniors Eyes 4. Hard Road 5. Shock Wave 6. Air Dance 7. Over to You 8. Breakout 9. Swinging the Chain Tony Iommi - guitars Geezer Butler - bass Ozzy Osbourne - vocals Bill Ward - drums, vocals on 9 with: Don Airey - keyboards (of Colosseum fame) (plus some guests on various wind instruments on tracks 8 & 9)
This review is dedicated to the fathers of heavy metal, the pioneers of prog-metal, the most innovative band of the genre(s), Black Sabbath. They have at least four full-blooded works of progressive metal, namely "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath", "Sabotage", "Technical Ecstasy" and, of course, "Never Say Die" (1978). All of them were created long before the appearance of the now well-known term. One of the most commercially unsuccessful Black Sabbath albums, "Never Say Die" is a revolutionary work, failed to be properly appreciated. In fact, however, this is a brilliant creation, the first progressive jazz-metal album ever. At first, the title track 'Never Say Die' sounds like, say, a merely driving metal with unswerving heavy riffs, but soon, in the refrain, you can hear unusual guitar arrangements and excellent fast solos over Ozzy's voice, leading the song toward the next part. After the second refrain, the main theme suddenly falls into an unexpected atonal piece with improvisations of the classical guitar. This promising opener ends with a long, rapid and magnificent guitar solo.
Many years ago, after a few listenings to the second track 'Johnny Blade' I, already a great admirer of Genesis, King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator and Yes, realized that this metal band had too intricate, composite structures to make a widely available album out of "Never Say Day". 'Johnny Blade' is one of the most progressive tracks on album, together with 'Shock Wave', 'Air Dance' and 'Breakout / Swinging the Chain'. Opening with a massive futuristic keyboard intro, 'Johnny Blade' rapidly moves into the heavy realm with regular changes of themes and tempos. With excellent complex arrangements, skilful playing and singing, this song has all the ingredients of the true prog-metal. The guitar seems to be a prominent instrument, but I need to say that each of the other instruments doesn't play only supporting roles; on the contrary, all the parts are different here, those of a varied and dynamic bass, teeming keyboards and strong vocals.
'Juniors Eyes' is a pretty unusual song for Black Sabbath. Mostly led by the bass, nearer to the end it surprisingly transforms into a real progressive rock jam with excellent interactions between guitar and keyboards. At the time, Tony Iommi was the most versatile guitar player. The drumming is also outstanding, and Ward never works with his arsenal in a straightforward manner. 'Hard Road' is the only disappointing track here. With the exception of a decent guitar solo somewhere in its middle, it is the most easygoing song on the album. So that's why, of course, it was reissued as an "A" side for the single a few weeks later.
But then the first track on LP's side "B", 'Shock Wave', turns out to be the most complex and manifold composition on the album, consisting of several various themes, none of them being repeated until the end. Yes, the music is ever-changing, and therefore it is more diverse than probably anything by Threshold (who are clearly influenced by Black Sabbath, aren't they?). 'Air Dance' is not even a prog-metal song, but a highly innovative sympho-prog piece, very successfully combined with elements of jazz-rock. More than half of the composition is a delightful, very original, instrumental fusion with jazzy guitar solos and authentic symphonic keyboards arrangements. Generally, Tony Iommi's guitar work on this album is simply incredible. Never have I heard such inventive and masterful leads from the "best rock guitarists" of the '70s, Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page.
Unlike the previous track, open jazzy piano solos sound all over the next mid-tempo 'Over to You'. Amazing! 'Breakout' is a long instrumental intro for 'Swinging the Chain' with a powerful horn section, finely crossed by masterful jazzy sax solos. The band works effectively with the musical intervals so as to create a rich, complex and adventurous sound. Fast and quirky, purely jazzy improvisations of sax lead 'Breakout' into 'Swinging the Chain'. With Bill Ward singing, this composition takes Black Sabbath back into a heavier domain. 'Swinging the Chain' is a true prog-metal composition with some highly complex arrangements. With rapid changes of various themes, so typical for progressive rock in general, there are quirky guitar parts continuously crossed by improvisations of wind instruments. Ward's voice is quite pleasant. It is now well-known, that since then Bill could not do regular drumming for the band due to his illness. It's a hard job, clearly. But I suppose, it could have been possible to use Bill's talent for lead singing after Ozzy's departure?
"Never Say Die" is simply a phenomenal heavy metal album, probably the most important work that has contributed to the forming of progressive metal as a separate genre. Most, if not all, of the metal, prog-metal and related bands of the past and the present are followers of the great innovators of Black Sabbath. The early structures are taken by doom and extreme metal combos, while the band's progressive period (1973-'78) showed the way to go for the outfits like Mercyful Fate / King Diamond, Candlemass / Abstrakt Algebra, Fates Warning, Threshold, Tiamat and many others. It's a pity that the lack of support and the pressure on the part of the major labels forced Black Sabbath to stop exploring deep prog-metal realms after their most innovative work ever.
"Never Say Die" was released by Vertigo Records (a division of "Phonogram") in Europe, and by Warner Bros Records in the US. Fortunately, Castle Records, an established independent British label reissued a series of BS' albums, remastered from the original mastertapes, back in the '90s. Beautiful CD packages contain booklets with full lyrics, plenty of photos, and interesting biography facts.
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