Black Sabbath's new DVD Live...Gathered In Their Masses is a must-watch - and I'm not just saying that because I attended one of the two shows the footage was filmed at. It captures Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler (as well as drummer Tommy Clufetos) in great spirits as they pay tribute to the Black Sabbath legacy as well as the band's present (several tracks from new album 13 are included).
But it is, of course, not the first Black Sabbath DVD. Let's take a look at some other examples of Sabbath on film. Er, digital.
The Last Supper
This 1999 concert film captures Sabbath's original line-up of Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward. It's set list is very heavy on the Sabbath classics like "War Pigs," "N.I.B," "Iron Man," "Children Of The Grave" and more, and the cinematography is quite nice. But a lot of fans consider this one to be a bit of a lost opportunity, because most tracks are interrupted by interview segments (conducted by Henry Rollins) which take the viewer out of the moment. It'd be okay if the segments occurred between songs, but instead they generally take place over the top of the music. As a result it never quite feels like you're actually watching the concert. A shame because the band is on fire and it's nice to see Ward behind the kit.
Cross Purposes Live
This DVD is a rare chance to see live material from one of Black Sabbath's Tony Martin-fronted line-ups. And although most of the Martin-era material is quite strong and able to stand on its own legs (just listen to the album Tyr and tell me it's not a pioneering progressive metal record), part of what's so great about this DVD is that it puts Martin's voice into context with other Sabbath vocalists. It's especially amazing to hear him take on "Time Machine," a song recorded by the band during Ronnie James Dio's return for Dehumanizer. And it's great to hear Martin singing "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath." This one can be quite hard to track down, but an official DVD version was released in Japan in 2010 by Eagle Rock Entertainment, and good import stores and sites often carry it Stateside.
The Black Sabbath Story Vol. 1
This documentary tells, well, the Black Sabbath story, and it does so in the band's own words, and with plenty of rare live and TV performance footage. Rarely seen video for "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" or the Bill Ward-sung "It's Alright," anyone? Vol. 1 covers the era from 1970 to 1978, and it's particularly enlightening to hear Iommi talk about the band's early days, or Butler recounting how the band first stumbled upon the subtle and nuanced art of scaring the heck out of a willing audience via music.
The Black Sabbath Story Vol. 2
Covering the era from 1978 to 1992, Vol. 2 includes the band's Ronnie James Dio, Ian Gillen, Glenn Hughes, Tony Martin and Dio (again) eras, although it must be said that it glosses over much of the turmoil that faced the band at that time (including the brief stint with Ian Gillen’s brother Ray on vocals prior to Martin’s appointment). It's still quite an engaging viewing experience though, and it's interesting to review the band's various post-Ozzy eras in hindsight. The Gillen era, for instance, sounds a little punkier and almost proto-grungy in retrospect, while the Hughes era doesn't hint at the later brilliance of the Iommi/Hughes albums. And Martin's era stacks up very well, especially his vocal performance on the fan-dividing "Feels Good To Me." Ah but there's also plenty of Dio material to satiate fans of those eras, and to point the way toward the formation of Heaven & Hell (who themselves have released two fine concert films).
Paranoid (Classic Albums)
This entry to the excellent Classic Albums series goes behind the scenes to look at the creation of the band's second album. A decent chunk of time is dedicated to setting up some context for what's to follow: the impact of the album is all the greater when you consider the political, social and musical context of the time, and of course the way that Tony Iommi's industrial accident cost him two fingertips yet led him to develop a unique and innovative guitar approach. If you've caught this on TV you've missed out on some of the really good stuff: dive into the DVD extras and you'll get more of the individual track/instrument analysis that is limited in the program itself.
Ozzy Osbourne - Live & Loud
This isn't a full Black Sabbath release — it's a document of Ozzy's early '90s farewell tour for a retirement that it turns out just didn't really take — but it's capped off with a reunion of the original Sabbath line-up to perform "Black Sabbath." It's a great performance, and unfortunately the other three songs performed at the mini-reunion weren't included on this film. It would have been great to see "Fairies Wear Boots," "Iron Man" and "Paranoid" in this era.
Fun fact: Sabbath were the support band for Ozzy's last two shows on this tour, with Judas Priest's Rob Halford on vocals. The audience must have realized something was up when Sabbath/Halford didn't play those four songs during the support set!
For more Sabbath insights check out this classic Tony Iommi interview.