Album Of The Week – August 15, 2022

This week I want to have a look at an album that was commercially successful, has some divided fan opinion though is generally looked on fondly, but is completely disavowed by the artist.

Ozzy Osbourne – The Ultimate Sin

Released February 22, 1986 via Epic Records

My Favorite Tracks – Lightning Strikes, The Ultimate Sin, Shot In The Dark

Ozzy’s fourth album saw the return of Jake E. Lee to the guitar spot for his second and final work with Osbourne. Bob Daisley was out of the band for this one (at least the recording), replaced by Phil Soussan on bass. And Randy Castillo would join the group on drums, a position he would hold up until the mid ’90’s.

Of course the personnel and especially writing credits are murky for this album, as they often are in the shadowy world of Osbourne rights and finances. Bob Daisley did extensive work on this album before splitting from the band when Ozzy took time to prepare for a one-off Black Sabbath reunion in 1985. Drummer Jimmy DeGrasso was also involved in the early sessions, though he too would leave for Y&T and later Megadeth. Daisley was omitted from credit on the initial presses of the album but his contributions were noted on later pressings.

The controversy over writing credits would lead to issues down the line and are the true likely reason this album is slagged by the Osbourne camp, but we’ll get to those issues after running through the songs. 9 tracks at 40 minutes to go through here.

The Ultimate Sin

The title track opens the record with some super sick riffing from Lee, one could be forgiven for thinking that Ozzy’s next guitarist was the one shredding on this. Ozzy and sin go together like peanut butter and jelly and this song works exceptionally well.

Secret Loser

Another rocking track that offers up pretty much what the title says – Ozzy looks cool and all but is really a loser, or whatever. It’s probably something like that but honestly it’s not that deep and is a really nice song.

Never Know Why

Enough of the “inner loser” thing, here Ozzy and company are back out to rock. The detractor, of which Ozzy had many around this time, will never know why we rock. It’s not hard to figure out – just listen, how could you not rock?

Thank God For The Bomb

The pace comes up a bit for this song that is far less nihilistic than the title suggests. Here Ozzy is offering that the threat of mutually assured destruction is keeping nuclear annihilation from happening. It is not a “pro-nuke” song like, well, the 100 million pro-nuke metal songs out there.

Never

A tune about fate, the great mysteries of life, the various beliefs people hold about all that, and so on. Ozzy offers a pretty fatalistic and down to earth approach to the song. Lee’s guitar gets to go off a bit more here than on other tracks too.

Lightning Strikes

A listener could find that the songs on this album, while quality, aren’t necessarily holding up to the sterling reputation of Ozzy’s past work. Here we have an entry that fits the more melodic sound of this record but also puts itself out there as the star of the show. This track is Jake Lee-era Ozzy at their best. They turned stuff up to 11 and slammed this one home.

Killer Of Giants

Another song about the bomb but this time a mournful account of the sheer power and potentially apocalyptic consequences of nuclear warfare. It could be called a ballad but it doesn’t stray into the saccharine territory that other ballads of the period got into, the song holds its place with the harder rockers on this album.

Fool Like You

A pretty simple one, Ozzy is having a go at someone he doesn’t like. No idea if it’s personal or if it’s aimed at one of society’s adversaries.

Shot In The Dark

The album closes with the home run track that was the signature hit. It is also a pre-existing song offered up to Ozzy by bassist Phil Soussan, which is likely a massive contributing factor to the song and this album being disowned by the Osbourne camp.

The song is a total winner, a very somber yet still rocking track that fits 1986 Ozzy like a glove. The song became Ozzy’s most successful single at the time and is a long-cited fan favorite from across his entire catalog.

Shot In The Dark also might as well not exist in the Osbourne version of history. It has generally been left off of greatest hits collections and was replaced later on the one it did show up on. It is on the 1993 live album Live And Loud, so something must have happened later on to dissuade Ozzy and his handlers from messing with the song anymore. It is presumably arguments over the actual songwriting credits, as Phil Soussan’s prior bandmates had worked up the original version of the song. There are enough shady dealings in Ozzy’s writing credits history to fill a book, so I would have to guess that the actual origins of Shot In The Dark keep it out of Ozzy’s lexicon.

The Ultimate Sin was a smash success for Ozzy. The album charted well in many countries and hit platinum in the United States within a few months of release. And for a number of reasons not entirely clear to the public, the album is persona non grata as far as its creator is concerned.

Ozzy has been on record with his criticisms of the album – they involve the production of Ron Nevison. Ozzy felt that the songs all “sounded the same” and that the recording could have gone better.

And in that I think Ozzy is right – there is a samey quality to many of the songs. A few do stand out, like Lightning Strikes and Shot In The Dark, but the presentation of the record as a whole could be called a bit sterile. I do think it’s a fair take.

But in the end I have to believe that the overriding issues are that of writing credits. No legal issues have ever presented themselves regarding Shot In The Dark, though obvious matters of uncredited writers are there. And even outside of that one, this album was written mostly by Bob Daisley and Jake Lee while Ozzy was away. Lee was fired after the tour cycle for this album in a shocking decision, while Daisley has long had legal issues with the Osbourne team over his contributions to several records.

It’s no secret that Sharon Osbourne has spent a great deal of time and energy in consolidating the rights to all of Ozzy’s music. She secured control of the Black Sabbath catalog from Tony Iommi and has ruled over that with an iron fist, and the buffet of issues surrounding Ozzy’s solo work make for juicy gossip any time they’re aired out in public. Bob Daisley, Jake Lee, and Lee Kerslake are the more prominent members of the “I wrote a song for Ozzy and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” club. Sharon’s battle to control Ozzy’s catalog credits has been long-ranging and largely successful, though with gross missteps along the way, like the ill-suited idea to re-record parts of classic albums in 2002 to remove Daisley and Kerslake.

One casualty of that battle is The Ultimate Sin. The album hasn’t been reissued since 1995, leaving collectors to scramble for original editions, especially on vinyl. If the album is mentioned by Sharon at all, it is with venom and spite. The album was even deleted from the Ozzy catalog in the early 2000’s, but curiously was submitted for streaming services once they became a thing. I guess money is money after all.

Whatever the issues held by creators and rights-holders, The Ultimate Sin is still an excellent statement from Ozzy that slotted very well into the sound of the latter 1980’s. Even with noted production faults, the album still delivered a quality selection of songs. And no matter the attempts to erase history, it’s an album that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored by anyone seeking quality music.

Album Of The Week – July 25, 2022

This week’s pick is one that was always going to wind up here, the only question was when. I could write about the album in my sleep and I could probably write this without hitting play on it (though I will). But all the fuss raised up over the title track’s use in a hit TV shows means the time to talk about it is now.

Metallica – Master Of Puppets

Released March 3, 1986 via Elektra Records

My Favorite Tracks – Damage Inc., Disposable Heroes, Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

Metallica’s third album would showcase some polish and a very consistent approach. The band would make waves after its release as the record gained momentum without the benefit of radio or MTV play. It would go one be considered one of the band’s finest moments, even as tragedy cut short the album’s touring cycle.

It’s a fairly lean track list with eight songs but there’s almost an hour’s worth of music to get into. Let’s dive in to one of heavy metal’s most noteworthy albums. Also, a note – the videos posted are all live performances that may not reflect everything discussed in the post, and were also performances after the death of Cliff Burton.

Battery

Opening with one hell of a thrash attack. The song is a scorching track that pays tribute to the band’s fans, being the “battery” that Metallica draws from during shows. It’s also a reference to San Francisco’s Battery Street, where Metallica roamed in their early days. This song showcases how Metallica were able to retain the savagery of their early career while also refining their sound.

Master Of Puppets

The title track is a mammoth epic clocking in at 8:36. The long runtime did not deter fans – the song is one of the band’s most popular and stands as the track played live the most in the group’s 40-year career. The song tackles the issue of drug addiction and how the drugs wind up being the master controlling the user.

Master Of Puppets was the only single released from the album. The song did ok on the charts for a single not supported by video play at all and very light radio play, thrash wasn’t a radio gem in 1986. The song would chart again in 2022 when its use in a pivotal scene in the hit Netflix show Stranger Things sent the world to discover or re-discover it again.

The Thing That Should Not Be

A slower number that sees Metallica again visit the H.P. Lovecraft eldritch horror universe. It is a suitably heavy, doom-laden track about a sinister horror driving victims to madness. It is a track that gets flack in some circles but it’s one I enjoy. The song was massively influential to one Brian Warner, who would go on to become Marilyn Manson.

Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

A noted highlight from the album comes in the form of a song similar in form and spirit to Ride The Lightning’s epic Fade To Black. Making use of slower and haunting instrumentation, the song paints an explicit picture of being abused inside a mental facility. The song was reportedly influenced by the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

This is another showcase of how Metallica were able to do far more than just beat the listener into submission. The song does ramp up the aggression after a long build but its desolate harmonies in the early verses are its calling card.

Disposable Heroes

Another marathon busting the 8-minute mark, this titanic effort tackles a soldier being sacrificed on the battlefield by a ruthless, uncaring leader. It is a stark look at the horrors of war, a subject often brought up by Metallica. Even with the long run time, this song is fast and unrelenting throughout.

Leper Messiah

This song slows things down a hair but doesn’t let up on the heaviness at all. It is a look at a conman preacher, a favorite target of ’80’s metal bands (who were often the favorite targets of said preachers). The song does pick up the pace as it goes along, establishing a series of movements and an ear toward arrangement and composition beyond the usual scope of thrash.

Orion

Metallica had one instrumental song on each of their prior releases and kept the ball rolling with this one. The song is a trippy, out there track that is the brainchild of bassist Cliff Burton. Much of the unconventional noise is coming from his bass. Parts of the song do thrash along in more standard ways.

Damage Inc.

The album closer is an absolutely pummeling affair that starts attacking the listener just after a quiet intro ends. The song describes a corporation (Damage, Incorporated) that mows over humanity in its quest to get bigger. It’s cool that the band were able envision these dystopian kind of horror scenarios that don’t reflect reality at all…

Master Of Puppets would serve to further the career of Metallica and lead the group to new heights of success. The album sold well out of the gate and the band landed a coveted opening spot on Ozzy Osbourne’s American tour, playing arenas for a five month haul.

As the band were trekking Europe that September, a bus accident in Sweden would claim the life of bassist Cliff Burton. The band decided to press on, hiring Flotsam And Jetsam bassist Jason Newsted as the new member.

Though the tour cycle for Master Of Puppets was cut short, the album has gone on to hold a significant place in the band’s catalog and in heavy metal overall. This album, alongside Slayer’s Reign In Blood, Megadeth’s Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? And Anthrax’s Among The Living would establish the “Big Four” of thrash metal. Thrash itself would see a huge spike in popularity through the remainder of the decade and Metallica were often hailed as the ultimate practitioners of the craft.

Master Of Puppets is often regarded as a “perfect” album and the quintessential thrash record. It is toward the top of countless “best of metal” lists and sees a spot at or near the top of most any Metallica album ranking. Its legacy is immense and casts a massive shadow over the world of heavy metal.

And that legacy continues on. 36 years past its release and long after the band set aside thrash and became one of the world’s biggest musical acts, the song Master Of Puppets has taken on a new life through its use in Stranger Things. Not that Metallica necessarily needed the rub, but the frenzy from the show has copies of the album flying off record store shelves again. A new generation of fans are jumping in to the pit, and so it goes for the titans of heavy metal.

Album Of The Week – June 6, 2022

So I had my album of the week post all written up and ready to go. I usually get them sorted the week prior and line out the posting itself on Sunday evening. Earlier in the day I noticed the date and recalled that June 6 is a special day (for some) – it is the International Day Of Slayer.

This was first conceived for June 6, 2006 (666, get it?) and has run every year since, at least as far as I know. There are no big parties or festivals that I know of. The point of the day is simple – listen to Slayer.

Since this year’s International Day Of Slayer falls on a Monday, I decided to switch gears and cover a Slayer album for the AOTW. I just hope I can find a shorter one so I can bang this out real quick…

Slayer – Reign In Blood

Released October 7, 1986 via Def Jam Records

My Favorite Tracks – Raining Blood, Altar Of Sacrifice, Angel Of Death

Slayer released their third studio effort after jumping labels, from Metal Blade to Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Records. Rick Rubin’s production efforts would see Slayer transform their sound from their early days into a whole other beast.

Reign In Blood is an impossibly fast and brutal record. 10 tracks clock in with a 28:55 runtime, a ridiculous running time for a full-length album in the 1980’s. 7 of the songs come in with a sub-3 minute clock and one is under 2 minutes. It’s pretty insane for something not actually an EP.

The album is a cornerstone in the realm of thrash. It was the most brutal and fast record around, even when considering the metal underground. Not much was going on like this at the time, even early death metal wasn’t flailing along at this pace.

It will take me longer to discuss the album than to listen to it, so let’s have at it. Even with the almost stupid runtimes, there are highlights and things to discuss here.

Angel Of Death

The thrash assault begins right of the bat, as the band pounds out an intro that leads to a sick Tom Araya scream. The resulting song outlines the life and crimes of Dr. Josef Mengele, a Nazi war criminal who conducted horrific, inhuman experiments on concentration camp victims. The song is the longest on the album at nearly 5 minutes and is also the most “conventional” in terms of verse-chorus-solo-etc structure.

There was controversy around the song – Def Jam’s distributor Columbia Records did not want to release Angel Of Death, so Geffen Records stepped in and distributed the album (though without their name on it). Slayer have been hounded by accusations of Nazism and racism due to the song, and echoes of that argument still play out today. The band members have repeatedly denied such viewpoints, offering that they were simply recounting history through the song. I think it’s much ado about nothing and I don’t conflate history-based lyrics with automatic support for the topic at hand.

Piece By Piece

It’s a really short song that doesn’t actually move at the fastest pace ever, the band kind of “chills” a bit (relative to how “chill” one can be with Reign In Blood). In a shocking twist, the song is about chopping someone up. No one saw that coming.

Necrophobic

This song is about being fearful of and morbidly obsessed with means of death. It’s very fast and the shortest song on the album, which probably deserves a trophy.

Altar Of Sacrifice

One of the album’s highlights, the song delves into ritual sacrifice, Hell and all that kind of stuff. It gets the thrashing job done in neck-snapping fashion, with plenty of dissonant riffage from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman.

Jesus Saves

Slayer make up for their Satanic last track with a song about Jesus. I’m sure everyone can figure out the real angle here. For such a relentless album, the band lets this tune marinate at mid-pace for a minute before getting down to business in the other two minutes. The extremely brief chorus is one of the album’s more well-known bits.

Criminally Insane

It’s barely over two minutes long. The song’s meaning is found in the self-explanatory title. It’s Slayer. Nothing more to say.

Reborn

Another fast and short number about someone who is killed but then reborn through black magic or something. There are quite a few words in this song, which is also barely over two minutes.

Epidemic

Everyone is beating the shit out of their instruments for another two minutes. Fun fact – drummer Dave Lombardo quit Slayer after the tour for this album. Rick Rubin was able to talk him back into the studio after a bit of time off. I’d probably quit too if I had to play drums like that for a fucking year.

Postmortem

Nearing the end now and a song that’s a bit more fleshed-out than the bits and pieces we’ve been getting. Though the song is called Postmortem, the lyrics are about the lead-up to that state. Another scream from Tom Araya in here, something he’d quit doing much of after this album. The song closes with an ultra-fast section that was probably about the fastest thing in music at the time.

Raining Blood

The album closer is the star of this show and is most likely Slayer’s best-known song. There might a be a few others that are somewhat readily known, but Raining Blood is definitely the band’s signature anthem.

A bit of thunder and an eerie quiet lead in to the track. It’s more like the sickening quiet before a tornado than it is a welcome respite. The immortal riff comes in, then the band pounds its way to the breakdown where the riff again makes its home. We get the familiar call of “raining blood!” from Tom Araya, then the band goes off the rails to close the song and album. A thunderstorm takes us home.

Reign In Blood was Slayer’s magnum opus and was a master class in brutal thrash metal that sent the scene into a maelstrom. Many other thrash bands felt like quitting, feeling unable to even touch what they’d heard. The album also had an outsized influence on the burgeoning extreme metal scene, providing a new template for brutality and speed. Many folks were paying attention.

Slayer’s album would leave such a mark that the band themselves never bothered trying to top it again. In contrast, the band turned the tempo down a lot on future releases. While some fans were disappointed with the move away from breakneck-paced thrash, I’d say it was a wise decision. There is no topping your magnum opus, many musical acts have learned that sad fact the hard way. Slayer instead pursued other ground, remaining a heavy, dissonant force while not even attempting to do Reign In Blood II. And Slayer would eventually retire in 2019 due mainly to Tom Araya’s neck problems derived from headbanging, so no need to push the envelope again.

So it is June 6, International Day Of Slayer. And here is one of the craziest albums ever recorded. Enjoy.