Black Sabbath at heart of heavy metal

It was a packed concert hall and a teenager’s bedroom rendered as one, if only for an evening.

You just had to close your eyes at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday and let the rumble of the P.A. erase the years like chalk being dusted from a blackboard.

The sound served as a wormhole back to the adolescence of the multiple generations who crowded into the venue, plenty of whom discovered heavy metal in the same way: tucked away in their corner of the house, music turned up and lights turned down, Black Sabbath providing the introduction to something spookier, heavier.

Parents didn’t get it, for the most part, save for those on a first name basis with the local pot dealer.

Long gone are the days when Sabbath was considered a menace by moms and dads, guidance counselors and prospective employers, music critics and the morally upright.

At the band’s electrifying performance Sunday, it seemed almost quaint to see decades-old footage of protesters outside Black Sabbath shows, holding signs that claimed the group was in league with the devil. But Sabbath still sounded much the same as they did back when church groups picketed their gigs.

It all began with guitarist Tony Iommi.

Black Sabbath is the rare group whose loyalists will sing along to the riffs in the band’s songs as much as the lyrics.

During doom metal template “Into the Void,” singer Ozzy Osbourne basically delivered the verbal approximation of Iommi’s burrowing, insistent riff, boring through the song as if equipped with a drill bit.

When audience members displayed their air guitar chops — an involuntary response at a Sabbath gig — it wasn’t the solos they mimicked, but the riffs, fingers tracing some of the greatest power chords ever.

It’s no stretch to say that these are the bricks, the quartz-dense cornerstones, upon which heavy metal was built.

As such, Sabbath remains the metal equivalent of the Earth’s core, the trunk of the family tree. The band is adding to this legacy on their current tour and first in eight years.

Osbourne turns 65 in a few months, but his age wasn’t as discernible as it has been on recent outings with his own band, his vocals particularly lithe and sprightly on “N.I.B.” and “Fairies Wear Boots.”

“It’s great being crazy,” Osbourne announced early in the show. “I should know.”

The other member from Sabbath’s initial lineup present was bassist Geezer Butler, whose playing generated a palpable momentum that added density to the band’s songs.

Missing in action was original drummer Bill Ward. While he was missed, fill-in Tommy Clufetos registered like an infusion of caffeine to the band’s central nervous system, energizing with particular vehemence on “Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes” and “Rat Salad.”

As a unit, they made “Black Sabbath” so foreboding it felt as if you were being marched to the gallows with a burlap sack tied around your head, while “War Pigs” detonated with the force of bombs being dropped in war footage played as the song was performed.

Rock ’n’ roll is felt in the pelvis, but Sabbath registers in the neck. Head movement becomes reflexive, as it did during “Children of the Grave” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep.”

Sabbath also played a trio of tunes from recently released album “13,” their first with Osbourne in 35 years. The songs replicated the girth if not the groove of ’70s Sabbath, and were a bit stiff in places

“These times are heavy,” Osbourne sang on “Age of Reason,” giving voice to the evening’s lone moment when time wasn’t an afterthought.

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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