BMG [Release date: 30.07.21]
Widely respected as the bassist that invented the heavyweight bottom-end of the metal genre, and rightly held in esteem for being the main lyricist of Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler’s solo material has been packaged into a four-CD box set comprising ‘Plastic Planet’ (1995), ‘Black Science’ (1997), and ‘Ohmwork’ (2005) together with a bonus disc of alternative takes and unreleased material. The albums are a mixed bag, but on the whole stand up well as a representation of Butler’s solo, semi-experimental metal output.
Plastic Planet was released under the moniker G/Z/R with Burton C Bell from Fear Factory on vocals, and Geezer’s nephew Peter Howse from former thrashers Crazy Angel on guitar. Deen Castronovo on drums completed the line-up. No surprise then that this was a ferocious album, representing a departure from the Sabbath sound at the time (whom Butler had recently left), veering towards groove-based and chunky Ministry, Machine Head and NIN influences. I’m no real fan of the death-growl vocals which punctuate some of Bell’s delivery, but for lovers of the style it’s easy to see why Fear Factory went on to such success.
Butler wrote the lyrics for all three albums. His choice of material on Plastic Planet was plenty dark enough. ‘The Invisible’, dealt with the issue of homelessness in graphic detail; and the steam-hammer ‘Drive Boy, Shooting’ addressed gun culture and gang crime in the U.S. Elsewhere, for instance on ‘Catatonic Eclipse’, ‘X13’ and ‘Sci-Clone’, he channels technological, sci-fi and dystopian subjects. But for me it’s the quality, the grind and fuzzy atmosphere of the guitars that endures. The intensity burns through, all of 25-plus years later.
Black Science was released in 1997 under the Geezer name. Howse and Castronovo teamed up with Butler again, but the relentless rise of Fear Factory’s meant that Bell was unavailable. Previously unknown Clark Brown stepped into his boots. Butler was back in England by this time and was surrounded by his giant collection of TV sci-fi memorabilia, which helps explain the inspiration for titles on the album as ‘Mysterons’, ‘Among the Cybermen’, and ‘Department S’.
The album again largely ploughed an industrial and power theme, but featured a cleaner, less doomy sound. The album was well received by fans and the material has fared well, representing a stronger set of tracks overall, with a shade more depth and variety than ‘Plastic Planet’; and, whisper it, even a hint of melody here and there. The level of ferocity was a notch down from the first offering, but introduced a more accessible mood, conjuring up a bit of Faith No More. Stand out moments are ‘Man In A Suitcase’, the spooky ‘Mysterons’, the quirky, synth-undercut ‘Justified’ and the lumbering, down-tuned ‘Xodiak’. This would be my pick of the three albums.
Ohmwork appeared in 2005, once Butler found a gap in his Sabbath itinerary after rejoining the band in 1997. Released as GZR, Castronovo was replaced by Chad E Smith on the drum stool (not the Red Hot Chili Peppers sticksman) but Howse and Brown lined up again to record an album occupying more contemporary Nu-Metal territory including heavy, powerful cuts like ‘Aural Sects’ and the edgy ‘Prisoner 103’. The best tracks for my money are ‘I Believe’, with its hints of psychedelic metal and ‘Alone’ which finds a rewarding doom-filled mournful groove.
The bonus disc completes the collection with unreleased demos, studio outtakes, single edits. There are three live tracks culled from Michigan on an abbreviated tour cut short when Geezer was taken seriously ill and wound up in hospital. An interesting inclusion is the synth-driven ‘Beach Skeleton’ which could easily be an EMF/Jesus Jones outtake. It was recorded in the ‘Black Science’ sessions without making the album’s final roster.
Also available in this retrospective is a standalone single CD, ‘The Very Best Of Geezer Butler’, the track listing for which the iconic bassman has cherry-picked himself. These 17 tracks represent a good cross-section of the three albums with no obvious omissions.
Butler’s solo output is ripe for reappraisal and though not everything here is essential listening, there is enough of interest to warrant packages that plug a gap in the CD market (though there were vinyl re-releases last year). The committed will be interested in the neatly put-together box set, bonus CD and booklet of pics. For the curious, the ‘Best of’ CD is a fine place to start. ****
Review by Dave Atkinson
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