Album review: BLACK SABBATH – Technical Ecstasy (Super Deluxe 5LP Vinyl Box Set)

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BLACK SABBATH - Technical Ecstasy

BMG / Sanctuary Records   [Release date: 01.10.21]

Following the superb ‘Super-Deluxe’ releases of ‘Paranoid’, ‘Volume 4’ and ‘Sabotage’ in the last couple of years, it is now the turn of ‘Technical Ecstasy’ to receive the sumptuous multi-disc box-set treatment.

Released in 1976, Technical Ecstasy was really the first Sabbath album that critics and, to a lesser extent, fans, began to pick holes in and wonder in which direction their heroes were going.

For heroes they were to a whole generation of spotty Herberts (like me) who were crying out for a music that they could both relate to and, indeed, call their own.

I remember at the time much rumination about the appearance of synths (courtesy of ‘fifth’ Sab, Gerald Woodruffe) and whether Sabbath had “gone soft” or “lost their edge” and to read some of the critics you would have thought they had embraced Country and Western or some suchlike.

In actual fact, it WAS a little different here and there, but all the power-riffing and pounding bass and drums were still present and correct and it’s well deserving of a re-evaluation after 45 years.

BMG/Sanctuary have done it proud too – with a five LP (also available on CD) Super-Deluxe box set with the original album remastered, two LPs of new mixes and alternative versions (mixed by the genius that is Steven Wilson) and a 2LP live concert recording from the 1976/77 world tour, plus many extras including a 40 page hardback book, colour poster and replica concert programme.

The original album sounds great – with the music jumping out of the speakers and Iommi’s sledgehammer riffing combined with Ozzy’s exuberant vocals delivering the classic Sabbath sound on openers ‘Back St. Kids’ and ‘You Won’t Change Me’ – the sound rounded out by Woodruffe’s keyboard flourishes.

‘It’s Alright’ (with vocals by Bill Ward (!) is probably the track that gave the album its rep. at the time – atypical, with tinkling piano until Iommi grabs it by the scruff of the neck.

Things get back on track with the rifferama of ‘Gypsy’ and the rather progressive-leaning ‘All Moving Parts (Stand Still)’ replete with synth solo, and ‘Rock ’n’ Roll Doctor’ with its pant-wettingly heavy riff and AC/DC-like charge.

Things conclude with ‘She’s Gone’ with its 12 string acoustic and strings sounding like this album’s ‘Changes’ and ‘Dirty Women’ whose doom-laden heavy riffing is not quite the R’n’R wig-out the title would suggest.

Now, as good as this is (and it’s very good), it’s the two discs re-mixed by Steven Wilson where things really take off. I don’t know how he does it, but he always manages to squeeze out that little bit extra from the original recordings, resulting in a sensational, sparkling sound that takes the music to a different level.

Even on the outtakes and alternative mixes the sound is exceptional with Ozzy’s vocals well to the fore and every nuance of Bill Ward’s peerless drumming laid bare for all to enjoy.

If Steven Wilson had been around in the 70’s with today’s technology some of our finest albums would have been sensational…

The final two discs are live recordings from the world tour supporting ‘Technical Ecstasy’.

There’s a phrase that goes “don’t complain about how badly the dog dances, be amazed that it dances at all” and having read Iommi’s autobiography, it IS amazing they were able to perform at all given the quantity of Columbian marching powder that was being used at the time.

But perform they did, and these are a pretty good representation of a Black Sabbath gig – I know, I’ve been to a few. Despite the remastering, there’s still an inevitable ‘bootleggy’ feel about them but that’s how they were and there’s tremendous versions of ‘War Pigs’, ‘Electric Funeral’, ‘Snowblind’, ‘Children Of The Grave’ and a bowel-loosening rendition of the seminal ‘Black Sabbath’ replete with Geezer’s sliding bass cueing-in Iommi’s killer riff.

So, a fantastic end to a superlative box set showcasing heavy metal’s groundbreaking pioneers, OK, warts and all, but sophistication was never their strongpoint and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

And top marks to BMG/Sanctuary – this is the way these things should be done.   *****

Review by Alan Jones

 




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