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Never Say Die!

Vertigo (1978)
Rating: 8.5/10

Ozzy Osbourne’s last word in Black Sabbath comes in the form of Never Say Die!, a fitting title for a band that would sack its vocalist a year later. Quite literally dried up and doped up to the eyeballs, Sabbath entered a studio in Canada knowing full well that all was not well within its ranks; Ozzy had already quit the band the previous year, but with record company pressure they wheeled out their last batch of Ozzy Osbourne-fronted songs.

Strangely, although Ozzy, when speaking later, was rumoured to have found the last two Sabbath albums depressing, Never Say Die! comes up trumps with the title track. Upbeat, brisk, and fiery it’s a song that intrudes upon the ears and never lets go – becoming a firm favourite with fans and even appearing in some of Ozzy’s solo shows.

Bill Ward’s drums are hasty and Tony Iommi’s guitar work impressive as ever, but in general the whole album has a loose feel, meaning I prefer it over Technical Ecstasy (1976), finding myself rocking along to the driving, buzzing ‘Johnny Blade’ with its high-pitched wail of a chorus and strange synth injections. The same can also be said for the shuffling ‘Junior’s Eyes’ – a lighter, fragmented number that jogs in on Ward’s scuffling drums and Iommi’s sneering guitar.

Never Say Die!, for all of its faults, is an incredibly underrated record that has a real basement quality to it. There’s something particularly raw in Iommi’s guitar sound, while Geezer Butler’s tumbling bass and Ward’s drums seem sewn together – albeit hastily – with Ozzy’s worn-out yawn… and yet I’m intrigued by it all.

‘A Hard Road’ is a stripped down rocker with crashing drums, while ‘Shock Wave’ features another iconic riff by the great man, proving there’s still life in these war-torn dogs yet as Ozzy barks “Black moon rising in a blood red sky, this time to realise that you’re gonna die”. This is classic grunge-styled rock ’n’ roll that boasts an anthem or two.

‘Air Dance’ may lack the creative flow of previous efforts, but it’s a jazzy blues fusion with smooth passages that lead us toward the plodding ‘Over To You’ and the jazz fusion of instrumental ‘Breakout’, which comes complete with ascending horns and soaring sax. Even at their reputedly creative low, Black Sabbath find remarkable structures, original to the end with those hypnotic arrangements.

Album closer is the doomy ‘Swinging The Chain’ with its boozy vocal, bringing Ozzy’s Sabbath career to an abrupt end. But boy am I glad that he gave it one more shot, because Never Say Die! is a cracking little record that all Black Sabbath fans should own.

Neil Arnold

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