Zakk Sabbath – Vertigo

Band: Zakk Sabbath
Album: Vertigo
Label: Magnetic Eye Records
Release date: 4 September 2020
Country: USA
Format reviewed: High-Quality Digital Recording

Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut is widely considered the origin of heavy metal and its 50th anniversary is powerfully celebrated and recreated by Zakk Sabbath with “Vertigo”

There are probably as many Black Sabbath cover albums as there were originals (and countless more knockoffs), so why is this one special?

For starters, this Black Sabbath tribute band features Zakk Wylde on guitar and vocals, Rob “Blasko” Nicholson on bass and Joey Castillo on drums. Wylde needs no introduction to the Blessed Altar Zine readership, Blasko succeeded Rob Trujillo as Ozzy Osbourne’s regular bassist in 2003; and Castillo is known for his skins work on the past 15 years’ worth of Queens of the Stone Age and Danzig albums. With Wylde leading the charge, this is the bare bones trio who can do its muse proper justice.

Regarding the music and composition, it’s a near-total match to the original songs; play each side-by-side and you won’t hear any major changes. This high-level tribute band is sticking to the roots and not seeking to turn entire songs on their heads, like the way Biohazard and Type O Negative successfully did on 1994’s “Nativity In Black” tribute album.

And music collectors are in luck. There are currently no plans to release these tracks as digital downloads. They are available on CD digipak and limited edition purple vinyl. The tracklist is the same as the original North American LP:

Tracklist
1. Black Sabbath
2. The Wizard
3. Wasp / Behind the Wall of Sleep / N.I.B.
4. Wicked World
5. A Bit of Finger / Sleeping Village / Warning

At 41:34 minutes, The overall runtime of “Vertigo” is barely three minutes longer than the original — that is largely attributable to some extra soloing which we’ll soon discuss.

So where are the differences?

Wylde’s voice was a surprising standout. Had he tried to sing this in the 1990s when he was mumbling his way through Pride & Glory and early Black Label Society, he would have failed. He’s obviously been training to hit the notes while remaining mostly comfortable in his register. Ozzy is inimitable, so his ability to meet him halfway is welcome — particularly on the title track and “The Wizard,” when you’re still riding the high of the album’s energy. And that his voice is right up in the front of the mix adds an extra bit of power to help “Vertigo” establish its identity.

Wylde’s guitar playing is a bit flashier than Tony Iommi’s. Wylde will never not use the whammy bar and bend the hell out of his strings, so the added flare is not as distracting as you would expect — it was clearly used and performed with love and respect.

The pinnacle of his playing is during the stripped-down solo sections. The 15-minute closer is where Wylde displays his six-string chops. The soloing at the 7:45 mark lasts for several minutes — ranging from distorted riffing to getting downright bluesy a la Hendrix. Listen to the original and the influence was there, as “Electric Ladyland” was released just one year before Black Sabbath’s recording date. Moreover, the solo is a reminder of how experimental Sabbath’s sound truly was — elements of rock, jazz and blues were all fused together to give way to a metal masterwork. And furthermore, how often do you hear a solo with no backing instruments in the middle of a heavy metal studio track?   

Perhaps the most endearing trait of this interpretation is that it’s clearly performed as a celebration; the band recorded live in-studio (just as the forefathers had) and it captured the excitement, leading to more of a power-rock attitude than the original’s doom-and-gloom.

“Vertigo” ultimately succeeds on its own merits — it demands replays rather than merely sending you to fish out an old Black Sabbath LP. And it serves its purpose by reminding the world that these are the songs that basically birthed metal and a movement that has emerged from, and returned to, the underground several times in the past 50 years. 8.5/10  Justin Smulison

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8.5/10 To Greatness and Glory!
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