(Photo Credit: Magnetic Eye Records)
In the wake of a pandemic, civil unrest and a world without the gift of live music, the norse god of metal parts the clouds and delivers us a beacon of light. The mighty Zakk Wylde and the apostles of Zakk Sabbath Blasko and Joey Castillo, give us their own but faithful tribute to the album that not only gave birth to the metal genre, but the debut of the legendary Black Sabbath. An album that will go down in music lore for being recorded in one day in October of 69′, yes that’s right… in one day, was released to the world on February 13th 1970. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of Sabbath’s debut self-entitled masterpiece and Zakk Sabbath creatively named their album Vertigo (out on Magnetic Eye Records), after the label which the original album was released on.
Current Ozzy Osbourne bassist Blasko had this to say about the release. “We recorded a live EP and were wondering what we could do next as a cover band, so the 50th album anniversary came just at the right time”, explains Blasko regarding Zakk Sabbath’s decision to go into the studio. “Compared to ‘Paranoid’, which is almost like a best-of record, the bulk of the material on ‘Black Sabbath’ is deep-cut, really experimental stuff that was never thoroughly explored, so that was a challenge, not to forget that we wanted to meet our own high standards.”. High standards are something that would never be questioned when you have world class musicians like this that are paying homage so such an iconic record. Speaking of that, let’s run through this highly anticipated album from the best Sabbath cover band in the land, Zakk Sabbath.
The title track Black Sabbath, much like the original, starts the album off with a heavy dark overtone. Zakk’s voice is the standout point of the track for me. You can hear Ozzy in it, but Zakk’s range is a bit more broad and creates this powerful and eerie presence with every verse. He also added a phaser effect on the clean verse riffs making them echo under his voice. The build up at the 4:35 mark leading into the solo is noticeably heavier and more brutal than the original but equally as head bang worthy.
Zakk’s approach to the solo is spot on to the classic Iommi notes and even throws in some signature Wylde face melting pentotonic’s. Next up is one of, if not, the most iconic and recognizable harmonica intro of all time. Originally written by bassist Geezer Bulter about Gandolf from Lord of the Rings, The Wizard’s intro echos through your speakers ringing of straight vibrato while Zakk’s intro lead follows suit. The guitar riffs throughout the song hit like a sledgehammer and the guitar and harmonica solos towards the end of the track keep very true to the originals.
The third track of the record is the 10 minute and 35 second stacked Wasp/ Behind the Wall of Sleep/ Basscially/N.I.B. Although Wylde really kicks off the song with that signature Iommi lead, it’s Joey Castillo playing that four four groove under the main riff that hangs on that last note of Zakk’s guitar. After the solo, Castillo’s drum outro is met with Blasko’s distorted bass solo of Bassically (pretty clever) which leads right into the iconic bass line of N.I.B. It doesn’t get any better than this for this record. Most fans are used to hearing the time edited version on the radio. But Zakk Sabbath explore every second of the classic tune from start to finish.
Wylde’s vocals sore over the that iconic riff and his blend of Tony Iommi’s original guitar work and his own through out both solos is nothing short of amazing. Joey Castillo lead’s off Wicked World with that upbeat swing off the high hat as Wylde and Blasko rip the lead riff overtop of each other. The heavy chugging parts of the main verse will no doubt have you nodding your head only to be soothed by the melodic picking progression at the 2:35 mark. But fear not. Zakk Wylde slaps you in the face with a blistering little ditty that in all fairness, has a little more zip than Iommi’s version.
Closing out this tribute of tributes is the 3 piece guitar clinic that is Bit of Finger/Sleeping Village/Warning. In reality, the track plays out as Sleeping Village/Warning/Bit of Finger (I know that might be confusing, but I’ll add the link that explains it in detail). As the acoustic intro starts, Wylde’s accent notes echo in the back ground as the man himself begins to lay those soulful vocals to the single verse. Around the 3:45 mark, Blasko and Castillo kick off the beginning of Warning and before long it turns into what sounds like just a good ol fashion jam session between the three of them.
Zakk Wylde is known for his explosive solos, but this section slows him down a bit, letting the crunch of every note and bend stand out on its own. Just around 7 minutes, Zakk lets the last word leave his mouth before it’s time to tee up the grande finale with Bit of Finger. As Blasko rumbles the bass line, for the next 8 minutes, Zakk Wylde is let off the leash to attack the remaining minutes of this album from every angle. You have everything from face melting solos, heavy riffage and the clean blues section around 10:43 would make even Stevie Ray Vaughn proud. This is with out a doubt the hidden gem of this entire album, showcasing just great musicianship and song writing.
Vertigo is just a great representation of one of the greatest albums of all time. From start to finish, Zakk Sabbath stayed very true to the original with some added flare here and there, not that we can blame them. I don’t think there is anyone more qualified to start a Sabbath tribute than Zakk Wylde and Blasko having worked with “The Boss” Ozzy Osbourne collectively around 30 years. When the dust settles from COVID-19 and bands start to hit the road again, this is going to be a tour that I really hope to see on stage. To stay authentic to this representation of the 50 year old masterpiece, it will be released on physical copy ONLY, meaning only on cd and vinyl and no digital download or streaming (don’t worry, you’ll live). To pick up your copy and other Zakk Sabbath merch, head over to https://store.merhq.com/album/vertigo.
Bit of Finger/ Sleeping Village/ Warning explanation video: