“I can never forget San Antonio, how could I?”
If you don’t get why Ozzy Osbourne said that near the end of Black Sabbath’s show Saturday night in San Antonio’s AT&T Center — their last US show ever — who knows what you were doing there in the first place? Aside from the obvious, more embarrassing connotation, San Antonio has traditionally had a vibrant metal culture, something Austin’s only recently caught up to. “Satantonio” is a well-earned nickname. Naturally, Sabbath had to end their US run of their final tour, fittingly dubbed “The End,” there.
Their last show was far from a somber occasion: This was a celebration, not a funeral. Crowds at these shows tend to lean toward the older generation, and while that appeared to be true Saturday, Sabbath’s relevance helped pepper in some younger folks too, and the energy from the crowd surely felt more youthful. There was none of the pandering to “the kids” of Ozzy’s onetime popular touring festival Ozzfest; Sabbath’s cross-generational appeal made us all “the kids.” This might be the last “we love you all” from Ozzy we’ll hear for a while, but Sabbath lives on as an eternal influence in metal. They’ll never really go away.
Tony Iommi’s roaring riff to kick off “Black Sabbath” reverberated louder than it ever has, its overarching doom not just a fog, but the lens for looking at the world. “What is this that stands before me?” is a question a lot of people have on their minds. Although Ozzy looked a little stiff imitating some of his more hippie-ish stage posture from Sabbath’s heyday, his voice still carried that same terror from over four decades ago.
Immediately following was “After Forever” with its message of redemption or else — Sabbath always had the weird duality of making hell look like paradise and agreeing with their religious conservative detractors on more than a few key points. Some of Iommi’s heaviest riffs are on “Into the Void,” and Saturday, they felt even weightier, almost if they were grinding against Earth itself. Sabbath were guaranteed to sell out San Antonio, and even for an arena metal show, it was a loud crowd.
Sabbath’s setlist focused on the very early part of their career in the early ’70s, and while that contains most of their popular material, it’s a rather small sliver of their complete work. Of course, mounting a full retrospective would be impossible: Dio’s dead and the other singers are not the marquee names Ozzy is. “Dirty Women” from “Technical Ecstasy” was the only post-1972 song on the setlist, a bit of an oddity as that record isn’t as loved as Sabbath’s first six. It did give Iommi another chance to flex the style he created, and while Ozzy has long been the mainstream’s focus, it’s Iommi who’s not only the real center of Sabbath, but its true star. While the tour largely has to do with Sabbath’s age, and Iommi’s recovery from cancer in particular, his style is ageless, his mix of American blues and classical influences as powerful as ever. Drummer Tommy Clufetos, in place of original drummer Bill Ward, had youth on his side, but Iommi still gave him a challenge in vitality. The massive drum solo that came after “Rat Salad” and eventually introduced “Iron Man” still paled in comparison in terms of reaction to when Iommi’s chords rang out.
Heavy metal’s changed a lot since Sabbath invented it — it’s gotten faster, slower, poppier, more extreme, more obtuse, more diverse (there’s still a lot of room for growth on that front, though), more insular, more technically complicated, more minimal, more political, more apathetic. In other words, the mess of contradictions it’s always been is the reason metal’s still fascinating. A lot of metal 10, 20 years from now will sound like Sabbath, and a lot of it won’t, some of it bearing no resemblance to the common perception of “metal.” They’re right to end their career when they still have some ability left in them. They made the landscape, they should go out on their own terms. As with many Sabbath shows, they ended with “Paranoid,” their bouncy ode to losing your mind to depression and hopelessness.
“I tell you to enjoy life I wish I could but it’s too late” is a mission statement, and in their last US show, Sabbath left the crowd with light, not gloom.